Thursday, March 24, 2016

Molenbeek, Never The Twain

"Here we go again. All Muslims are going to be blamed for what happened in Brussels this week. Life will get even worse for us here because we live in what is claimed to be the centre of global terrorism. If you have a beard like me, they look at you in a queer way. I was born and raised here, and so was my wife. But there is so much racism and discrimination. If it gets worse we will return to our homeland, Morocco."
"Since I became religious when I was 19 years old, I have become calmer and more respectful of everyone, but there are people who live here who have misunderstood the message of Islam. It's mixed their brains up and they do terrible things."
[Last name withheld] street vendor, Mohammed
"Why stay here? There are schools in this city where there are no Belgian students. In those schools that are mixed there are serious tensions."
"We are a people who are being destroyed from inside. Even Muslims who have never been to Syria are being brainwashed in Belgium."
"They [police] are always way behind the events. It is clear that a lot of people helped Abdeslam, but the police could never find out who they were or where they were."
"We are such a free country with everyone left alone to do what they want. When Salafis [Sunni extremists] spoke freely in the streets about terrorism, it required radical measures but absolutely nothing was done."
Reiner Regensberg, mining executive
Molenbeek, a suburb of Brussels, holds about 100,000 Muslims in its population. Like many European countries the city and its suburb boast refined architecture of an earlier era, exuding typically European charm. The streets are cobble. The thriving crowds in the centre of Molenbeek are overwhelmingly Arab. The streets themselves can be mistaken for the Middle East, akin to a souk, or a market bazaar with residents garbed in conservative Islamic clothing.

Because Arabic is the spoken language, all the signage is Arabic script, nothing is seen in French or Flemish. The atmosphere, to native Bruxellois is decidedly not exotic and as such invitingly attractive, but forbiddingly alien. Like the banlieus in France, there is a parochial exclusivity prevailing, with non-Arabs feeling somewhat out of place. The community is not entirely, on its record, averse to the concept of jihad that results in terrorism, since jihad is so very basic a commandment to the faithful.

The community is tight-knit, devoted to Islam, and within this community there is not likely to be many -- any -- who would break the  culturally-linked faith of solidarity, and forewarn authorities should they come across the knowledge that there may be a conspiracy of violence being hatched. It is a place, at a time, when those who conspire against the state can feel confident they will not be betrayed, not by those who support them, nor by those who do not.

"I've said for 30 years that our borders should only be opened a little because otherwise we cannot pay close enough attention to not only those who come here but those who enter through other countries. This terrorism is troubling us deeply", stated Patrick an electronics salesman, who hasn't any Muslim acquaintance since "I don't very often frequent the places they go".

Still, he adds, those arriving from the Middle East "have lived in hell there It's still not hell here yet, but we've been getting a taste of what it is like and we don't like it".

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