World View: Brussels, Belgium, Has Become the Center for European Terror

Mark Renders/Getty Images
Mark Renders/Getty Images

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Hong Kong ‘boos’ China with paper signs at soccer match
  • Netherlands – Germany football match cancelled after ‘concrete threat’
  • Brussels, Belgium, has become the center for European terror

Hong Kong ‘boos’ China with paper signs at soccer match

Hong Kong fans hold signs and banners saying 'BOO' and 'Hong Kong is not China' at Tuesday's match (Reuters)
Hong Kong fans hold signs and banners saying ‘BOO’ and ‘Hong Kong is not China’ at Tuesday’s match (Reuters)

Hong Kong and China, playing in Hong Kong’s Mong Kok stadium on Tuesday, played to a 0-0 draw in a qualifying round for the FIFA Football (Soccer) World Cup to be played in Russia in 2018. But that was not the big news.

The big news was that Hong Kong fans, having been ordered by the Hong Kong Football Association not to boo the Chinese national anthem when it is played, found a way to defy the order. When China’s national anthem was played, they sat silently, but held up signs reading “BOO.” Other banners declared “Hong Kong is not China.”

Ironically, Hong Kong’s national anthem is the same as China’s national anthem, ever since Hong Kong was returned to China from British rule in 1997. So Hong Kong fans were actually booing their own national anthem. And when FIFA fined the Hong Kong Football Association the last time, they were actually sanctioning Hong Kong for jeering at their own national anthem.

The stadium is in the dense, working-class Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, which during the so-called Umbrella Revolution pro-democracy movement protests last year was the scene of violent clashes between police, demonstrators, and pro-Beijing counter-protesters. Three key city intersections were crippled for more than two months. The protests ended in a clear victory of Beijing over the Hong Kong protesters, and tensions have continued to simmer since the protests ended.

The Chinese Football Association added to the resentment when it was accused of racism for releasing a publicity poster describing Hong Kong’s players as “black-skinned, yellow-skinned and white-skinned” – a dig at the team’s contingent of naturalized foreign-born players.

The 0-0 draw was a stinging defeat for the China team, which needed a victory to avoid being eliminated from the World Cup. At best, China will now have to struggle to be among the four best runners-up. Sydney Morning Herald and WSJ Blogs

Netherlands – Germany football match cancelled after ‘concrete threat’

A friendly football (soccer) match between Netherlands and Germany was canceled on Tuesday, after authorities received a ‘concrete threat” of a terrorist attack during the game. There was “concrete danger for all Hannover,” and “indications” that there were “serious plans to blow something up,” according to the police.

After the stadium was evacuated, it was searched, and no bombs were found. Dutch News

Brussels, Belgium, has become the center for European terror

The neighborhood of Molenbeek in Brussels, which is both the capital city of Belgium and the capital of the European Union, has entered the world spotlight following the jihadist attack in Paris last week.

Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected mastermind behind the Paris attacks, is from the Molenbeek neighborhood, and at least one of the other perpetrators came from there.

Other recent terrorist events can be traced back to the Belgian capital. Mehdi Nemmouche, who in May 2014 killed four people in the Jewish Museum in Brussels, had been staying in the suburb of Molenbeek. Early in 2015, in the Belgian town of Verviers, the Belgian police dismantled a terrorist group with links to Molenbeek. Ayoub el-Khazzani, who in August 2015 was planning to attack the Thalys train service from Amsterdam to Paris, got on the train in Brussels after staying in Molenbeek.

The perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris last January did not come from Molenbeek, but they did have links to Belgium. Police arrested 13 jihadists in Belgium and two even died in a shootout at the time.

The greater Brussels area has long been considered to be a hotbed for radical Islamists. There are several reasons why Brussels is vulnerable:

  • The conflict between the country’s two largest populations, the Dutch-speaking Flemish and the French-speaking Walloons, is unresolved, and Brussels is at the center of it, resulting in a chaotic Brussels government.
  • In fact, Brussels has 19 districts and 19 municipal mayors and six different police authorities, creating a tangle of bureaucracy. Even following the Paris terror attacks, attempts to merge the six police authorities are unlikely to succeed.
  • Molenbeek is one of the 19 districts. It has a population of 90,000, about half Muslim, mostly Moroccan immigrants and their descendants. Unemployment is higher than 25%, with youth unemployment even higher. Young inhabitants, often with Muslim backgrounds, do not get the same chances in the labor or housing market, and claim that they are confronted with racism. They have the perfect profile to be prone to radicalization.
  • Belgium has a relatively small security apparatus, despite the fact that Brussels hosts not only Nato and the EU institutions but also the World Customs Organization, the European Economic Area, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (Swift), the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation (Eurocontrol), another 2,500 international agencies, 2,000 international companies and 150 international law firms.
  • More than 250 Belgians have traveled to Syria to join the so-called Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh). About 75 have died in combat and 125 have returned. Belgium has the highest rate of foreign fighters per capita of all Europe.

According to Noureddine Imnadine, a Moroccan-born architect:

Many of us studied hard and did well, became architects, engineers, entrepreneurs, but nobody talks about that.

Now times are different, there’s not so much work around for this younger generation, so you have these kids hanging around on the streets, feeling excluded, stigmatized, angry. We need a social framework for these kids, to get them engaged in work or in some activities to get them off the street.

Many Muslims who have become radicalized or received military training in Syria, and may even have been traumatized, are returning home from Syria without anyone checking on them whatsoever. It is a problem that is bigger in Belgium than anywhere else in Europe. Der Spiegel and Guardian (London) and PRI

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Hong Kong, China, Mong kok, Russia, FIFA, Hong Kong Football Association, Umbrella Revolution, Netherlands, Germany, Hannover, Brussels, Belgium, Molenbeek, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, Mehdi Nemmouche, Paris, Charlie Hebdo, Flemish, Walloons, Morocco, Nato, Islamic State / of Iraq and Syria/Sham/the Levant, IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, Noureddine Imnadine
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