I had an exclusive interview this morning with Christian Harbulot which had been set up a couple of days ago. We were supposed to talk about the study that the School of Economic War which he heads in Paris has just published on “Can France overcome Daesh in the information war?” But then the terrorist attacks occured in Brussels and so our conversation naturally centred on those, and the problems of radicalisation. We will return to the very interesting study in a few days but first here are some extracts of Harbulot’s reflections on the Brussels attacks.
Harbulot, who has a reputation for not pulling punches, considers that “the main danger doesn’t lie in acts of mass terrorism undertaken by individuals who represent only themselves, but in the weakening of our populations.”
For him the situation in Molenbeek, Belgium, “is a typical illustration of the sociological degradation of Belgium, which had already been weakened by the conflict between the Walloons and the Flemish, which had been weakened by the way in which the two linguistic communities are incapable of agreeing on a coherent policy for Brussels and its immediate suburbs (…) and it was fairly easy for forces to slip into this breach and create sectarian zones that are, sadly, more worrying for the moment than in France because [after the necessary mourning period] one will understand that the federal Belgian state was totally deficient.”
And he hammers the nail home: “Totally deficient in its intelligence gathering, totally deficient in its social control because (…) one can see in these sectarian zones that social control under rule of law is not being carried out as it should be. And that is a major problem (…) which is not necessarily linked to the legal arsenal, nor to the deployment of public order forces on the ground, but linked to the politicians’ incapacity to manage the future of a country like Belgium.” For him “today Belgium is totally incapable of resolving this problem.”
He explains that the response to sectarianism and radicalism will be “very complicated because Belgium is not a united country. It is profoundly split into two linguistic camps that do not want to get along, who just co-habit. I hope (…) they will be able to get beyond that and at least find common ground to confront an enemy who risks attacking the one and the other.”
Turning to the situation in France, Harbulot stresses that if the fight against radicalisation is essentially an economic one it does not consist simply of cutting unemployment levels. “It also means showing the people born in this immigrant community, those who are participating in the development of this country, who feel good here and who feel French. We must talk about them. We must highlight their achievements (…). The first thing to do to fight radicalisation is to show the success stories of those who are not radicalised, of those who want to live here and, together with others, build a future for this country.“