Friday, November 20, 2015

Paris Attacks : Molenbeek, Brussels – "center of European jihadism"

Paris Attacks : Molenbeek – so-called "center of European jihadism" – a failed state in capitalism's backyard. 

Molenbeek Brussels
Stephen Morgan in Brussels

The international media is describing the largely Moroccan, Molenbeek district of Brussels as a hotbed of terrorism. This is nothing but misrepresentation, sensationalism and insidious racism by members of the press. Ridiculous and totally incorrect statements about the district are being made by reporters, most of whom have parachuted in from the wealthy suburbs of foreign capitals.

I live in Brussels and I have campaigned on the streets of Molenbeek numerous times with my ex-wife, Halima (who is Moroccan), when she stood for election as a candidate for the PS (Socialist Party). Because I campaign for Halima, and because I'm a socialist, when we sit on the terraces of the Moroccan cafes, the food and drink is frequently free. The Moroccans are hospitable, tolerant and open-minded people. I'm British and our daughter is half-Moroccan, but I have never faced any animosity over the fact that I am seen as a Christian, who married a Muslim woman.

During the election campaigns in Molenbeek, the walls and windows of the shops are a sea of red, socialist posters supporting PS candidates. The fundamentalist Islamic party get only a measly 2% of the vote. More than 80% of Moroccans vote socialist, and the same is true of the Algerian population in France. In reality, Molenbeek is a hotbed of socialism, not fundamentalism.

The Moroccans make up the backbone of the working class in Brussels and other Belgian cities. Moroccan people were invited to Belgium during the post-war boom to work in the lowest paid jobs with the worst conditions. They moved into the poorest areas of the cities with the most dilapidated housing and the lowest rents. These became ghettos of desperation and disillusionment for immigrants who arrived expecting a better life for themselves and their families, but found nothing but poverty and discrimination. 

What causes a tiny minority of youth to support or get involved with the likes of Daesh (Islamic State) is the destitution, unemployment and racism they face in Belgium society. For many youngsters, life just appears to be a black pit from which it is is impossible to escape. 60% of Moroccan youth in Molenbeek are unemployed and many get no social security and are forced into petty crime and drug dealing to survive. An EU study into discrimination against ethnic minorities recently found that Belgium was the worst in Europe, scoring 70% on the racism scale for employers, compared to 50% for the next worst countries.

The police are flagrantly racist. Talking to local mothers, they give harrowing tales of how they spend sleepless night wondering where there sons are, and what is happening to them, because the police just arbitrarily keep kidnapping Moroccan kids from the streets and holding them in cells over night without charge. Their only crime is hanging around chatting on street corners, when they have no money and nowhere else to go.

When the Americans invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, they left behind them failed states. But areas like Molenbeek are failed states within the borders of the Imperialist states themselves, and provide just as much a breeding ground for terrorism as the crumbling countries they left behind.

The percentage of young Muslims who have gone to fight in Syria from Belgium is the highest of any European country. The youngsters from Brussels involved in the Paris attacks were marginalized from both Belgium society, and from mainstream Moroccan society as well. It turns out that none of the attackers were the pious religious, “bearded” believers, which the media depicts terrorists as being.

Abdelhamid Abaaoud (the leader of the group) and Salah Abdeslam, who is still at large, and his brother Brahim, who blew himself up in Paris, are all convicted petty thieves. Abaaoud had been imprisoned for theft and violent crimes. The Abdeslam brothers owned a bar in Molenbeek, which was closed for being a drug den. Friends described them as big drinkers and drug takers who never attended the mosque. Brahim's ex-wife described how he spent most days at home endlessly smoking pot and drinking vodka and beer.

Hasna Aitboulahcen, who died during a police raid on the terrorist cell a few days ago in Paris, was an abused child brought up in foster homes. Known as the “cowgirl” because she liked to wear  American cowboy hats, she was described by neighbors as a heavy drinking, “party-animal” and was on the  police radar as a drug trafficker.

While some disenchanted middle class youth also become involved with groups like Daesh, the foot soldiers are mostly youth on the poorest fringes of society, searching for the most extreme way to express their hatred towards a system, which has left them impoverished and powerless. Added to that is the fact that online chatter showed the Islamic State was offering $50,000 to anyone who carried out an attack – effectively paying criminals to be their assassins.

But it is not just the fault of capitalist society that the socio-economic conditions in places like Molenbeek give rise to fundamentalist groups. The PS has failed the Moroccan working class in areas like Molenbeek. It has never made improvement in living standards, jobs and quality of life for immigrants a priority in its policies, and has just milked these areas for votes in the elections, while turning its back on them when in power.

The labour movement needs to make the plight of ethnic minorities a priority in its socialist programme. It must take it upon itself to funnel the underlying hatred towards capitalist society into a struggle to improve the conditions of immigrant workers and defend the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. When it comes to discrimination and the plight of minorities, the unions and the PS here always “talk the talk” but they never “walk the walk”.

The ruling class offers “solutions” to terrorism like increased powers for the police to stop, search and arrest innocent youth, upping the police presence and surveillance in these areas, all of which amount to nothing but an occupation and suppression of the local population. Not only that, but they use this as an excuse to introduce measures which can be used to suppress any protests by the immigrant population, and eradicate the democratic rights for the labour movement to oppose the government in general. Within days of the Paris attacks, French President, Hollande passed through emergency powers to give the police the right to impose curfews, search houses without warrants and ban any demonstrations with the use of force.

Therefore, if terrorism by fundamentalists – and terrorism against immigrants by the capitalist state – are to be overcome, the unions and the socialist party must establish themselves as champions of equality and justice, and not act as collaborates in oppression. That means taking to the streets, organizing protests, strikes and solidarity marches with the people of Molenbeek and other districts.
They should organize fighting union groups of unemployed youth to campaign on issues of unemployment and discrimination. They must offer the means for mass action to replace the misguided idea that individual or group attacks by terrorists against the system can succeed in improving the conditions of poor Moroccan youth or stopping Imperialism.

The unions and the PS should be leafleting and protesting for immigrants rights outside metros, workplaces, schools, colleges and shopping areas. Demonstrations should take place outside parliament and political party HQ’s, picketing should take place at the gates of major employers demanding equal job rights. Meetings must be held across the country to highlight the plight of young Moroccans and other immigrants populations. Unions must create solidarity committees in the workplace to fight for workers' unity in order to defeat attempts to divide workers along racial lines.

Moreover, the labour movement must fight for a government programme which aims at the complete renewal of immigrant areas, improving public services and the infrastructure. Projects of public works should be started such as as renovating old homes and building extra social housing, which would include affordable accommodation for youth. There is a need to build new schools and set up more sports and recreational centers, as well as better medical facilities. Furthermore, free kindergartens and cheap, subsidized public restaurants should be created to help liberate women from household slavery, and a campaign must be launched against sexism and to educate men about the need for equal rights for women.

Such a programme of public works could provide new jobs for thousands of immigrant youth and unemployed workers. That, in turn, would create more local jobs by increasing money in peoples pockets and stimulating demand for more shops and services.

Unfortunately, however, the truth is, that capitalism can only offer economic problems and austerity measures which hit immigrant communities the hardest. Capitalism at a national level and Imperialism at an international level is based on the subjugation and exploitation of the working class and minorities in particular. The only way to end poverty, racism and exploitation is to end capitalism itself and introduce an international socialist society of equality, solidarity and wealth shared by all peoples regardless of nationality, ethnic or religious identity. 

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