by Jason Rodriguez
How did you come up with your project and why does it interest you
The idea to do research on counterterrorism in these countries was a result of my academic as well as professional experiences. My focus at SSP is TSV, and I’m interested in the societal factors of radicalization. Additionally, I recently finished a 6 month internship with the Department of Defense, where I worked on Northwest European defense policy, specifically focusing on France and Benelux. I developed working relationships with French and Belgian defense officials posted at their embassies in Washington, and was able to coordinate through them to arrange meetings abroad in their respective capitals.
Why did you choose these particular countries
Both Paris and Brussels fell victim to terror attacks that shaped the way France and Belgium approached counterterrorism. The international media focused on these capitals, especially their majority-immigrant neighborhoods, and labeled them as hotbeds for radicalization. Since it’s much easier to travel to Paris and Brussels than Syria and Iraq, I thought these cities would offer a great opportunity to see what deradicalization and counterterrorism looks like only a few years after a pivotal attack. Additionally, due to my previous internship at the Pentagon, I was able to schedule meetings with government representatives in both countries and have substantive conversations about the progress that both countries have made and how their CT efforts have evolved over time.
What was the biggest lesson that you took away from this experience
Although I did learn some personal lessons just by traveling alone in a country where I did not speak the language, my biggest takeaway from my experience was that it is crucially important to analyze a situation at the ground level. It can be easy to formulate opinions about something or somewhere by reading reports and articles, but it’s no substitute for talking to people and seeing things firsthand. Through the SSP grant, I was able to walk through the supposed hotbed of extremism in Molenbeek, Brussels as well as seeing patrols from Operation Sentinelle outside the Louvre in Paris. It is one thing to read about these places and operations, but seeing them in person adds context that is necessary when writing about a place and culture that is not your own.