Brussels prosecutor launches inquiry into possible extremist links of charities and not-for-profit organisations
Brussels attacks Photo credit: Press Association
The Brussels prosecutor's decision to investigate organisations linked to extremism should be welcomed, and EU governments should do the same, writes John Duhig.
As we approach the anniversary of the Brussels attacks of 22 March 2016, when early morning, almost simultaneous suicide bomb attacks at Zavantem airport and at Maalbeek metro station in the EU quarter killed 32 people and injured 300, eyes are once again focused on the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek.
It was home to a number of the bombers that carried out the November 2015 Paris attacks and has been linked to the cell that carried out the March 2016 Brussels attacks.
The Brussels prosecutor has just launched an inquiry into the activities of 144 of some 3308 charities and not-for-profit organisations in Molenbeek and neighbouring Koekelberg, Jette, Ganshoren and Berchem-Saint-Agathe, for possible links to violent extremism and terrorism.
According to press reports, 1617 organisations were audited in Molenbeek, with 51 of these revealing links with a radicalised individual or individuals. The next step is for authorities to establish, via a judicial enquiry, if any of these is linked to violent extremists and/or terrorists.
According to Belgian interior minister Jan Jambon, the objective is to ensure that terrorist networks, who may be seeking to prepare potential attacks in the country, cannot shelter behind the charitable, not-for-profit sector.
It is reassuring that the state is undertaking a comprehensive investigation of charities and organisations in general. It is not before time.
European governments and institutions have for decades supported, consulted and even funded certain groups whose aims, activities and objectives are not necessarily always in line with our liberal-democratic values.
Many of these groups are highly organised and structured. Some, for example, claim to represent ‘the Muslim community’ in Europe. As we know, there is no such thing - rather, there are Muslim individuals from different ethnic, cultural and geographically distinct backgrounds, many of whom say they do not feel represented by such groups.
For years, European governments were not overly concerned about the activities of these groups or indeed where their funding originated. It is generally accepted that funding for some of them comes from the Gulf - Qatar and Saudi Arabia in particular - and is often accompanied by ultra conservative clerics and imams, trained in the Wahhabi Islam tradition and who regularly use teaching material that has been found to have extremist content.
Indeed, the Wahhabi tradition promotes a radical, ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam and is considered a powerful trigger for extremism all around the world - often connected, as it is, to so-called hotbeds of terrorism.
Islamism, the politicisation of the religion, is one of the driving forces behind the ideology - arguably the source of radicalisation and violent extremism - that can often lead to terrorism and/or recruitment to terrorist organisations.
Right-wing extremists and neo-Nazi groups promote a similar radical ideology that can and does lead to violent extremism and terrorist attacks. These two ideologies are flip sides of the same coin, feeding and sustaining one another.
We must therefore welcome the Brussels prosecutor's inquiry into the funding and activities of charities and organisations that are shown to have links with extremists, of all hues and colours. With the increase in all forms of extremism within European societies, it is high time governments across the EU undertook similar investigations.