Belgium Terrorist Attacks Prompt A Renewed Sectarian Debate : Parallels The attacks in Brussels were followed by appeals for national unity. But Belgium is a country long driven by sectarian divide, and nationalist politicians say the attacks support their cause.
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Belgium Terrorist Attacks Prompt A Renewed Sectarian Debate

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Belgium Terrorist Attacks Prompt A Renewed Sectarian Debate

Belgium Terrorist Attacks Prompt A Renewed Sectarian Debate

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The attacks in Brussels have also reenergized the country's anti-immigrant far right. They've revived calls for the country to split, making one part French-speaking Walloons - the other, Dutch-speaking Flemish. NPR's Melissa Block spoke with two men in Brussels on opposite ends of that debate.

SAM VAN ROOY: These are our offices from my party, the Vlaams Belang.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: That's Sam van Rooy, a spokesman for Vlaams Belang. That's the Flemish interest party on Belgium's far right.

Do you consider yourself more Flemish than Belgian?

VAN ROOY: Yes, of course, no question. I only feel Flemish, actually.

BLOCK: You only feel Flemish.

VAN ROOY: Yes, of course.

BLOCK: You would not say, I'm Belgian?

VAN ROOY: No, no.

BLOCK: Van Rooy says this country divided by language and by identity should split in two.

VAN ROOY: We want to get rid of Belgium because it's actually a non-state. It has two different peoples in it, two different cultures. And we see it doesn't work, and it's one of the causes that we had this terror attacks now.

BLOCK: Vlaams Balang represents a view heard throughout Europe that immigration has spelled disaster. When van Rooy looks at Brussels' diverse population, he doesn't like what he sees.

VAN ROOY: I see, actually, a city that is more and more looking like an Arab country or an Islamic country, and I think it's really bad for our freedom, for our democracy, for our identity. I call it myself Belgistan.

BLOCK: And his prescription...

VAN ROOY: I call for these Muslims to see the truth about Islam and to either leave Islam or reform it fundamentally.

BLOCK: So what should happen with the migrants who are here?

VAN ROOY: Well, the migrants who are here - they should either adapt to our way of living, to our culture, to our values, and if they don't, they should leave. It's very simple.

BLOCK: The Flemish interest party wants Belgium to close its borders to immigrants, especially those from Muslim countries. And van Rooy blames the European Union, which is headquartered in Brussels, for what he says is a dangerous open-borders policy.

VAN ROOY: If your house has no door that is locked and can be opened when you decide to open it, well, then you don't have a house. It's very simple. We should go back to the Europe like it was.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: Just a few steps away, down the street from the Flemish Parliament is the Federal Parliament of Belgium, and it's there we meet Dirk van der Maelen.

DIRK VAN DER MAELEN: The green carpet is the House. The red carpet - cardinal red - is the Senate.

BLOCK: And you are a proud member of the House.

VAN DER MAELEN: I am a proud member of the House for more than 26 years.

BLOCK: Van der Maelen is a social Democrat, which means in the elegant chamber of parliament, he sits way to the left in the semicircle of members' chairs. As we talk, we look up at a plaque bearing the Belgian national motto in Dutch and French which translates as unity makes strength. It refers to Belgium's 19th century united front against its former ruler, the Netherlands. But van der Maelen says that slogan is just as appropriate now.

VAN DER MAELEN: I'm always in favor of staying one country. I think that in times of globalization, in times that we try to construct Europe, it looks to me as very stupid to split up.

BLOCK: And he knows last week's terrorist attacks will only make these Belgian tensions worse.

VAN DER MAELEN: There are parties who are, for the moment, exploiting the fear and the anger which is in the society, so I am worried about the future.

BLOCK: For van der Maelen, the far-right, close-the-borders parties have a simplistic view.

VAN DER MAELEN: I don't think that any country, except maybe North Korea where nobody wants to go - but I don't see one normal country in the world who succeeds in closing itself from the rest of the world.

BLOCK: And where Sam van Rooy sees European Union as a grave threat, van der Maelen sees it as a key to Belgium's security.

VAN DER MAELEN: I think it's the only opportunity we have to have any influence on the way things are changing in the world. Belgium is too, too, way, way, way too small.

BLOCK: We need both more European unity, van der Maelen says, and more Belgian unity. Melissa Block, NPR News, Brussels.

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