In the 15 years that followed the Napoleonic Wars, a messy series of events — international conferences, great-power land swaps, treaties, riots, military skirmishes, and, finally, a brief revolution — resulted in a redrawing of borders in the Low Countries and the establishment of a new country called Belgium. Even in the best of times, it was hardly a country, fatally divided into a French-speaking south and a Flemish-speaking north, whose residents had little sense of shared identity. If, when the European Union came along, the Belgians embraced the idea so ardently — and welcomed the transformation of their own capital into the capital of the EU — it was largely because they had far less of a sense of nationhood than their Western European neighbors, and felt, or hoped, that the EU would artificially supply something ineffable that their own history and culture had failed to give them.
Even now, when the citizens of many Western European countries have been brought up to be ashamed of their national flags, some of these Europeans, at least, still exhibit intermittent signs of national pride: witness the crowds across the UK who, every year, sing “God Save the Queen”, “Jerusalem”, and “Land of Hope and Glory” during the broadcast of the Last Night of the Proms, or the spectacle of the French Parliament breaking spontaneously into “La Marseillaise” after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Such displays are few and far between in Belgium. It seems appropriate that, while the official proportions of the Belgian flag are 13:15, most of the flags flown over government buildings are 2:3. In other words, they do not even bother getting the proportions of their own flag right.
It has often been pointed out that if Muslims in the West are more passionately devoted to their own religion, culture, and values than Western infidels are to the principles that undergird their own civilization, then that civilization is doomed to fail. In the face of the Islamic threat, of course, there is reason to be worried about pretty much every nation in Western Europe; but given the strange hollowness of Belgian identity, Belgium is a place of special concern. It is not only the location of the headquarters of the EU; it is, to quote the headline of a March 23, 2016, article by Soeren Kern for Gatestone Institute, “Why Belgium is Ground Zero for European Jihadis.” As it happens, Kern’s article appeared the day after members of ISIS in Brussels committed three suicide bombings, killing 32 people (not counting three terrorists) and injuring more than 300.