The horrific attacks at a Brussels Metro station and airport, just five months after the atrocities in Paris in November has once again thrown the problems of radicalisation among young Muslims and questions over European border controls, (in particular the Schengen agreement) into the limelight. Despite revisions to the agreement expected to be announced as law in the summer, there are still doubts about whether these can increase the security of Europe. Furthermore, European leaders have been given an almighty headache on what to do to stop radicalisation among young Muslims in their respective countries. A clear and coherent strategy needs to be set out, although one Belgian city’s mayor may already have the answer.
The city of Mechelen is only 30 minutes away from Brussels, and yet their zero tolerance mayor Bart Somers’ reforms and policies on radicalisation appear to be doing the trick. However, his reforms are hardly revolutionary, and the thought and strategy behind them is something that even the dimmest of politicians could figure out (step forward Boris Johnson), and could, and perhaps should be implemented into major cities across not only Europe, but around the world. By finding the reasons why young Muslims idiotically turn to Daesh, Somers has been able to implement the clear and coherent strategy that so much of Europe is screaming out for.
The main reason why so many turn to Daesh is due to a lack of integration of the Muslim community, which is perhaps more of a problem on the continent than in the UK, with cities such as Birmingham, Manchester, Coventry, Leicester, Bradford and London having large Muslim populations. Moreover, in areas such as Molenbeek, which has a large Muslim contingent, but have not properly integrated, there is a very high youth unemployment rate, with it being recently recorded at 40% in the Brussels suburb. This then leads many young people into petty crime, for which they receive small prison sentences. This is feasibly the crucial stage in the process in being radicalised, as it when these young Muslims come to the conclusion that they have been failed or rejected by the state, which then points them in the direction of the ghastly, barbaric and completely un-Islamic Daesh.
What Somers has done is inject funds in youth clubs and activities to keep young people off the streets and away from crime. Additionally, this, he claims, is what helps keep neighbourhoods together, no matter what cultures people come from, and by keeping them updated with fresh injections of funds, no one is being left behind, and no one is being “forgotten”, frustrated with the system, and therefore prevents them being radicalised. As well as this, Somers held intense discussions with Mechelen Mosque leaders to help integrate the Muslim community, and by having an inclusive and tightknit community policy, he, along with Mosque leaders in the city, has helped to reduce the amount of young Muslims being radicalised.
This is exactly the sort of clearly structured strategy that I, as a liberal Muslim, would like to be implemented around Europe and the world. In fact, the only area which can be improved upon, is the attitude and prejudices of non-Muslims in the same neighbourhoods as the Muslim communities. More needs to be done to educate them on Islam, and the differences between mainstream Islam and the vile ideology of groups such as Daesh or Al-Qaeda, and how they can also report terrorist activity without appearing to be “racist”. However, Somers’ example is an excellent foundation to be built upon, and is one that should be followed, but, the thing concerning me most, is why has not it been implemented anywhere else?
But, what of Schengen? What can be done to not only stop Daesh fighters coming back to Europe to orchestrate attacks, but to also stop them from radicalising others? The migrant crisis has greatly undermined the Schengen agreement, with many countries, such as Hungary imposing internal temporary border controls to stem the flow of migrants. While the sheer number of refugees and migrants has already forced the EU to introduce a new European Border and Coast Guard force in the Aegean Sea, with Germany taking in more than 1 million refugees and migrants alone on 2015, the fact that Daesh fighters are attempting, and succeeding in blending in with migrants is very concerning for continental security.
Border security cannot check everyone single refugee without a few falling through the gaps and finding new ways to get past them, whether through a difficult route or fake documents, and more needs to be done to stop the wrong people coming into the continent. While the EU is introducing a new list of “safe countries of origin” to speed up the asylum process, with only around 10% of asylum seekers being granted it, this is still not stopping the influx of people coming to the EU’s shores, and therefore there is still the opportunity for Daesh fighters to disguise themselves among migrants and refugees.