The Brussels attacks have given a boost to the far right in Belgium and beyond, and their anti-Islam language is finding a special resonance after another bloodbath by Islamic State extremists.
Just as the Paris attacks that killed 130 people in November reinvigorated the right-wing National Front in regional elections, last week’s bombings in the Belgian capital have given radical-right leader Filip Dewinter’s Flemish Interest party fresh impetus to re-ignite his group’s flagging fortunes.
Even in the Netherlands, where one arrest was made linked to a possible future attack this week, fire-brand politician Geert Wilders is using the latest bombings to boost his popularity.
It’s the result of a potent mix of fear, foreign enemy and a failing security system that has been unable to stop one attack after another. “These events are fuel to the fire of every radical right-wing party in Europe,” said Professor Dave Sinardet of Brussels University.
Extremist groups have also used the attacks to boost their venomous brand.
Last Sunday, hundreds of black-clad football hooligans broke up a solemn wake at Brussels’ Bourse Square for the 32 victims of the March 22 attacks on the airport and subway system, and police had to bring in water cannon before order could be restored.
On Saturday, police are bracing for a possible gathering of right-wing extremists in Brussels’ Molenbeek district. Even though any demonstration has been banned by police, fear remains that it would further incite violence in a neighborhood dominated by Muslim immigrant families.
“What happened at the Bourse doesn’t inspire confidence. The population here, it’s going around that the protesters still want to come,” said Molenbeek councilwoman Sarah Turine.
It’s in this atmosphere of trepidation that the far right has traditionally flourished.
“If only you had listened to us,” hectored Wilders in the Dutch parliament on Tuesday, arguing he had been calling for the preventive detention of foreign fighters for three years.
One of the airport attackers, Ibrahim El Bakraoui, was caught near the Syrian border last summer and another, Najim Laachraoui, had been in Syria before the two blew themselves up.
“Hundreds, maybe thousands of jihadis are ready to strike,” said Wilders, using the kind of language that has made his PVV party the most popular in the Netherlands, according to the latest polls.
It has always been easier to make big claims for the far right, since they have rarely held power since World War II.
“You have an important part of the public that … can reconcile itself with a radical right-wing position on security and Islam and migration. That will hover around a quarter of the population,” Sinardet said of the situation in Belgium. “And attacks like these bring it to the fore and put it high on the agenda.”
It is the same situation in France. So when President Francois Hollande, a socialist, decided to abandon proposed legislation Wednesday that would have revoked citizenship for convicted terrorists and strengthened the state of emergency, the National Front of Marine Le Pen was the first to pounce.
She called the decision “a historic failure.”
In Belgium, Dewinter now wants to restore the death penalty, even though a ban on capital punishment has been a cornerstone of human rights legislation in the European Union.
“Muslim terrorists and all those who help them, who give them facilities and so on and so on, well, we should restore the death penalty,” he said days after the Brussels attacks.
Even though such proposals stand next to no chance of passing, the political pendulum is swinging to the right because of the attacks.
The Belgian government announced Thursday that it would push through a “newcomer’s declaration” for migrants coming to live in Belgium and who have to commit in writing to core Belgian values and respect freedom of religion, gender equality and other basic rights.
It might seem innocuous now, but insisting on such rules would have been considered extremist not so long ago.
“You can see how minds have developed on these issues,” Sinardet said. “Two decades ago, this would have been seen as very right-wing while now you can see how it has moved into the mainstream.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.