On Sunday morning, I was in Brussels at a conference organised by the German Marshall Fund. The city was tense, following the arrest a couple of days earlier of Salah Abdeslam, a leading suspect in the Paris bombings in November, although nobody could foresee that, two days later, Brussels itself would come under attack.
最近，我在布鲁塞尔参加德国马歇尔基金会(German Marshall Fund)组织的一场会议。就在会议的几天前，去年11月巴黎爆炸案的主要嫌疑人之一萨拉赫•阿卜杜勒-萨拉姆(Salah Abdeslam)在此落网，整个城市都处在紧张氛围中，但当时没人能预见到，两天后布鲁塞尔自身也将成为袭击目标。
In retrospect, the Sunday morning session at the GMF conference was focused on issues that now seem even more urgent. One of the speakers was Yves Goldstein, who runs the office of the president of the Brussels regional government.
Mr Goldstein pointed out that the population of Brussels is 25 per cent Muslim. He insisted, with evident sincerity, that the mixed nature of the city, which has French, Flemish and EU quarters, was a source of cultural richness. But he also argued that Brussels faces its most serious security problem since the second world war since, as he explained, a substantial proportion of the young Muslim population of Brussels, regarded Isis terrorists as “heroes”.
As Mr Goldstein pointed out, the fact that Salah Abdeslam had been able to hide in Brussels undetected for four months after the Paris attacks shows that there is a substantial network of people prepared to help terrorist suspects.
These facts should provide some insight into the lessons that can be learned from the Brussels attacks. The two most important things that need to be improved are long term in nature — integration and intelligence.
At the moment, there is considerable focus on the specific intelligence failures that led the Belgians to fail to roll up a large jihadist network that seems to have been behind the Paris and Brussels attacks. But building up effective intelligence networks is long-term work that requires years of effort.
In this respect, the Belgians might be able to learn from the kind of work the British intelligence services did after the London bombings of 2005. The UK’s security agencies have worked on building up networks of intelligence assistants in the Muslim community, particularly among young people and those who attend mosques that host radical preachers.
The hope is that those intelligence operatives can usually pick up information about fugitive jihadis or radical networks before they strike. The British feel that, as a result, they are now most vulnerable to “lone wolf” attackers, who are not part of a network. The Belgians, by contrast, have obviously not been able to penetrate jihadi networks in the ways that are urgently required.
The intelligence task is closely related to the second issue — integration. It is much easier to recruit informants if a substantial part of the community feels attached to the wider society as a whole. The more isolated the Muslim community is, the more likely it is that radical ideologies can take root.
The problem is only partly economic. Over the weekend, I visited Molenbeek, the now notorious Brussels neighbourhood, in which Mr Abdeslam was arrested. Although unemployment rates are said to be high there, it is not an obviously poverty-stricken area. There are plenty of small businesses and cafés and people bustling around on the streets. But although the district is a 10-minute drive from the European quarter and the museum district in Brussels, culturally it feels distant. Making Molenbeek and the rest of Muslim Brussels feel much more closely connected to the rest of Belgian society will be the work of many years.