Monday, October 19, 2009

Fort Apache Redux

Below is a translation of an article by Luckas Vander Taelen, Flemish Parliament Green Party MP, “The Ghettos of Brussels” published in Belgium’s Le Soir newspaper on 6 October 2009

I live in Forest, near an area that stretches from the Rue Merode to the Midi railway station and that can only be described as a ghetto, even with the largest bias for multiculturalism.

My daughter has long since abandoned to entering the area. While she feel comfortable at home, she has quite often (and once too often) been insulted. I cross the area daily by bicycle and daily find it a new adventure. Cars are double parked, drivers block intersections to talk to one another, youths follow you and stare as if you were on their turf.

Do not try to speak up when you feel a need to: the last time I ventured that myself, I took caught the undivided attention of an observer who could not have even been 16 years old, who went into an offensive tirade ending in him telling me he was "fucking your mother." It was much less serious than last time, when another young Moroccan driver had been annoyed by my behavior: I dared to take my right of way. His honor was so offended that he could needed to restore it by spitting in my face.

So above all: people keep silent, because when you try to explain that 70 km/h is too fast in 30 zone, you hit head on the dignity of a new young Belgian who can not bear that someone ban something which is ready to do battle.

Some twenty years ago, I was convinced that the new young Belgians were assimilating quickly. But now, in Brussels, a generation of "rebels without a cause" have been raised that continue to feel aggrieved and annoyed. Everything is always the fault of others: Belgian authorities are racist, while within their own families, young North African boys are untouchable. When police arrested a youth in Molenbeek, the father immediately organized a protest because her son "did not even steal an apple."

Last year, a ULB (Université Libre de Bruxelles ) study showed that efforts by authorities in problem areas have meant that young people no longer see the need to leave them. This creates a village mentality in a big city.

The daughter of Moroccan friends has a Belgian boyfriend. She never goes out with him in this neighborhood because she will immediately be scolded. While almost all young immigrants have Belgian nationality, they do not identify with this country. Quite to the contrary: "Belgian" is used as an insult.

You hardly ever meet young single women in the neighborhood, even less so a tavern: they are not even tolerated. When a friend in town ordered a coffee, she quickly understand that she should not expect to be served. When I go biking in the Merode neighborhood, I know that until I pass the Gare du Midi, I will not find a woman by herself at an outdoor café, never mind the hypocritical sexual morality that requires young ethnic minority women to remain virgins until their wedding night when everyone knows that hospitals Brussels will repair a woman’s hymen in a simple operation ...

Until last week, a French-Moroccan artist exhibited a remarkable exhibition in Brussels: a series of prayer rugs with shoes. The art gallery was immediately the target of telephone threats to send the message that the work was vulgar. The unrest was triggered by a pair of red shoes with high heels exposed near a prayer rug, because the artist wanted to address the issue of "the place of women in Islam." But this is no longer possible in Brussels: the exhibition was dismantled after a few days.

We should perhaps ask ourselves why we agreed that principles like artistic freedom and the equal rights of men and women do not apply to everyone in this country.

Why do we not dare to stand up for what is fundamentally important?: a respect for the laws and values of countries in which we live? Banning the headscarf is not a solution. But yet how strongly do we dare defend what we consider important?

The merit of the left was to claim more attention to discrimination and social exclusion. Unfortunately the problem is more profound: we were afraid of being accused of imposing our values on immigrants.

These are my values too, and they are too important to let them be lost.