by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
The recent ISIS attacks in Brussels, the city which is otherwise associated with the unforgettable Tin Tin of comic strips, is a typical consequence of confused European thinking. They cannot decide on the extent to which they should create space for "outsiders". Since the end of the Second World War, the front-ranking nation states of Europe loved being open societies with no discrimination on colour, creed or race. But in reality, the long-existing barriers between the indigenous people and new comers became even more steep.
Brussels is an example. It is currently the breeding ground of terror in Europe, Paris and London being perhaps the second and third respectively. Brussels' Molenbeek neighbourhood, mostly inhabited by 25 per cent Muslims, was raided just a few days before the recent bombing of the Zaventem airport and Maalbeek metro station, killing 34 persons.
In the Molenbeek operation, the police arrested Salah Abdeslam, a suspected accomplice in the ISIS attacks in Paris last November. And Abdelhamid Abaaoud, ring leader of the Paris attack, also came from Molenbeek. So radicalised the population of Molenbeek has become that, after Abdeslam's arrest, Belgium's interior minister said he was surprised by the support the accused received from the neighbourhood.
Molenbeek is not the only ghetto of its kind to spread Islamic jihad in Europe. Ca n'Anglada in Barcelona, the tourist city in Spanish Catalonia, is yet another hotspot identified as the origin of several ISIS fighters. So is Seine-Saint-Denis in Paris, or the Neuköllin borough in Berlin, both home of many North African ISIS recruits.
And so are London and Birmingham in the UK. Many of the refugees reaching Europe as a result of the turmoil in Mesopotamia are sheltering in these ghettoes. Like their Muslim hosts, they too expect jobs and equality in status with their European neighbours. Grievances due to disparity of benefits are an old story but it has got a new boost with the fresh arrivals.
It is undeniable, though, that most European nations are inept in guarding their frontiers, which is the reason why many terrorists have found refuge in the continent under the guise of refugees. Besides, ISIS is currently targeting Europe because of its series of defeats at the hands of the US-led forces in Syria and Iraq. Since January 2015, it has lost 17 per cent of its territory. It is obviously trying to make up for its tough luck back home by launching vicious attacks on the civilian population of Europe.
Besides, ISIS is caught in a web. It uses the 1000-year-old terminology of the Christian-Islamic battles to say that their actions are aimed at halting the "crusaders", as if it is final onslaught now. However psychopathic it may sound, it is no doubt prompted by the belief of a people who refuse to accept a single deviation from the interpretation of God's words by the Prophet.
And, unlike Al Qaida, their fight is not for a defined objective (like US troops to leave Saudi Arabia). But it wants that there would be no disbeliever alive. It could be brushed aside as a fit of delinquency as long as they had limited potential to damage the liberal establishment. But the indoctrination of so many suicide bombers—they're a huge force multiplier—has substantially shifted the balance of power.
Where does India stand in the new 'clash of civilizations'? No one can tell, except that India has a large number of ISIS supporters hibernating in sleeper cells, and it is anybody's guess if and when they will wake up and strike. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is leaving for Brussels on his way to Washington DC, and will address an estimated crowd of 4,000 diaspora Indians in the Belgian capital. The visit has caused considerable commotion in the city which is already the butt of global criticism for its slovenly security system. Not to take any risk, it has deployed the army to ensure that Modi's visit remains trouble-free.
Though it is not the best time to visit Brussels—its airport was still closed at the time of writing this article on Sunday—Modi insisted on sticking to his schedule because of his proven grit and fondness for foreign trips.
It is not only that he loves to be seen arm in arm with world leaders. He relishes the optical of addressing crowds of Indians abroad, like in New York's Madison Square Garden last year, or at Silicon Valley, or in Singapore. He appreciates the qualitative superiority of Indians who have moved abroad and done well in life, and he has accepted them as an important constituency. Probably he expects that the Indians in Brussels will be reinvigorated by his presence and establish themselves as 'good foreigners', quite different from the Molenbeek crowd.
But it has a flip side. The Indian presence in the ISIS drills is still negligible because the South Asian countries have discreetly kept themselves away from the battlefields, staying neutral in the “crusades”. The ISIS is perhaps aware of backlash in India of its foolhardiness. However, the inherent risk of mobilising four thousand plus Indians in Brussels, mostly Hindu traders from nearby Antwerp or Amsterdam, is that India may accidentally surface on ISIS radar. But Modi is clear in his vision and objectives. Rather than being told of India’s greatness, the rally will reassure Indians abroad. Modi has been stressing lately, rather publicly, his soft side as witnessed in West Bengal when he stopped his speech midway due to recitation of Ajaan.