A Closer Look at Brussels Offers a More Nuanced View of Radicalization

BRUSSELS — Around the world, this city of great, if often ramshackle, charm has become Exhibit A in the case against immigration, particularly when it involves large numbers of Muslims.

Donald J. Trump called the Belgian capital “a hellhole,” while Lubomir Zaoralek, the foreign minister of the Czech Republic, recently cited the city to explain why his and other Eastern European countries had steadfastly resisted a plan by the European Union to spread Syrian and other Muslim refugees around the Continent under a quota system.

“All the people in the Czech Republic and in other countries see what happened in Molenbeek,” he told a security conference in Slovakia over the weekend, referring to the Brussels borough where many of those involved in the attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 and in Brussels on March 22 grew up.

A closer look at what has happened in Molenbeek and other heavily immigrant parts of Brussels, however, provides a far more nuanced picture than just a generation of badly integrated young Muslim immigrants running amok. In some ways, it debunks the view that Islam is a one-size-fits-all faith that fuels terrorism.

It is true that all those so far identified in connection with the Paris and Brussels carnage were young Muslims from immigrant families. But a more significant marker than their faith was their shared origin in North Africa, especially Morocco. None was from Brussels’ large community of Turks, who share the same religion and the same discrimination, as well as other hardships that are often cited as a root cause of jihadist rage against the West.

Brussels first became a magnet for Muslim immigrants in the 1960s, when the Belgian government eagerly invited workers from Morocco and Turkey to move to Belgium to take jobs in factories and mines. The two countries were regarded as generally pro-Western and full of poor and hard-working people eager for jobs in Europe, unlike many developing nations that at the time were frothing with rage at European colonialism and racked by conflict.

“You wish to come and work in Belgium? We Belgians are happy that you are coming to bring to our country the support of your strength and your intelligence,” read a message from the minister of labor posted at Belgium’s embassy and consulates in Morocco in 1964. Similar notices went up a year later in Turkey.

Together, Belgians of Moroccan and Turkish origin today account for the vast majority of the capital city’s Muslim population, and both groups are heir to a fairly relaxed form of Islam that has none of the reactionary dogmatism of Saudi Arabia and some other Arab states.

So how was it that some Moroccans became so angry, alienated and, in some cases, radicalized? “There is a malaise within the community of Moroccan origin,” the mayor of Molenbeek, Françoise Schepmans, said, dismissing arguments that terrorism is a byproduct of religious faith.

Left-wing politicians and community leaders, she said, had missed and amplified the trouble brewing in Molenbeek by treating young Belgian-Moroccans as victims who had no chance of succeeding. “There is a strong sentiment of victimhood,” she said, noting that “Turks have also endured discrimination but there is a force in their community.”

Much of this force comes from the Turkish state, which controls many of the mosques attended by Belgian-Turks and keeps a close eye on potentially wayward elements in the community through a well-established network of local leaders and imams who are trained in Turkey and then sent to Belgium at the government’s expense.

At a Turkish mosque in Molenbeek run by Diyanet, Turkey’s state-controlled religious affairs agency, the imam, who speaks only Turkish, expressed revulsion at the March attacks in Brussels and said that he and his worshipers never tolerate extremist views. He stressed that his congregants respect and follow the law.

Worshipers at a nearby Moroccan mosque angrily shooed away reporters, accusing them of fanning “Islamophobia” and stigmatizing their neighborhood as a haven of jihadists.

In contrast to Belgium’s Turks, the Moroccan community is far more divided and resistant to authority, in part because many of the early immigrants came from the Rif, a rebellious Berber-speaking region often at odds with the ruling monarchy in Morocco. “When emigration to Europe started, the king was happy to get rid of these people,” said Bachir M’Rabet, a youth worker of Moroccan descent in Molenbeek.

Another source of anger in his community, he added, is that many Turks often speak poor French and no Dutch, Belgium’s two main languages, and cling to their Turkish identity, while most Moroccans speak fluent French and aspire to be accepted fully as Belgians. This, he said, means that many Moroccans feel discrimination more acutely and, at least in the case of young men on the margins, tend to view even minor slights as proof that the entire system is against them.

Philippe Moureaux, who served for two decades as Molenbeek’s mayor, described this as “the paradox of integration.” A less-integrated Turkish community has resisted the promise of redemption through jihad offered by radical zealots. Yet, a Moroccan community that is more at home in French-speaking Brussels has seen some of its young fall prey to recruiters like Khalid Zerkani, a Moroccan-born petty criminal who became the Islamic State’s point man in Molenbeek.

“The Turks suffer much less from an identity crisis,” Mr. Moureaux said. “They are proud to be Turks and are much less tempted by extremism.”

Suspicion of and hostility toward authority, particularly the police force, run so deep among some North African immigrants in Molenbeek that when the police mobilized in the area this month to prevent a group of anti-immigrant right-wing hooligans from staging a rally, local youths, mostly young men of Moroccan descent, began hurling abuse and objects at the police.

Molenbeek immigrants of Turkish or other backgrounds generally have a less hostile view of the police. A Turkish shopkeeper who runs a general store near the police station said he feared not the police but aggressive North African youths who accuse him of being a bad Muslim because he sells alcohol. He noted that the youths steal, which is also forbidden.

Emir Kir, the Belgian-Turkish mayor of Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, a heavily immigrant Brussels borough that is worse off economically than Molenbeek, said the only Turk he knew about who had tried to go to Syria was a young man who had fallen in love with a girl of Moroccan descent. He got as far as Istanbul before being sent back. “This was a love affair, not an act of extremism,” he said.

Dutch participants in jihad: few Turks, mostly Moroccans

The Dutch newspaper Het Parool has stated that among Dutch Jihad participants just a small percentage are Dutch citizens with a Turkish cultural background. But it also suggested that “all the ingredients for radicalization among the Turkish-Dutch community are present.” Terrorism expert Edwin Bakker estimates that approximately 15 to 20 have a Turkish-Dutch cultural background out of a total of 200 to 250 Jihad participants. Around 80 percent has a Moroccan cultural background, Bakker states.

Het Parool further suggested that while the Turkish-Dutch community struggles with high percentages of unemployment and social-economic arrears there is also an observable increase in interest for Islam. An additional factor is the frontline of the Syrian war that borders on Turkey were Turkish-Dutch citizens have relations and speak the language.

According the Het Parool experts explain the low contribution of Dutch Turks by alluding to the strong social control in the Turkish community. Bakker states “I know of one case of a Turkish-Dutch boy that nearly crossed the border with Syria when he stopped his journey under pressure of his family. Otherwise they would come and get him. This is a typical type of pressure we can observe in the Turkish community.”

Dutch children apologize for terrorism [VIDEO]

Still from film depicting Dutch children apologizing for terrorism. (YouTube)
Still from film depicting Dutch children apologizing for terrorism. (YouTube)

Journalist and filmmaker Abdelkarim El-Fassi directed a Dutch commercial in which various children are seen renouncing and apologizing for terrorism. A Moroccan kid, for example, is asked to apologize for the gruesome deeds in Syria and the attack in Paris “because that where also Muslims and Moroccans.” The director hopes that the commercial, that has sparked quite some controversy in the Netherlands, will lead to new insights and discussion.

El-Fassi said “I have never felt this uncomfortable with directing a video.” I find it extremely painful if it is asked of a certain group, or rather demanded, to distance oneself from horrible events. While they have absolutely nothing to do with these events.” “Please understand me correctly,” the directer said, “There is nothing wrong with distancing oneself from these horrible acts but it has to be one’s own choice, and must not be imposed by politicians, media, or fellow human beings.”

Critics of the video suggest that the director would have misused the children for his goal. El-Fassi disagrees. “Yes, the video is pedagogically irresponsible. Off course it is unethical. But we have explained to the kids that this was not real. That we would never ask such a thing from them. Sometimes a means such as this one is necessary to convey a message.”

[Watch the video here.]

Dutch rapper Hozny punished for threatening Islam critic Wilders in video clip

The Dutch rapper Hozny was sentenced to 80 hours of community service a conditional sentence of two years of prison for a hiphop video in which Islam critic Geert Wilders is allegedly portrayed in a threatening manner. The video (watched more than 580.000 times on Youtube) showed a Wilders look-alike that is put at gunpoint. At the end of the video gunshots are heard while the look-alike is not in sight. The video has stirred wide controversy and condemnation.

 

Rapper Hozny has justified the video as an artistic expression and critique of Wilders’ plea for less Moroccans in the Netherlands during the Dutch municipal campaign last year. During a gathering Wilders asked a crowd of it wanted more or less Moroccans in the Netherlands where upon the crowd chanted “less, less.” The incident had exploded into a controversy in and of itself resulting in more that 5000 reports against the Dutch member of parliament.
Hozny explained he wanted to chock with his video but not to threaten. The court nevertheless decided against the rapper and argued that the freedom of expression should not be used as a refuge for someone who makes dead threats to another, even if it it done in a more or less artistic manner. It further argued that the usage of dead threats is detrimental to the public debate on the freedom of expression and its limits.

Update: Dutch Politician Loses Key Aide After Anti-Moroccan Chant

April 23, 2014

 

Geert Wilders’ personal policy advisor and member of Zuid Holland provincial council has left the Freedom Party (PVV). Stephan Jansen, who has been active for the party since 2006, says in a letter to party workers that his departure is due to the anti-Moroccan statements made by Wilders during and after the local election campaign.

‘The recent statements about Moroccans made by our political leader, Mr. Wilders, have ensured our party will never be taken seriously again,’ Jansen writes. ‘No other political party will work with us.’

Two MPs, one MEP and a handful of provincial councilors have quit since Geert Wilders led supporters in an anti-Moroccan chant after the local elections. At the same time, a poll conducted for the party indicated that 43% of the 2,500 respondents “would rather there were fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands.”

 

Dutch News- http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2014/04/pvv_leader_wilders_loses_key_a.php#sthash.VZNePFEN.dpuf

http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2014/04/de_hond_defends_poll_as_43_say.php

 

A book review of The French Intifada: The Long War between France and its Arabs by Andrew Hussey

February 28, 2014

French Intifada

 

A book review of The French Intifada: The Long War between France and its Arabs by Andrew Hussey (publication date March 6, 2014)

 

‘’ Going well beyond news reports, the book shows just how hot and fierce a vein of hatred for France runs through the Muslim populations that have experienced French rule. More than half a century after the North African states achieved independence, France remains an object of deep loathing for many of their citizens, who often associate the former imperial overlord with oppressive French-speaking elites. Even the Moroccans who carried out the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, Hussey argues, ultimately linked Spain with these elites, and thus with “the hated nation of France”. Meanwhile, in the book’s striking opening scene, Hussey describes how young Muslims he encountered at a riot at Paris’s Gare du Nord in 2007, most presumably born on French soil, broke into a chant in colloquial Arabic: “Na’al abouk la France” – “Fuck France!”

Turin, president of Coptic Christians attacked by a group of Muslims

Turin, July 19 – Sherif Azer, president of the Christian Copts in Italy, who is Egyptian but a resident of Turin for 54 years, was attacked yesterday in his building by a group of a dozen North African, Moroccan and Egyptians armed with chains. “Why do you not celebrate Ramadan?” asked the two Moroccans – as reported by the victim to Digos, who filed the complaint. The men stopped Azer outside of his association’s building in Corso Giulio Cesare, Porta Palazzo, “I love Italy” the victim said and elobrated that he is a Christian.

At that point the two have left and came back with other people, about ten, all Egyptian. The group insulted the victim after accusing him of not being a Muslim, and then beat him, using a chain. Sherif was struck in the head and sent to the Giovanni Bosco hospital in Turin. Sherif should be fine is about ten days as the wounds are slight. Sherif filed a complaint this morning.

Brescia, Islamic Terrorists arrested

June 12, 2013

 

The leader and founder of the Italian branch of “Sharia4” an ultra-radical Islamic movement created ​​recently and banned in several European countries, was arrested in an operation coordinated between the counterterrorism unit and the Digos of Brescia. The young man, Anas El Abboubi, according to authorities, was looking for targets to hit in Italy. The prosecution assumed that the Moroccan man was training with the aim of international terrorism.
In addition to the arrest of a Moroccan, a 21-year resident with family in the province of Brescia has also been arrested. The men of anti-terrorism police Ucigos and Digos are running a series of raids in the Brescia and in Pordenone against 4 other Moroccans.

All persons involved in the operation, according to officials, were affiliated with the Italian branch of Sharia4, a movement that arose in Belgium in 2010 inspired by the pro-jihadist preacher Omar Bakri and has gradually assumed the structure of an international network using dedicated sites and Youtube channels. Two other people are being investigated.

Moroccan police dismantles terrorist recruiting cell in Ceuta

20 January 2013
Moroccan police have dismanteled a terrorrist recruitment cell of young Moroccans in Ceuta to be trained in terrorist tactics and then employed at the orders of Al Qaeda related organizations, as reported by the Ministry of Interior. These volunteers received intense training in military operations and suicide bombings. Among the operating cell elements are two former prisoners of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay “with great experience in handling weapons” obtained in training camps of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, according to the statement collected by the official Moroccan news agency, MAP.

Moroccan Woman Assaulted by Moroccan Youths in Amsterdam

8 May 2012

 

A pregnant woman of Moroccan origin was attacked in Amsterdam  by a group of youths, also of Moroccan origin, consequently suffering a miscarriage. According to de Volkskrant the youth attacked her because “she was also of Moroccan origin and her boyfriend was black.”
The incident saw little coverage except for a story in the city’s local newspaper and a commentary in de Volkskrant. Writer Bart Schut concludes that “Moroccans have a racism problem and that a different outcome would have transpired had a group of white Dutch men committed the attack.