Shortly after two terrorist bombs ripped apart the departure hall at Brussels Airport, killing at least 11, and a third bomb ended the lives of at least 15 more in the nearby Maelbeek subway station, the editor-in-chief of the French-language Le Soir posted an editorial on the Belgian paper’s website. “The noise is continuous,” wrote Beatrice Delvaux. “It comes out from everywhere, crossing the street like an open wound. Ambulances, fire engines, police vans, unmarked cars with flashing blue lights scream as they go. People stop, look, in a daze: their eyes are empty.”
Delvaux’s description of the bedlam around her will ring true to anyone who has had the terrifying experience of hearing news announcements that the unthinkable is happening, not streets and worlds away, but right around the corner.
And yet, Delvaux goes on, because it’s her job to describe what she sees and to comment on its causes. “They know all this is true,” she writes of the physical and emotional chaos in Brussels today. “They know too that they knew: this was going to happen, this was bound to happen. It’s the sadness above all that is infinite; it seeps from the paving stones and trickles from the pavements.”
The sadness is appropriate and understandable, but I bridle at Delvaux’s apparent resignation that that this was bound to happen. Yes, I suppose that we must concede that an attack on Brussels was likely, considering that the city had become known in recent months as the incubator of the terrorist cell that attacked Paris in November 2015. This past weekend, Belgian authorities finally nabbed Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent alleged to have participated in the attacks. He had been hiding out for the last four months in Molenbeek, the Brussels neighborhood and hotbed of Islamic radicalism.
But nothing about Islamic terrorism in Western Europe is inevitable. Multiculturalism has invited the problem. Decades of failure to assimilate young male Muslims into the European cultural mainstream have produced a generation of angry misfits, vulnerable to radicalization and eager to express its dissatisfaction through Islamist violence. As the New York Times reported, “Few countries have been more vulnerable than Belgium. It has an especially high proportion of citizens who have traveled to Iraq, insular Muslim communities that have helped shield jihadists, and security services that have had persistent problems conducting effective counterterrorism operations, not least in its four-month effort to capture Mr. Abdeslam.”
If the solution to the problem of homegrown Islamic terrorism in Western Europe were easy, we wouldn’t keep reading about these awful massacres. As intractable as it may seem, however, it is not inevitable, and Europe’s elites will get nowhere if they don’t abandon this notion. Seeing the indiscriminate slaughter of innocents as fated is one step away from seeing it as deserved. Neither is true.
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