Belgium: 'We must end discrimination and pro-war policies'

Paramilitary police in Brussels.

Vice-Chair of the socialist Workers' Party of Belgium (PTB-PVDA) David Pestieau, spoke to French paper L'Humanite Dimanche on March 31 about the March 22 terrorist attacks in Brussels and the latest anti-terrorist bill. An abridged version, translated from French, is below.

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What state is Belgium in after the terrorist attacks?

We are still living in the aftermath of the attacks in Paris first, and now Brussels. The targets in Brussels were the airport and the metro — with passengers, workers, people on their way to work, mothers, fathers. The first reaction was solidarity and unity against terror, hatred and division.

Commemorations, both spontaneous and organised, were held at the Brussels Stock Exchange, on the Brussels Airport tarmac, in Charleroi, in Antwerp and in cities across the country.

Everyone wanted to defend our peaceful co-existence against jihadists and racists. All victims, all standing as one, in spite of the attempts by the extreme right to disrupt this growing movement of unity.

On March 27, four hundred football hooligans from the “Casual United Belgium” association tried to break the solidarity of the cosmopolitan town that is Brussels, where two-thirds of the population is of foreign origin.

This incident raises many questions. How come, right in the wake of the attacks, with all the security measures taken by the authorities, these 400 hooligans managed to go from Vilvoorde (a city just outside Brussels) to the Place de la Bourse (in the centre of Brussels) without any reaction? There has been a laissez-faire attitude vis-a-vis these “black-shirts” who were allowed to trample flowers, chant slogans against immigrants and perform the Nazi salute.

Society is experiencing an enormous sense of bewilderment. Both in Belgium and in the rest of Europe, the extreme-right is trying to capture the anger in order to sow terror and division.

The investigation of the attacks reveals gross negligence on the part of the Belgian authorities. Is this worrying, with new anti-terrorist bills on the horizon?

The hour of truth has come. We demand answers to the many questions raised as to the management of the terrorist threat and the responsibility of the judiciary and the police.

At different levels, we can see that the government has been unable to protect the population. Hence it is clear that its policies have to be challenged.

And the PTB-PVDA members of parliament shall oppose any new anti-terrorist bill proposed by the prime minister who, nevertheless, wants to bring new legislation forward as early as March 29. Attention must be given to the existing mechanisms and its many shortcomings.

It appears that these attacks could have been prevented. Ministers have to provide answers as to what happened to the very clear warnings received over Ibrahim El Bakraoui and the Abdeslam brothers. Serious errors have been committed.

Hence, we formulated 37 precise questions to the Charles Michel government, for we cannot afford such shortcomings any more in the fight against terrorism.

What are the measures called for by the government?

Michel and his ministers are committed to mirroring the path chosen by the United States and most of the European countries like France: to gather and record as much data as possible on as many citizens as possible. At the same time, the justice minister has confirmed that his services are being over-stretched because of an overflow of information.

Likewise, the battery of measures taken — the army on the streets, the revoking of citizenships, mass surveillance — is inefficient and may increase the burden of operational work at the expense of the tracking-down really dangerous subjects.

What are the proposals of the PTB-PVDA?

At the criminal level, it is necessary to target the recruiters of future Syria fighters as well as other jihadists.

We also have to develop prevention and deradicalisation programs. We have to invest in employment and the fight against discrimination. Belgium has one of the highest rate of discrimination in job recruitment in Europe.

Europe should also stop its pro-war policy with NATO and cut off the financial, logistical and arms support to ISIS via its allies, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

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