In the heart of Europe, Molenbeek′s lost generation | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 24.11.2015
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In the heart of Europe, Molenbeek's lost generation

The majority of Muslims in the Molenbeek district of Brussels are peaceful citizens. But DW's Jaafar Abdul-Karim worries about a small number of them. How should we deal with it?

Molenbeek appears to be a magnet for jihadis right in the middle of Europe. Young men from this part of Brussels were allegedly involved in the deadly attacks in Paris on November 13.

I had heard of this place before. Recently, I spent 12 hours there and was able to ask lots of questions. My first impression is that there are many Muslims here. Most have decided to live here because they are surrounded by people of the same faith. It is similar to when hipsters live in certain parts of cities where there are lots of other hipsters. It's all about being part of a community.

The difference is that the Muslims here are scared and uncertain. They always have the feeling that they have to justify why they are Muslim. Women wearing headscarves and men with the beards typical of the Islamic faith (that is, not hipster beards) told me that they are discriminated against.

Jaafar Abdul-Karim, Molenbeek

DW's Jaafar Abdul-Karim (right), on the scene in Molenbeek

Stock responses

A very small number of people I spoke to in Molenbeek made me really worried. No matter what I asked them, they only answered with verses from the Koran and always wanted to deliver a speech to me. Whether they really knew what they were saying or whether they were reciting from memory wasn't clear. When I asked them more about what they said, they avoided the question or they mumbled various theoretical arguments. This very small number of people seemed to me to be living in a parallel world. Physically, they were in Molenbeek. But mentally, they were in another century.

It looked to me as if only one thing was important to them in their lives: Islam, which completely dictated their existence. They were happy to talk about their hatred of everything that they believed was wrong with the world. The Belgian state, in their eyes, was a tormenter that monitored them and restricted them. But, on the other hand, they were not able to give an explanation as to why they had decided to live in a country that they don't like.

How can people like that be integrated if they don't want to be? How can they settle in if it means that they have to acknowledge values that they don't want to live their lives by? How can they integrate into anywhere at all if they have created their own world, shielded from outside influences? I have major doubts that integration of these people can work.

This small minority is a big question mark for me. They represent what we are all worried about. It is just like a drop of ink in a glass of water though. It is just a small amount, but it can change the color of the whole mix. These types of minorities exist in every community: Look at the right-wing extremists for example. They are always a danger. Everything legally permissible needs to be done in order to protect the lives of the majority.

I also went into the Khalil mosque, one of the biggest in Molenbeek. There is a school there where kids learn Arabic and take religion lessons. Although I am Arab myself, the doorman reacted very badly to our arrival. I wondered what the teachers there thought. We weren't allowed to film; they even forbade me to speak with any of those visiting the mosque. In the end, I was able to chat to one of the students. She told me that everything was fine, but it still felt strange.

At the end of the day, the inhabitants of Molenbeek all took to the streets to show a different side of this suburb of Brussels. This signal is important and necessary. But shouldn't the Muslims of all of Europe also take to the streets together, too? No, I don't mean the clubs and organizations: I mean the everyday Muslims, from the mainstream of society. This won't be easy, but it should at least be discussed. In Dresden, once the anti-immigration movement Pegida demonstrated, Pegida opponents also went out and protested, even though they weren't involved. It was a show of support that helped many migrants in Germany. People need signals like this.

I am the last person who wants to spread Islamophobia. But Muslims need to be honest with each other. In Europe especially, they need to have a debate about how to deal with extremism, because it is damaging the name of their religion. This step is important so that they can find a set of realistic solutions - together with politicians and civil society. Muslims need to get proactive. They need to act and not just react. The role of religion in society should be clear when they are doing it. Namely, that democracy, fairness and freedom are nonnegotiable.

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