Several days after the terrorist mayhem in Brussels, reflection on how the attacks could happen is in full swing. Part of the answer: Belgian politicians simply don't care about the safety of their citizens.
Ever since the Paris terrorist attacks of November 2015, and the leading roles Belgians played in them, Europe and the Belgians have wondered why so many of the leading perpetrators hailed from one quarter in Brussels.
When the questions were answered, security experts across the globe were left baffled when they found out that the Brussels agglomeration counts no fewer than 19 separate municipalities. The mayors rule over police forces divided over 6 police zones.
Of course, many factors are at play. But since the devastating attacks this week in Brussels itself, many stories have surfaced about dysfunctional police bureaucracy. Anti-EU pundits and publications were quick to compare Belgium with the bureaucratic European Union.
Were it only this simple; the truth is far more complicated. The Belgians themselves know better. As this story by Belgian media outlet Newsmonkey shows, the main problem isn't bureaucracy itself but the deep divisions in Belgian politics. The resulting dysfunctional bureaucracies were intentional.
The 19 municipalities and 6 police zones in Brussels are the product of bitter political wars among various parties on a horizontal level and exacerbated by divisions along cultural lines on the vertical level.
Belgium is a fairly recent construct. Founded in 1830 after a revolt against its Dutch overlords, and recognized after much wrangling by the dominant powers of the age in 1839, the country is divided by two main languages, and actually by three: Flemish-Dutch in the north, Wallonian-French in the south, and a Belgo-German zone in the east.
In the past decades, political parties of all stripes have used the bitter linguistic divisions to their own benefit in a cynical game of divide-and-conquer.
These cultural divisions were layered atop a political landscape polarized between left and right. As the Newsmonkey article reveals, mayors of the Parti Socialiste and the liberal MR simply refuse to cooperate, much less to be directed by politicians of a competing party. As a result, the exchange of information among various police forces has been dismal.
The parties claim to be doing all this because they are representing the will of the people. They are not. It smacks of old-fashioned clientelism, with the sole aim of retaining power.
It is telling that the parties are still not willing to change their ways, even after all that has transpired since the Paris attacks. As a result, the terrorist enclaves in Belgian societies are thriving while parties bicker.
By their willful inaction, the parties have the blood of their own citizens on their hands. But in the end, those very citizens are the real decisionmakers in any democracy, even such a dysfunctional one as Belgium.
It is time that Belgians show their parties where priorities must lie: in providing safety and security. This is non-political, and above all, non-negotiable.
And even if Belgian voters prove to be victims of Stockholm Syndrome and are beyond help, then the governments of countries bordering Belgium should put the dysfunctional political parties under severe pressure to change their deeply polarizing and egotistical ways.