Political climate in Europe: ‘Worst level of anti-Muslim bigotry ever’

A man places flowers on a street memorial following Tuesday's bomb attacks in Brussels, Belgium, March 23, 2016 © Francois Lenoir
How should Western countries respond to terrorist threats? Are more attacks to be expected anytime soon? Why Brussels became the terrorist target on Tuesday? What can Muslims do to stamp out extremism?

RT discussed these and other issues with experts.

Signs of a renewed backlash against Muslims can already be witnessed in the wake of the Brussels bombings. Internet users have been reacting to the attacks, with the hashtag #Brussels trending on Twitter. However, just hours after the tragic events, another hashtag - #Stop Islam was also among the most popular worldwide on Tuesday.

The political climate in Europe and in the US has taken it to the worst in terms of the level of anti-Muslim bigotry,” said Nader Hashemi, director of the Center for Middle East Studies, in an interview with RT. “It has never been this bad. Part of it however can only be attributed to the increase in terrorist activity, such as the one that we saw [on Tuesday in Brussels] and in Paris [last year],” he added.

Underlining this attempt to scapegoat and blame all Muslims, are a set of socio and economic vulnerabilities that are at the root of this rising level of hysteria and paranoia and anti-Muslim sentiment,” he continued.

Hashemi suggests that in order to stamp out extremism in their midst everyone, including Muslim communities, should do whatever they can.

However, he added that the problem with calling on Muslim communities to do more is the “fundamental fallacy that sort of assumes that there is something called a Muslim community that is monolithic” and unchanging. Somehow, he added, whenever a member of that community conducts an act of terror the entire collective is considered responsible for actions of such extremists.  

Hashemi argues there are always demands from Europeans that Muslims have to do more to root out extremism within their community, because, as Westerns think, they are always responsible.

I don’t think they are more responsible than white people for ugly things that are done by white people.”

ISIS’ retaliation for its losses in Mideast

In an online statement, Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) has threatened "dark days" for all countries fighting against them saying worse is yet to come.

"This month, we’ve seen a variety of improvements in how the West has been handling ISIS,” according to Brian Levin, Director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. That, he says, is part of the ratcheting up of activity, and the expediting of attacks which is taking place is “because ISIS is feeling pressure: in some ways like a cornered rabid wolf they are acting up.”

The West is going to be hit again and ISIS is under pressure,” he told RT.

A recent study found that ISIS has lost more than a fifth of its territory in Iraq and Syria.

According to Levin, the attacks like the ones in Brussels could be direct retaliation for terrorist losses in the Middle East.

He said that one of the things that they were trying to do was related to the capture of a key suspect in November Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam.

What I think we are seeing is – there is a network that is more vast and even more sophisticated than previously thought; and they wanted to show that they can strike back,” said Levin. “But part of it was out of weakness,” he added.

'Terrorists struck heart of EU identity in Brussels, just like they did with US on 9/11’

After carrying out Tuesday’s attacks IS also said the targets in Brussels were "carefully selected."

Belgium is one of the most vulnerable European countries with regards to terrorist attacks, according to security experts. The fact that it took Belgium security services four months to catch terrorist Salah Abdeslam, who was hiding and didn’t have a problem to move around Brussels demonstrates it very well.

IS has been pretty good at keeping its word in the last several years, and I would definitely expect more attacks,Michael Vlahos, professor of strategy at Johns Hopkins University told RT. However, he adds that next time the targets might be different.

The key issue here is that the entire passion play that we’re seeing unfolding in front of us is about sacrifice,” Vlahos said. “What the Islamist insurgency has done is to create a giant theater, in which their movements draw strength and power from their own sacrifice, while we [westerners] feel depleted and weakened by the sacrifice they inflict on us,” the professor continued.

He suggests Europeans, Americans, and Russians “to a certain extent feel wakened” when their people are killed. “This reflects a very powerful recognition that we haven’t given these insurgents credit, which is - they understand what the vulnerability is in the West,” Vlahos said.

Vlahos compared the attacks in Brussels – the administrative capital of the EU and the headquarters of NATO to the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington DC.

[The terrorists] are doing the same thing they did by striking at the very symbolic heart of American identity on 9/11, by attacking the Pentagon and bringing down the World Trade Center.

Vlahos said that by attacking Brussels, the terrorists attempted to claim that Europeans and Americans “have no control even in the heart of the military, economic, and political enterprise” that the West bases its entire identity on. “That is a very symbolic blow,” he concluded.

‘Clear Belgian intelligence failing’

US intelligence reportedly expected some attacks in Brussels; however there was not enough evidence to prevent it, according to US officials. There was not enough information about where and when exactly the incident would take place.

Belgium authorities also warned about the possibility of terror attacks following the capture of Salah Abdeslam on Friday.

Answering the question if Belgian intelligence could have prevented the explosions, Dr. Joseph Downing, Fellow at the London School of Economics said that often security services have some vague intelligence. He also argues that the Belgian authorities have a lot of questions themselves, like: “was there an opportunity for them to act on a specific threat, or was it a general threat?

After the Paris attacks, a lot of European counties, including Belgium, raised the security level. That however hasn’t prevented new attacks as the Brussels tragedy has demonstrated; as terrorists are still able to freely move around the continent thanks to the Schengen agreement.

However, Downing said, in the case of the attacks on the Belgian capital, “there has clearly been some intelligence failing that hasn’t enabled security services to track those who are under significant suspicion.

Whether this is a question of resources in terms of requiring increased numbers of operatives and staff to monitor particular individuals, or whether it’s an issue with getting certain kinds of intelligence – still very much remains to be seen,” Downing added.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.