(CNN) — The failure to deliver the “beauty of democracy” was one of the chief reasons behind the Paris attacks, says Belgian soccer star Vincent Kompany.
The suicide bombings and shootings in the French capital killed 130 people and left hundreds wounded. It shocked the watching world and brought to the fore Europe’s problem in dealing with terrorism.
Attention quickly switched to the Belgian capital of Brussels, which remains at the center of investigations that an ISIS terrorist cell working in the area carried out the attacks.
Kompany said Belgian politicians had failed to recognize the potential problems because of their lack of interaction with the local communities.
“There’s a sense of me that really believes that it was predictable, really predictable,” Belgium’s national captain, who grew up in a troubled Brussels neighborhood, told CNN’s Amanda Davies.
“I think it was inevitable, because I only used to see politicians in our neighborhoods once every six years when they needed to come for votes,” he said.
“Then and now something would pop up out of the ground and somebody cut a red ribbon to say that we’ve done this for the community.
“But I have really struggled to see a real concern, a genuine desire to be a part of making those neighborhoods.”
Kompany says he did not sleep for three nights after the attacks in the French capital.
Sleep didn’t come any easier as the news filtered through that the attacks had been planned by a terrorist cell operating out of Molenbeek, a suburb near where he grew up.
But he is not persuaded by the argument that the Belgian capital is simply a “hotbed of terrorism.”
Instead, he cites the high levels of unemployment and the lack of opportunities given to those from deprived backgrounds as a catalyst for radicalization.
Complicating matters further, Brussels has 19 municipal mayors in charge of six police zones, each with their own local force.
Kompany’s late mother, Jocelyne, worked at an employment office in the city, so he says he was made aware of the consequences of social deprivation.
And if a solution is to be found to combat the growing threat of radicalization, Kompany believes a lack of opportunities — and a growing isolation between communities and the city’s political structure — needs to be addressed.
Kompany, the son of a political refugee from Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, and a French-Belgian, grew up in a neighborhood with a 90% Muslim population.
He recalls celebrating the end of Ramadan with his classmates, because they could then play together again, and also taking delight in the treats that were shared at the end of this fasting period.
However, if Belgium is fighting for the hearts and minds of the disenfranchised, Kompany fears the battle is being lost.
“The reason why it hurt me so much is because they’re not people of a religious faction, they’re people that have been able to fall off the grid and people have been able to indoctrinate them,” the 29-year-old said.
“I remember that the one thing that kept coming back is that there was some sort of a feeling of injustice.”
According to figures released by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence in January, an estimated 440 Belgians had taken up arms for Sunni extremist groups in the Middle East — a per-capita figure about double that of France, and four times that of the UK.
“Depending on, from my area, kids that had a chance to come in touch with different cultures from other areas of the country, you would then naturally fall back into place at the moment where you had to make a decision whether you go radical or whether you want to allow this world to continue and have an input in this world in a different way,” Kompany said.
“Now, if you don’t have those triggers around you — and this is what has happened in a lot of boroughs within Brussels — you don’t see the fact that you can’t relate to anything that is happening when people or politicians talk on TV.
“So by the time you make a decision, it’s too late to go back on it and you’re doing something completely stupid. This is why I find it very difficult to completely refuse to give them a name that associates them with a religion.
“I think quite clearly something’s gone wrong, terribly wrong.”
Speaking to CNN a day before British Prime Minister David Cameron said launching UK air strikes against ISIS in Syria would “make us safer,” Kompany argued that any potential war would be against “people we have lost touch with.”
“All we hear is declaration of wars — and wars against whom? questioned Kompany. “People say we’re going to fight in Syria against those who have to Syria but ultimately you’re only fighting your own people.”
However, Kompany insists that the Paris suicide bombers were not considered Muslims by the wider Muslim community.
“All my friends get very angry if I even mention them as to be Muslim, so in that sense as well, if you talk towards the perpetrators of those attacks, I think we give them too much credit and too much of a stage by even calling them by their name they want to be called,” he said.
“It’s the criminal state if anything — and not what they claim to be.”
Belgium, which set a world record of not having a government for 589 days in 2010-11, is no stranger to terrorism.
In May 2015, Brussels suffered its own attack when four people were killed at the Jewish Museum.
The gunman, Mehdi Nemouche, lived in Molenbeek and had previously served a five-year jail sentence in Roubaix — about 100 kilometers from Brussels.
Molenbeek has a predominantly Muslim population of first, second and third-generation immigrants from North Africa, and has gained an unwelcome reputation as a hotbed of jihadism.
“The problem with Molenbeek is not necessarily about nationality, it’s more about the segregation,” Kompany added. “It’s not just Molenbeek, I need to repeat it.
“Ultimately, people living in Brussels will have to be responsible as well for making sure the stuff like this can never happen again.
“I remember always going to the train station where I grew up and on the wall was written, ‘The real wealth of a nation is diversity of cultures.’
“Where I grew up that’s what I saw and that’s what I believe in as well — and I still believe it.
“Molenbeek has got so much talent — so many people are capable of doing so many great things. But Molenbeek is just a borough of Brussels — it should be the whole city taking responsibility for everything happening on its territory.”
Kompany, who lives in England and plays for Manchester City, remains committed to bringing positive change to his hometown.
He owns BX Brussels, a lower league football club in Brussels in which he installed his sister Christel as chairwoman.
Kompany describes the venture as a sports club and social venture which aims to bring children from all backgrounds together.
As the father of three kids, he is increasingly aware of the environment in which they grow up. He says he would have little problem in bringing them back to Brussels if he was ever to return to the city.
“Life is what it is — you can’t shield them from everything,” he said.
“I want my kids to go and see the world and understand they are privileged, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have the right to speak up and see what is happening.
“Brussels will always be this city of diversity, of wealth of culture, and I encourage everyone to speak and say how much they love the city, and to just now start the positive talking.”