A Brussels borough struggles to overcome the stigma of being a jihadist breeding ground
Updated : December 22, 2018 08:47 PM IST
Molenbeek doesn’t sleep well. It also doesn’t like the media very well. And it has compelling reasons for both. A neighbourhood on the north western side of Brussels’s city centre, Molenbeek has been repeatedly shamed for being a “breeding ground for jihadists”. Around 500 Islamic State (IS) fighters in Syria are said to have roots in Belgium. And a number of those men have a Molenbeek connection. Things got worse when Salah Abdeslam, a key suspect in the Paris attacks of November 2015, was arrested from here in March. Of Moroccan descent, Abdeslam evaded arrest for almost four months. His brother is also a suspect in the same case.
Molenbeek residents are getting used to living in the eye of a storm. Abdool, a native of Peshawar and owner of a provisions store here, says “Every place in the world has notorious elements. It’s the same with Molenbeek. But what gives them the right to call us jihadists?” His partner Majid concurs that Molenbeek’s reputation hampers business. “Every child from Molenbeek is eyed with suspicion. Life is difficult and depressing,” adds Abdool.
The youth of Molenbeek face difficulties in getting jobs in the city. That makes them easy targets for organisations like the IS. “The isolation they face everyday make them gravitate towards such outfits... They have too much time and nothing to do,” says Abdool.
Abiding by law and being hardworking reaps little or nothing to those families — mostly of Asian and African descent — who call Molenbeek home. People go about their business as usual but the sense of despondency hangs in the air.
But recently the about 5,000 people assembled for the anti-immigration rally on Sunday which local authorities had initially banned over fears of violence.
Belgium’s high court overturned the ban, citing the right to peaceful protest. Police in Brussels say some of the protesters became violent when they were asked to disperse.
The Flemish nationalist party Vlaams Belang and several far-right groups had organised the “March Against Marrakesh” to denounce the UN’s Global Compact on Migration. The Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel finally resigned while the King of Belgium takes all the executive powers. At the same time the Grand Palace that’s the central town square of Brussels sees some thousands of people cheering the Red Lion hockey team which won the world cup.
As the anti-immigrant protests are mainly against the Muslims, the larger Belgian society is behaves in a more plural way as the belief of secularism is one of the pillars of their Constitution. Also, with the era of Trump, Erdogan, Putin, Modi and Orban there is a large surge of hyper nationalism which is getting contagious and affecting other nations.
As, Molenbeek is one of the anti-immigrant target, they are a victim of a hyper nationalist fringe groups. With some terrorist elements from that same borough, the divided minds struggle to live the daily lives, some in fear and some thinking it would pass off.