Arab world and Europe need more cooperation after Brussels

April 01, 2016

The Islamic State (ISIS) is losing ground in Syria and Iraq but this could mean more terror and mayhem in other parts of the Arab region and around the world.

The March 22nd blasts in Brussels, which killed at least 32 people, could be a harbinger of attacks to come.

One of the main concerns is the return of war-hardened jihadists from Syria.

Belgium is a special case. It has sent more jihadists per capita to Iraq and Syria than any other European country. About 150 are believed to have returned. Any country that has trouble stopping jihadists before they leave is likely to have a problem spotting them when they come back. The problem is, in fact, European Union-wide. According to the Financial Times, more than 1,200 jihadists are estimated to have returned to EU countries from Syria.

The New York-based Soufan Group says: “More important than the total number of potential terrorists is their capabilities; those with bomb-making skills and tactical discipline are particularly dangerous.”

The problem is compounded by gaps in European intelligence exchange and glitches in security coordination on a continent with open borders.

Another problem is radicalisation of young Muslims in Europe.

Unemployment among poorly integrated Muslim communities in urban environments such as Molenbeek in Brussels or the suburbs of Paris creates a fertile environment for crime and radicalisation. Molenbeek suffers from a youth unemployment rate of about 40%.

A recent French study showed that second-generation immigrants have had fewer opportunities for economic integration than the first generation. Cris Beauchemin, the study’s author, told Agence France-Presse that “in socio-economic aspects where there are barriers, such as school or employment, there is a sense of things getting worse”.

Lack of integration increases the chances of Muslim immigrants falling prey to radical Salafist preachers in mosques, prisons or through the internet.

These are internal problems that Europeans will have to handle but the Brussels attack is likely to further strain the Arab world’s relations with the West.

Xenophobic trends in the United States and Europe will grow, as witnessed in the US presidential campaign, especially among Republican candidates. US President Barack Obama rightly warned that stigmatisation of Muslims plays into the hands of jihadists “who need a reason to recruit more people to their hateful cause”.

Right-wing politicians will continue to point to immigration as the mother of all ills, even as war and terror drive people from their homes.

Before the ink dried on the deal with Turkey, the European Union was fretting over the prospect of a renewed migrant influx from Libya as the weather improves and Libyan strife continues.

Terrorism in Europe will further discourage European tourism in the Middle East and North Africa.

Arab and Muslim countries stand to lose more than others. A recent Moody’s study addresses terrorism’s long-lasting effects on economic activity. “Without terrorist events,” the study found, “the level of investment in Iraq could have been 15.1% higher between 2008 and 2013.”

Common interests dictate closer relations between the Arab world and the West, especially in security and intelligence exchange. Cooperation between Morocco and France after the Paris attacks has proved vital.

Developing a moderate narrative of Islam for European Muslim youth could also be an area of cooperation.

Overall, the Arab world and Europe have a stake in closer coopera­tion. No country or individual is immune from terrorism.