Molenbeek and terrorism : why?


En septembre 2016, j'étais invitée par un groupe d'étudiants européens en urbanisme et architecture à parler des en jeux de cohésion sociale à Molenbeek dans le cadre d'un colloque intitulé "City at war". Voici les propos que j'y ai tenus.

Molenbeek is a municipality of 100.000 inhabitants which is located in the first
crown of brussels region. It skirts
the Channel and thus
the centre of the town. Molenbeek belongs to what we call «the poor crescent of
the region ». All those districts which are the ancients industrial
zones accomodate precarized and migrant populations since a longtime. In
Molenbeek : there is a large diversity of nationalities and cultures from
Asia, Africa and Europe but the main community today is muslim north african

To understand the situation today, we need
to come 25 years back. In 91, less
than two years after the creation of Brussels Region, there
are the riots in differents districts of the poor crescent. The youth from immigrant
families are revolting. It is
an electric shock which
recalls how much Brussels is dualised between rich and white districts where all indicators are in the
green (schooling, employement,...) and poor districts
which inhabited by a precarized
and often foreign population and
thus, without right of vote, they are little listened and
have little relay near the political parties. Those district are abandoned. And the Youth is revolting.
This electric shock force the different political authorities to deal
with these abandoned districts.

I give you 3 exemples of policies which
were implemented and should help thoses districts in the nineties :

1/ At the regional level, a transverse
and innovating mechanism of
restoration is set up in 93, which is called «contrat de
quartier» "Contracts of districts"
based to three principles: the housing construction or renovation,
the requalification of public spaces and actions aiming at social cohesion.2/ At
the national level, following
these riots,
but also with other dramatic events like
the drama of Heysel stadium or periods of
insecurity, the federal government
sets up a new
program of decentralisation of the policies
of security and prevention. The
purpose of this program is to better
adapt the actions to realities
and challenges of the districts. It is the birth
of the Contracts of security and prevention which finance some
police activities, several services of
situational prevention as the peace officers (which are not policemen) and
differents services of social prevention

3/ There was also an important
wave of regularization between 2003
and 2009. This reguralisation made it possible to many inhabitants of these districts to become Belgian. Lastly, there
was the right
of the vote
for Europeans citizens starting
from 2000 and extra Europeans citizen for the municipal elections starting from

where are we today, 25 or 15 years
after the installation of these
different policies?

Unfortunately, today,
Brussels is still divided in two. the poor crescent is still existing.
Molenbeek remains the 2nd poorest municipality
of Brussels.

Then the question is : did nothing
We can say that since that today there is
no totally abandoned district anymore. The districts were more or less
renovated, the public spaces were developed and the associative sector and
participatory dynamics were financed.The existence of «peace officer» contributed to the social peacekeeping in the
districts. The subventions allowed the very useful creation of services of
accompaniment of the weakest people.

The regularization
and the right to vote allowed that these districts are also regarded as districts of
voters and contributed to permit to those people to
become citizen and to involve in politic also (in municipal council and even in
the parliaments, there is a good representation of some of migrant
communities.)And yet...the fate
of the inhabitants of the
districts as Molenbeek remains difficult. High Rate of
school failure. High unemployment rate. Uneven teaching. Bad control of the
national languages. Bad comprehension of the
policy issues and of the administrative rules. Discrimination.
Identitarian closure and ghettoisation.

These districts are not abandoned anymore
but there was, I think, two perverse effects with these policies:

districts were partitioned still
more: the
district's contracts contributed to create new hall sports, new community
spaces,... but ti did not contribute to mix the populations to open the

the contracts of security and prevention, the objective was
undoubtedly more an goal of
social peace rather than of social
The set up devices were it in a
logic of accompaniment and assistantship, causing
at the weakened public a great
dependence compared to the services,
but also with
the local authorities. In French we say du pain et des jeux aux jeunes, Give bread and games
to youth, but don't let them too much think.....

It was perhaps the good solution at this time, but the attacks of nine eleven, 2001 changed the context. After
nine eleven islamophobia is growing and, in reaction, new identity questions are coming : young people living in popular districts are now shown as muslim by a suspicious
way . As Amin Maalouf says, our identities are varied and multiple, but when one among it is threatened, it is this one we want defend and develop. The identification with the religious
dimension, so Islam, became a challenge in oneself from this moment.
The rise of the religious fact in the districts with an identity dimension more than on a spiritual level was reinforced with the growing influence of the Wahhabite school coming from Saudi Arabia.

This identitarian religious phenomenon should have been taken into account to make evolve social work in the districts to a more emancipatory work. That was not the case.

So today where are we : many young people regard themselves as second-class citizen.

The socio-economic context does'nt help young people(+ of 40% of the young people from 18 to 25 years are unemployed, more than 2000 young people from 18 to 25 years receive income from social integration).

Many young
people of Molenbeek face since they are children experiments of discrimination and stigmatization.

How to be
still confident and trustful in the
society and in the institutions: school, police, media, public authorities. They do not trust them anymore and they have the feeling that these institutions, that the society does not trust them either.

Lastly, don't
forget the international geopolitical context. The double standards of the Western countries in the Middle East in general feeds conspiracy theories and the anger of youth who identify to the destiny of Palestinian and then Syrian.

It is a dark picture I reported, we
have here fertile ground for anger and despair. A ground which contains all the ingredients that recruiters of Daesh use to brainwash our young people.

But I would
like to insist on the fact that the phenomenon of departure of young people to Syria is only one symptom among others of
this ill-being, of this situation. It is thus important more largely to act so that our society can offer alternative prospects and so that our society demonstrates
that it loves these young people and that it can be liked by them in return. It is Not only a question of preventing of terrorism, It is a
question of helping youth to recover their dignity.

Then, a point of hope anyway: many young people, even if they are in anger, even if they are anxious for their future, find daily other more positive ways to built their life.

Then, in this context, what
did we set up, at
the local level to fight against radicalisation?

As soon as we became aware of the phenomenon, after
the summer 2013, we decided to
act. However, this phenomenon, is new complex and evolutionary
and we cannot solve the problematic overnight. The program was thus packed during month and is not yet complete.
Today, our program runs around 3 main roads :

Prevention of crisis :
we accompany the families which suspected at one of their member a risk of radicalization and/or starting to Syria. It is a psychosocial accompaniment which tries to rebuild the emotional links between the young person and its family.
Indeed, we realized that the person is ready to leave when it broke all the emotional ties; Before coming on more rational dimensions, it is thus important to rebuild those emotional bonds.

Comes then the secondary prevention which aims to
discredit the speech of the recruiters. Give tools to the actors of first line (social workers, teachers,...)
to speak about these subjects:
the ways of radicalisation, Whats is Daesh, What
is the way in which the recruiters operate, but also of Islam,...

We also organize moments of word, debates with the young
people, the families. And words must
be free. That must be a space without judgement. We try , to give various grids of readings to discredit the speech of the recruiters on the style and the content, to show that we have divergent opinions in the respect of the ones and others. With plays, films, meetings with people who have a legitimacy to speak with the young people,...

Lastly, there is the most
important axis, that of the general prevention : we need to sterilize this ground where
radicalization is growing: This general ill-being of the young people:
their feeling to be second-class citizens. Rebuild the confidence of youth:
confidence in themselves, in their potential, but also confidence in the institutions.
On our local level, we reformed the policy of youth in this direction: give them spaces to express themselves and be heard, one gives them tools to accompany them in their life plan, with an emancipatory approach. We also set up, at the local level an intercultural process of dialogue which makes it possible to fight against the identitarian closure, against the prejudices, racism, the anti-semitism and the islamophobia.

It would
be necessary for us to also act on the challenges school, cultural, of formation and professional
insertion. We have unfortunately less control on these challenges at the local level even if we try to integrate them in the policies which we set up.

In conclusion, I would
like to say that all these prevention policies which we set up at the local level will
be really effective only if we fights against stigmatization on all the levels (education, media, police...), since the local level up
to the European level and if the maintstream opinion, among
policy makers and medias is that our european society which accepts once and for all that these young
people are its children not any more the children of the umpteenth generation resulting from immigration. They are european, Belgian children at 100% with all that presupposes like acceptance of diversity in the European, Belgian identity and event it challenges some
mainstream opinions for example the teaching of the colonial history in the school handbooks or the relation between Europe and Islam.

Without coherence in politics and without a real
political will to consider those young people as European children, we won't
win our fight against terrorism.