BELGIUM is a country that should be dear to all of us, historically. The “rape of Belgium” moved many hearts to pity at the start of the First World War, and many Belgian refugees were accommodated in Britain after it was occupied by Germany. A hundred thousand places of shelter were offered to fleeing Belgian refugees in 1914-1918, and war recruiting posters often carried the slogan “Remember Belgium”.
In Ireland, Belgium’s traditional Catholic faith was signalled as a special reason to come to Belgium’s aid. The most successful recruiting poster appealed to Irishmen to save “Catholic Belgium” – and the sense of fellowship with a small country was highly successful.
Since the formation of the European Union, and before that the EEC, Brussels has been at the heart of Europe – and the actual centre of power. In this, Belgium has been meaningful to us all, since so many of the laws and directives affecting our lives originate from there.
But this week Brussels – and Belgium – has been paralysed into “lockdown” by the threat of terrorism from Islamic jihadis. While we must naturally feel compassion for Belgium’s citizens, where fear stalks their streets, there has also been criticism of Belgium’s apparent failure to anticipate this danger and to use intelligence to help deter the type of attacks suffered by Paris.
Parts of Belgium, such as Molenbeek, the Brussels suburb, have been described as “a hotbed of jihadism”: several of the suspects involved with the Paris atrocities operated out of there.
It’s been evident for some time that Belgium is a troubled society. The divisions between Flemish and French speakers has caused such deep rivalries that this issue alone has hampered intelligence procedures: the national and different local authorities sometimes being, literally, on non-speaking terms.
These linguistic divisions trigger administrative problems, but they must also make life more complicated for immigrants into Belgium. It’s important that incomers into any society learn to identify with the host society, with its values, history, roots, culture. Social cohesion is vital for any nation to work.
But if there is a fracture in the social cohesion itself – as there is in Belgium – then immigrants are less likely to integrate, and more likely to feel alienated.
Belgium’s recent record of ultra-liberal euthanasia, including the euthanasia of children, must prompt further unease about something being rotten at the heart of this country.
Perhaps the young king and queen of the Belgians, Philippe and Mathilde, can help to heal their troubled nation.
Somebody needs to.
THAT fine Irish author Edna O’Brien has published a new novel, at the age of 85. In retrospectives about her life, it is often claimed that her early novels, considered daring at the time and published in the 1960s, were burned “by the local priest” in Co Clare.
But did any priest ever actually burn an O’Brien oeuvre? Professor John Horgan, of Dublin City University, has recalled his investigations, as a young reporter in the 1960s, at Edna’s birthplace, in Scarriff, Co Clare: he could never find any evidence whatsoever that a priest had actually burned Edna’s books.
It was then suggested that such a bonfire took place in a nearby parish, Tuamgraney. Fr Tom Stack, a literary Dublin priest, now states that there have been three sources searching for evidence of this Tuamgraney burning, and once again, no such evidence has been found. Could it be, he asks, that the story of the book-burning was “playful literary gossip”?
Without any evidence, however, the said book-burning has entered the realm of historical legend. And any time you see a profile of dear Edna in The Guardian or The Observer, it will be repeated. Evidence-free.
I WAS complaining last week about secularised Advent calendars which are composed of chocolate goodies for the greedy – often seen for sale in supermarkets. I have since realised that there are some beautiful, proper Advent calendars available, in good bookshops and in specialist religious shops.
So, don’t buy the silly Advent calendars from the supermarkets: go to a good bookshop and seek out a proper Advent calendar. Our nearest Waterstones has some excellent Advent calendars, featuring the proper theme of Advent – preparing for Christ’s birth.
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