'Extremism' in Belgium needs to be viewed in perspective

I read Europe correspondent Jonathan Eyal's news analysis with great interest ("Belgium - a hotbed of extremism in Europe"; Wednesday).

Allow me to put some of the points he raises into perspective.

First of all, we should underline the unprecedented nature of the challenges we face.

The attacks in Paris, as well as in Beirut and over the Sinai, have again demonstrated that no country can deal with the threat of terrorism and violent extremism on its own.

Our societies have to come up with answers that deal effectively with these challenges, while at the same time preserving our core values.

The threat is not only directed at our citizens but equally at our values.

Respect for the law and human rights must continue to guide our action.

Belgium has taken its responsibility within this context: Earlier this year - in the first and only case of its kind in Europe - 83 people were convicted for their involvement in the recruitment of foreign fighters; police intervention in the town of Verviers prevented a terror attack from occurring.

In his news analysis, Mr Eyal highlights some elements he considers particular to Belgium.

Some nuance is needed:

First, a - rapidly diminishing - number of Belgian nationals have indeed joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

We should, however, not lose sight of the fact that this constitutes only a tiny, and unrepresentative, minority of our Muslim community.

Second, Belgium, just like any other federal state, is a highly decentralised country.

Our country also has a tradition of strong local governance.

We have been able to manage this institutional complexity by creating a network of consultation and coordination mechanisms.

These allow for joint analysis and action at all levels.

Finally, the threat coming from terrorism and violent extremism does not stop at borders.

Belgium is closely coordinating its actions with France and other European and international partners.

There is always room for improvement.

That is why our country has consistently argued in favour of a common European approach in this field.

Gerard Cockx

Ambassador of Belgium to the Republic of Singapore

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2015, with the headline ''Extremism' in Belgium needs to be viewed in perspective'. Subscribe