La Presse in Belgium | Molenbeek also wants to heal his wounds

The trial of the November 13, 2015 attacks in Paris and Saint-Denis opened on Wednesday in the French capital. Of the 20 accused, 12 are from Brussels, including 6 from Molenbeek. This process brings back painful memories for this Brussels community, always looking for a different destination.

Posted on Sep 9, 2021 at 7:00 am

Xavier Savard-Fournier Special collaboration

“I promise you we won’t see anything coming,” recalls Bachir M’rabet, social worker, who was interviewed in his office in the foyer des jeunes. “I was swimming in surrealism. It all happened in front of our noses and we didn’t feel anything. [C’était] a statement of terrible failure. ”

Stormed by the foreign press, Molenbeek became the “terrorist cradle” of Europe in just a few days at the end of 2015. An “open-air zoo” in which everyone had to justify not knowing the terrorists. But behind the headlines of the time: “Who was actually interested in the fate of this city? Ask Ayoub Himit and Loubna El Hadri, both in their early twenties.

“What annoys me is that we don’t see the individual, but always the group. We had the Molenbeek label and we took to the streets and we were put in the same bag, ”adds Loubna.

With over 97,000 inhabitants, around 16,000 per square kilometer, densely populated, the city also has a high rate of immigration. Therefore, the already existing discrimination and racism against Molenbeekois was expanded to include the label “terrorist”, be it when looking for work, looking for accommodation or even in other parts of the city.


“They don’t know us”, this time written in full length on a T-shirt, is a comment that often comes up when talking to Molenbeekois about the looks of people outside the neighborhood.

“Once you’ve read Molenbeek and seen our head, it doesn’t match. We are on record. We are actually seen as bad people. We’re from the city, so we’re obviously bad guys. We’ll say we’re terrorists, thieves, what. We are more things than citizens, ”says Ayoub sadly.

Outlawed for decades

However, Molenbeek is not very different from other municipalities. The Thursday market is lively and good, the terraces are full and just a stone’s throw from the center there isn’t much architectural contrast to the rest of the city.

In fact, anyone visiting Molenbeek can easily pull the plug without planning, if they don’t know that stepping across the Brussels Canal will drive them into the neighborhood.

This separation from the heart of Brussels is not just physical. Over time, the hearts of Belgians have also parted with Molenbeek. While Bachir M’rabet had a “healthy and balanced population” in the 1970s, the Belgo-Belgians gradually left the city as the waves of immigration of the 1980s and 1990s came to Molenbeek, a well-known area in which compatriots had paved the way to Belgian inclusion a little.

“Obviously there was a discriminatory view of the population who lived in the neighborhoods [comme Molenbeek]. Even me when I was younger felt that people didn’t want to hang out with us. It was always the effort in one direction, but never in the other. After that we will say we are bullying ourselves, but there is a whole process, a look that is being put. It’s not a fantasy, it’s not paranoia, it’s a reality, ”says Mr. M’rabet.

In this dynamic the district has become what it has become, namely cosmopolitan, with a large majority of North Africans, Africans, Poles, travelers and others. And that, I think we surfed it in many political parties to say: Here we are, we are no longer in Belgium in this district. It is an area of ​​lawlessness.

Bachir M’rabet

And that image is still anchored in the minds of Loubna, Ayoub and Bachir. You can see that the political will has again turned away from the neighborhood after the crisis meetings after the attack.

“There was no follow-up. That’s what happened. What do we do to ensure that this never happens again? That never happened, ”says M’rabet. “We do not require any preferential treatment. We only demand equal opportunities. ”

The irony today is that it is the bourgeoisie on the other side of the Canal – the “good people” as the young people in the neighborhood call them – who take advantage of Molenbeek’s generosity with big blows of “real estate flips” and lofts in old dilapidated factories .

The once rare people suddenly feel better when there are new upscale cafes next to mosques, “snack bars” and tea rooms. On the other hand, as regards social diversity, this still needs to be done.

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