Molenbeek residents reel under jihadist hotbed tag
Belgian capital Brussels’s Muslim-dominated district of Molenbeek may have gained global notoriety as an Islamic State (IS) recruitment hotbed but residents here feel the “family neighbourhood” has been unfairly stigmatised due to the evil acts “of a few” persons.Updated: May 01, 2016 13:41 IST
Belgian capital Brussels’s Muslim-dominated district of Molenbeek may have gained global notoriety as an Islamic State (IS) recruitment hotbed but residents here feel the “family neighbourhood” has been unfairly stigmatised due to the evil acts “of a few” persons.
Molenbeek, a borough of about 100,000 people with large communities of Moroccan and Turkish-origin that are thoroughly middle-class, grabbed media attention worldwide post the Paris and Brussels attacks as having become an almost ideal recruiting ground for the dreaded Islamic State terror group.
Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving direct participant in the Paris attacks, hid in Molenbeek before his arrest on March 18. Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected chief planner of the Paris attacks, lived in Molenbeek.
In all, at least 14 people tied to both attacks were either Belgian or lived in Brussels. One of them is Mohamed Abrini, a Belgian of Moroccan origin who grew up in Molenbeek and was arrested in Brussels earlier this month.
Molenbeek residents are still reeling as the stigma of terrorism has devastated the neighbourhood. However most of them insist people should not generalise and the area is essentially like any other family commune.
“I am a resident here and we have no problems staying in this locality even after the attacks. We are a community of majority of immigrants so it is natural for people to look at us with a suspicious eye. But one or two persons have given us a bad name,” Nora Laarissi, a resident, said.
Asked whether there was an unfair stigmatisation of the area in the wake of what happened last month, she responded in the affirmative.
However, she said the community was not being harassed by authorities and stated that officials were “not asking unfair questions”.
“Because of a few people the entire community is getting a bad name. However there is no discrimination that we face at our workplace for being Muslims,” a Pakistani-origin woman, who was not a Molenbeek resident but was visiting the area and did not wish to be named, said.
Fear was writ large on the faces of community members with many refusing to talk to reporters while others refusing to answer questions on the issue of terrorism.
However, some did openly say the area was a safe place and was being unfairly stigmatised for the acts of a few.
“Only a few people have been found to be linked to terrorism, that does not mean that the entire Molenbeek is wrong. It’s a very good community. Never before there has been any danger in the area. It is a very family neighbourhood,” Yalman, a Molenbeek resident who was taking her children to a dentist on a metro, said.
“Those found involved in wrongful activities were also living like normal people with their families so the entire neighbourhood was peaceful. My children live here and I am happy with the surrounding in which they are being brought up,” she asserted.