Did I really live beside a nest of terrorists?

Molenbeek is a vibrant and multicultural part of Brussels. (Ingrid Lemaire/Flickr)

A few years ago I hung out with a young Palestinian in the Brussels district of Molenbeek. My friend told me that the area made him feel at home. It wasn’t hard to see why: the coffee shops served a potent brew, the bakeries were full of calorific delights and the stores were ideal for the eclectic bargain-hunter.

For the past few days, Molenbeek has been depicted as far less charming. A key suspect in Friday’s horrific attacks on Paris grew up there. With a weary inevitability, that has given some commentators a license to demonize the entire neighborhood.

Molenbeek is considered a “nest of terrorists,” in the words of a high-profile Belgian journalist. The country’s interior minister is promising a major “cleaning” exercise in the area. Charles Michel, the prime minister, wants to combat the “preachers of hate.”

There are racist undercurrents to the discourse, especially in the haste to blame Philippe Moureaux, Molenbeek’s former mayor. The first time I heard Moureaux speak he expressed pride in the warm relations he had developed with the local Muslim community.

When Moureaux noted that Molenbeek has been likened to Casablanca, he appeared to regard that as a compliment. Yet his political rivals have used the comparison in a pejorative sense.

Glaring failure?

Moureaux was mayor for almost two decades, yet left the post in 2012. According to his successor, Françoise Schepmans, his policies were a “glaring failure.” Schepmans stated during the weekend that she never believed in Moureaux’s “socio-multicultural laboratory.”

Amid all this knee-jerking, a few salient facts have been overlooked. The despicable acts of violence witnessed in Paris and Beirut in recent days are not the side effects of a multicultural experiment. They are the direct consequences of Western imperialism.

Belgium has supported many of the US-led initiatives that led to the rise of Islamic State.

Wisely, Belgium did not join the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003. Yet it has generally been obsequious towards the United States. In the past two years, it has sent a batch of F-16 warplanes, ostensibly to bomb Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria.

Belgium hosts both American nuclear weapons and the headquarters of NATO, an American-controlled military alliance. This fall, a handful of Belgian firms formed a “partnership” with the US weapons giant Lockheed Martin; its aim is to replace Belgium’s F-16 fleet with spanking new warplanes.

Vilified

As Molenbeek gets vilified, it is conveniently forgotten that its people and, to some extent, elected representatives have displayed a commitment to fighting oppression.

In June, the local council voted to exclude companies which contribute to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza from public service contracts. Molenbeek’s squares and community centers have also witnessed protests and conferences in support of Palestinian rights.

I’m certainly not saying that there are no extremists in this neighborhood. Extremists who live there or anywhere else should, of course, be investigated and, if there is solid evidence against them, arrested. Repression or major “cleaning” operations are no substitute for meticulous and properly resourced policing.

I don’t have much confidence in the Belgian police. For the past decade, I lived in Jette, an area that adjoins Molenbeek. Most times I spotted the officer assigned to take care of our street, he was drinking beer — while uniformed and armed — in the nearest bar.

The local force was laughably ill-equipped. During the summer, I went to report a threatening message that I received on Facebook. To my astonishment, I was told by an officer on duty that the local police station didn’t have an Internet connection.

The only sensible alternative to such an amateurish approach is to become professional. I wouldn’t put money on the Brussels police reaching that goal any time soon.

Incompetence becomes extremely dangerous when it is mixed with a culture of racism. Such racism is undoubtedly widespread in the Brussels police. It can be witnessed in everyday scenes in which police hassle people of dark skin on the streets, demanding that they produce their identity cards, something that white Europeans living here are seldom requested to do. On occasions, it has manifested itself in outright brutality.

The immediate response to the Paris atrocities suggests that the authorities in France and Belgium have committed themselves to a series of actions that will make the underlying problems worse. There will be more bombing abroad and increased hostility towards Muslims at home.

The West is doing exactly what Islamic State wants.

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I didn't peep the killers or their handlers express such disdain for the weapons industry, that they had to shoot up young people of all backgrounds up. They didn't mention Iraq, or how the war in Syria is an illegal act of neo-imperialism. They are imperialists, themselves. They don't need your non-sequiturs or rank misuse of Marxist understanding of social developments to oppress women and minorities. You essentially waste good critiques of another argument so that you could bend over backwards to allow Arabs and Muslims a free pass. You do the vast majority of them who are diligent, compassionate, committed to liberty and opposed to barbarism like this a disservice by not taking the murderers at their word. Muslims and Arabs were harmed in Paris as they were in Beirut, and they don't need to read The 18th Brumaire to know the difference between an ass backwards foreign policy and a reactionary imperialism that makes them as much an enjoyable target for the killers as any young white secularist who enjoys music or cartoons.

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Have you ever been to "George Bush Drive" in Langley Virginia? Now that is terror central. It is also anti-democracy central.

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Belgium also repealed its law asserting universal jurisdiction in 2003 after some Israeli and other U.S.-allied war criminals got nervous.

David Cronin

David Cronin's picture

David Cronin is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada. His latest book is Corporate Europe: How Big Business Sets Policies on Food, Climate and War (Pluto, 2013). His earlier book is Europe’s Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation (Pluto, 2011).