80 thousand people, mostly immigrants and second and third generation of Arab origin; 30% is unemployed. And worse off, it is home to some of the Paris attackers and its mastermind. This is the painting of the picture of the neighbourhood of Molenbeek: one of the 19 municipalities of Brussels near the heart of city. An area that has now known as the Belgium radical’s den. Jan De Volder of the European Federation of the Community of Sant’Egidio shares his thoughts to Vita International on the social dynamics of this troubled neighbourhood.
I have been struck by a report stating that a tacit pact between Molenbeek’s imams and police that would keep the extremists calm by the supervision of imams themselves has not been implemented. Do you have any thought about that?
I can’t confirm anything about this alleged pact. I can say though that the radicalization process some people experienced and fell victim of, has simply spiralled out of control especially over the social media. Most mosques though are open and transparent. I don’t see danger coming from there. What has failed is the excessiveness of multiculturalism. Let’s be clear on that: I value multiculturalism, it is a source of richness. Multiculturalism in Molenbeek has though turned itself into mono-culturalist zone. In some streets and squares in Molenbeek it is impossible to find a non-halal butcher's shop. I have witnessed the changing of Molenbeek with my eyes. The excessiveness of good intentions produced the opposite outcome.
Multicultural dynamics were not managed with the right approach. When cultural dynamics started to go out of control anyone who dared saying something objective was immediately labelled as an anti immigration individual. In other words, some people refrained themselves from being openly realistic about the situations on the ground. Other people preferred to close en eye on situations that were clearly heading towards the wrong direction.
What approach should be employed and what should be done?
Besides more security polices, I deem we have to do better job cultural-wise. Some examples? Great education programs for adolescents and teenagers and creating alternative positive models to be emulated. There are already stakeholders who are committed to this and have been working on these issues right in Molenbeek for years. There are committed organizations and dedicated volunteers who did their best to keep the social fabric healthy for years but what they did unfortunately was not enough.
Media and politicians in Belgium are speculating over Molenbeek ?
Besides few exceptions, my impression is that they are still keeping a dignified approach and they are not inciting negativism. Society in Belgium is very multicultural. In some Catholics schools over 90% of students is Muslim. But lest’s be honest: for a man born in Belgium of second and third generation of Arab origin is harder to find a job then the typical western looking guy. Some companies will deny employment to man whose name is Mohammed even if his is fit for the task. Yes, hate and hanger are high. But I don’t think it is because of religion. The reason may be more complex. It could be a reaction toward globalization especially against the idea that the universal values have a western imprinting. We can not impose our models on everyone and everywhere. That effort will provoke the wrong reaction.
Photo: Getty image