Yesterday’s post discussed Molenbeek, a district northwest of Brussels city centre, and home to an increasing number of terrorists and radicals, including those involved in the recent Paris attacks.

Incidentally, ‘beek’ is pronounced ‘beck’.

This second post focusses on what residents think of the terrorists, radicalisation and their reputation.

The 40% – a community worker writes

Molenbeek community worker Johan Leman wrote an article for The Guardian on November 17.

He says that ‘99%’ of the community support the police and will help the authorities once there is a clear plan of action.

Leman says that 40% of Molenbeek’s population is Moroccan. Most live in lower Molenbeek, while the more middle-class are in upper Molenbeek. Lower Molenbeek has an unemployment rate of 40%. The population is young. Any young Moroccan wanting to lose himself in society or evade the authorities can easily hide out there.

Although most households in Molenbeek are stable, the high unemployment rate contributes to radicalisation.

The devil makes work for idle hands.

A discussion on France’s RMC (radio) on the morning of November 23 also looked at the language problem that plays a part in unemployment. Les Grandes Gueules (‘The Big Mouths’) talked to Belgians ringing in. One journalist said that a number of these youths do not want to learn French. Consequently, they don’t attend school. That means they cannot learn the skills they need to get a job.

Molenbeek is far from a slum. Most of the homes, as you’ve probably seen on the news coverage, are neat and tidy. That said, one female journalist said she takes a taxi there and back. It just isn’t safe for a non-Muslim woman to walk around or rely on public transport there.

She also discussed the nationality issue. Whilst the terrorists are notionally native Belgians, many have close ties with Morocco. Other Molenbeek residents have dual nationality: Belgian and Moroccan. Their allegiance is often with Morocco, regardless of where they were born.

What residents say

The dozens of reporters from all over the world descending on Molenbeek have fascinated residents, as an article at France TV Info states. Translation mine below.

Journalist Kocila Makdeche interviewed the district’s younger residents in the wake of the Paris attacks. He has used assumed names.

Of Salah Abdelsam, Reda, one of those interviewed, said:

They haven’t cut him down yet! Seriously, Salah is strong.

Amir, 16, sounded ‘seditious’, Makdeche noted. Amir told the journalist:

Kalach, suicide vests — frankly, our guys are true gents.

A 22-year-old man, a friend of Amir’s, said:

Personally, I don’t believe any of it. It’s a conspiracy. I saw Salah just a week ago smoking hash in a basement near here.

However, not everyone is so enthusiastic or positive. A spectre hangs over the district.

Fouad Ben Abdelkader, 36, a teacher, said:

Since I’ve learned that the Abdelsam brothers have been behind all this, I haven’t been able to sleep. Because of Salah, everyone will think that Molenbeek is a cradle of terrorism.

The teacher has been working in Molenbeek for 15 years. He explained:

There really are preachers coming through here recruiting. For them, it’s very easy to manipulate these young people. They were born here and know nothing about Islam.

Karim, another man interviewed, knew the Abdelsam brothers well. They were hardly model Muslims:

At that time, we drank and went to visit prozzies together.

Hamza, 22, works as a repairman. He described the difficulty in getting a job:

It’s already been difficult for us. Now it will be even worse. Those who present a potential employer with a CV which has a Molenbeek address have a really hard time.

Ben Abdelkader agrees:

No work, no money, no girlfriend, no future. All this creates a lot of frustration. Imagine you’re in a room full of beautiful things, everything you desire, but you have no right to touch them. That’s exactly what the kids hanging out on the corners feel and resent. And, sometimes, the end is dramatic.

Le Mondes Brussels correspondent Jean-Pierre Stroobants visited Molenbeek on November 16 to interview residents. His interviews produced a mixture of denial and consternation.

Of one of the terrorists, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who died in the Saint-Denis shoot-out on November 18, one man said:

I know his father. He said he was ashamed of his eldest son.

A greengrocer criticised the terrorists whilst lamenting Molenbeek’s reputation:

They’re stupid, but, you know, I’ve lived here 30 years in a time without Daech and without attacks, yet, even then, others were pointing the finger at us.

A young man wearing a hoodie didn’t want to be overheard. Some distance away from other residents, he told the journalist:

Please understand that if a lot of young people are leaving for Syria it’s because no one is paying any attention to them other than fanatics. As for myself, I’ve completed my education. I speak French, Arabic and Dutch. But as far as getting work goes, I have to use a friend’s address, someone who doesn’t live in Molenbeek.

The journalist spotted a rare sight — a Belgian woman with her little boy. He overheard her saying:

Hold my hand, otherwise a bad man will take you away.

She told the journalist:

I come here for bargains, but I’m not very comfortable.

Conclusion

I don’t really think much will be done in the short term to change Molenbeek’s reputation.

That job has to come from within its community. However, as long as fundamentalist ideas and lifestyles proliferate among all generations, especially women, things will stay the same. Female attire signals what the local men think. There is a huge difference between what many of these women wear and the pretty shalwar kameez of subcontinental Asia.

Another issue is national allegiance. Dual nationality in itself is not a problem. However  … aligning oneself principally with the culture of another country, Morocco, so different to Belgium in so many ways, is not helping.

Home is where the heart is. One wonders what some Molenbeek residents consider to be home.

It might not be Belgium.

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