I’m reminded that when President John Adams used to walk from his modest home to the White House there was nary a bodyguard hovering solicitously near him. Any citizen could come and greet him and exchange greetings or opinions. I went to a lecture in Brussels on Wednesday, unaware that President Obama was in Belgium and was descending on that city for various official functions including an invitation to address a conclave of 2000 persons.
After lunch with a friend we tried to wend our way to the lecture and we spent the next 90 minutes looping around in the fashion of the Red Baron as avenue after avenue and road after road were closed off and manned by various tough-looking police. Rubbish bins were sealed; manhole covers bolted; many subways were closed; and there was an incessant clatter of helicopters up above trying to photograph me for the “ Scraggly Pensioner of the Year Award.’ What caused me really to gawp like Gary Cooper playing a winsome country boy innocent was that President Obama had brought with him some 300 security personnel plus 600 other persons such as business tycoons and foreign affair specialists. I saw for the first time ever masked snipers on top of buildings. It gave me a frisson of excitement. I was also told by my short of sleep friend, that an AWACS had been flying around Brussels the previous night until 3.00 AM.
Some hundreds of thousands of people were inconvenienced and business suffered that day. All very democratic. Now I wonder since Belgium has splendid castles in the countryside; similarly large hotels in pristine rural settings; and Gothic follies ( not to speak of my follies) why couldn’t the whole travelling charabanc go to somewhere more isolated and pontificate in a peaceful setting leaving the rest of us alone.
The real irony of the day for me was that I was going to the first of two lectures on Muslims. Hence the extraordinary security measures. All sorts of plot possibilities exist - from deranged individuals to the extreme right or left, but it seems to me at the head of the list of probabilities are the hyper mobile Muslim terrorist jihadists. The lecture was superb, given by Professor Emeritus, Felipe Dassetto, analysing the origins of Moroccan and Turkish migration to Belgium in the early 1960s. He approached the subject from the point of view of a sociologist, cultural anthropology and economics. I certainly learned a great deal. After the war Belgium had a great need of manpower to power up its industries, especially the mines in Wallonia. Southern European workers came, especially Italians from their war devastated country. What is so fascinating is the survey done 10 years or so after, when many italians expressed a sense of dislocation and felt more Italian than Belgian.
The Muslims started to arrive in the mid-sixties. The first generation worked hard and lived in very humble circumstances. It is with their children or grandchildren caught between two worlds and responding to the tumults in Muslim countries that one sees some plunging into criminality or jihadism. What is so disturbing is the incapacity of so many Muslim youngsters to acquire more than a superficial education and to get work. The unemployment rate among Arab youngsters is the highest of any group in Belgium and I suspect they have the same difficulties in many stagnating European economies. The Professor felt that it would take four generations for the job of integration to function. I hope he is right - I have my doubts.