Belgium and Today's Terrorist Attacks

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on March 22, 2016.

Obviously terrorist organizations have their sights set on causing mayhem and suffering anywhere they can, but you may not know why Belgium is a main target and how Belgium's human geography hinders efforts at snuffing out terrorism.

Belgium is the headquarters for both the European Union and NATO.  Any attacks on Belgium are attacks against the symbols of Europe's financial and military strength.  Attacks against these institutions also raise the moral of terrorists. If they can strike Europe there, they can strike Europe anywhere.

Belgium's human geography makes it extremely difficult for the nation's law enforcement to successfully communicate across the country.  Belgium is a divided nation.  Ever since its creation, a deep divide has existed between its Southern, French speaking areas and its Northern, Flemish speaking areas.  As both sides have different languages, you probably already guessed that both have different cultures and ideas about economic and political structure.  The divide has only grown over the course of the nation's existence.  The French region, known as Wallonia, once dominated the country and this led to animosity from the northern region; known as Flanders.  As Flanders has surpassed Wallonia economically, it has gained a strong degree of autonomy.  Within cities like Brussels, that division is even more pronounced.

This cultural division has left many citizens feeling isolated and with a "visitor in my own country" feeling.  Terrorists organizations have preyed on this disenfranchisement and, as a result, more Belgian citizens have traveled to fight for ISIS than any other European nation.  As we learn more about the identity of those responsible for today's attacks, don't be surprised if many of them are third or fourth generation Belgians, rather than immigrants.

If you want to learn more about Belgium's place in the War on Terror, this CNN article is a good primer. For a good starting point on Belgium's internal division, this Guardian article will provide you a detailed summary

Thanks for reading.

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