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It would have been nice for this vacation month to write about something relaxing. I intended to write about my observations in nature, including this years’ early appearance of the broad-leafed helleborine Epipactis helleborine or the seemingly inexorable ascent of the black redstart Phoenicurus ochruros.
In the light of the abhorrent events in Nice, this would be disrespectful. At the time of writing, 84 innocent lives have been lost, including many children. Hundreds if not thousands of families are in mourning whilst you are reading this article.
What can society do against such a wanton criminal act? This article is about what we could conceivably do, and what we should not do.
On what we should not do, two things spring to mind. First, we should not close the borders or heavily guard them, as President Hollande now seems to plan on doing. This is useless for a number of reasons. First and foremost, if the information we have today is correct, the perpetrator was a local, French citizen. Even if we had managed to close the border, it would not have helped one iota. Secondly, it is not practical, as yes, of course you can generate long traffic jams on points where motorways and major roads cross the borders, but no, it does not seem feasible to lock or guard every single little road that connects France with the outside world. For instance, there is a daily traffic jam on the E17 connecting Ghent (B) to Lille (F) nearby to our Deerlijk office where innocent and unprepared travellers spend a few hours. But we all know a multitude of smaller roads we take to circumvent this and where there are no controls whatsoever. I presume that terrorists know about this. Third, after the Paris attacks one of the main suspects went through such a checkpoint without further ado, allegedly because he was not on the right “list”. Closing the borders is not the answer.
Another thing we should not do is blame or isolate our neighbours of Muslim faith. These attacks, or at least some of them, have been made by people who claim the Islam faith. They are called extremists in the media. Extremism is a misleading word. These attacks are extreme for sure, but is it an extreme form of Islam faith? I would it that such acts have no place in Islam faith at all, be it extreme or not. These are acts of madness, full stop.
What we must do is harness with the Muslim community in a close dialogue with a view to how we can better integrate, and how we can nip emerging “extremism” in the bud.
Another thing we must do is not close the borders, but remove them as far as Police work is concerned. As I have written before, we today have 27 police forces coordinating with 26 others. That is 351 communication channels. In such a situation, we cannot hope to fight an effective war.
What we need is a European Police that can work without borders, just as the USA have the FBI. This is the only real measure we can take from which we can hope some level of success. With such a force, it will still be nigh on impossible to fully exclude barbaric acts of the criminally insane. Without such a force, the question is, unfortunately, not if such a thing will reoccur, but when.
Maarten van Leeuwen
Group Managing Director
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