The terror attack on Brussels has once again brought onto centre-stage the issue of security vis-a-vis civil rights. Four months after the Paris bloodbath, the Islamic State (IS)-inspired second deadly strike at the European Union headquarters has triggered alarms across Europe and the United States. Republican Party presidential candidate frontrunner Dold Trump has characteristically lost no time in calling for surveillance of Muslims, closing the borders to Muslim refugees and torturing terrorist suspects. Lambasting Brussels for ‘coddling’ Islamic terrorism, Trump has warned on the campaign trail that ‘this is going to happen in the United States’. His implied portrayal of Muslim communities as the ‘enemy within’ whose members can be tackled because they are visibly of a different race, is now giving a new edge to the debate over ‘racial profiling’ in the US on ground of interl security. Not to be outdone, Trump’s main rival for Republican nomition Ted Cruz has demanded empowering law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods ‘before they become radicalized’. Refusing to be drawn into this rabid fear-mongering, Democratic nomition frontrunner Hillary Clinton has instead called to the people not to be intimidated as terrorists seek to ‘undermine democratic values’. Belgium meanwhile has spiritedly responded to Trump’s criticism and Turkish authorities’ claim that one of the Brussels suicide bombers was released by Dutch and Belgian officials despite Ankara’s warning that he was a ‘foreign terrorist fighter’. Mindful that 5 percent of Belgium’s population is Muslim, its Foreign minister has asserted that ‘security has to be balanced with civil rights’, while the country’s Law minister has pointed out that there was no reason to detain earlier the Brussels suicide bomber as he was then known only as a petty crimil with no evidence or history of terrorist links. As for the French charge that ‘ivete’ on the part of certain Belgian leaders has been holding back security crackdowns on its Muslim community, Belgium has argued that France too has rough suburbs in which crimils have been getting radicalized into jihadis.
Countries like Belgium are thus in an unenviable situation, having to defend their liberal, democratic values based on civil rights and the rule of law — against increasing calls to turn into closed societies wary of ‘outsiders’ who can do harm. Besides, taking such a course will straightaway play into the hands of IS ideologues, who create an ‘us against them’ mentality to radicalize recruits, even as millions of Muslims continue to suffer the most from the IS scourge. About 300 Belgians are known to have fought alongside IS jihadis in the Syrian civil war, making Belgium the leading exporter of foreign fighters in Europe with parts of Brussels a major hub of IS operatives. This has sparked concerns in France and other European neighbors about Belgium’s interl security capabilities. Tuesday’s terror attack has come close on the heels of the capture of Salah Abdeslam, the key organizer of the Paris attacks, in his hometown Brussels after four months on the run. He is known to have been planning further attacks in Brussels itself at the time of his capture, and links are now emerging between him and the four suspected Brussels attackers. There are further reports that the Paris attack bomb-maker was also one of the suicide bombers who hit the Brussels airport. All these leads found are said to point to a major change in terror strategy by the IS, even as its war machine in the Middle East is getting hammered by the intertiol coalition which Belgium has joined.
To keep Europe bleeding in turn and spend more and more on interl security, the IS command is said to be focusing less on casualties and more on the number of operations. The new breed of jihadi fighters are trained longer and harder in spying and surveillance techniques, counter-surveillance, bomb-making and battlefield strategies. They are then deployed in interlocking terror cells that can operate on their own and switch flexibly from one country to another — with about 400-600 such fighters supposedly kept ready for European targets alone. European Union interl security ministers on Thursday have begun discussions on better coordition, but it remains to be seen how far they are willing to share the most vital intelligence. The divide between the likes of Germany and other European countries over opening borders to Muslim refugees fleeing the killing fields in Syria and Iraq is likely to be exacerbated in the coming days, with jihadis said to be slipping into target countries along with refugees. Along with the refugees’ question, how European countries deal with their Muslim communities will be keenly followed elsewhere. A country like Britain has been running a ‘Prevent’ programme since 2007 to build up ‘effective relationships’ between its police and different communities, though it has been derided as a failed spying mission in trying to elicit information about extremists. Prime Minister David Cameron’s initiative to involve local authorities, institutions and law enforcement to prevent people getting drawn into extremism, has had its own share of controversies. With terror scaling new paradigms, no country will have it easy in striking a balance between security and civil rights.