Bleri Lleshi Guardian 22 March 2016
People are afraid here, that is normal. But the way to show that the jihadis are wrong is through solidarity and supportMy city is in pain and mourning. Dozens of innocent people have lost their lives; more than 200 are wounded. Brussels is locked down, once again.
After the Paris attacks last November, Brussels was locked down, too. Some of the terrorists who hit Paris came from here. Since then, the police and army have been present in public spaces and on every corner of the city centre.
The commune of Molenbeek, where I work, was at the centre of a media storm. “The jihadi capital”, the media called it. Because of a few individuals, a community of 100,000 people is now considered a dangerous place filled with terrorists.
As if the media’s reporting wasn’t bad enough, we have politicians who make scathing statements about Brussels and Molenbeek on a daily basis. Jan Jambon, Belgian minister of interior affairs, declared right after the Paris attacks that he would “clean up” Molenbeek.
I work in various Brussels schools as a youth coach. Many of my students live in Molenbeek and were shocked by such statements. “Is it because we are Muslim?” they asked me. “Is it because we are of Moroccan origin?” “What did I and my parents do wrong?”
Most of these young people are in a precarious situation. Some 40% of Brussels youth live in poverty. More than a quarter leave school without a diploma of secondary education. Youth unemployment is huge. Many young people have no prospects and low self-esteem, and share the wider fear of terrorism and other violence. Verbal and physical violence towards migrants in Belgium, in particular Muslims, has increased by 50% in the last five years.
Young people, I, all of us will have to continue with our lives, just like people did in Ankara, Beirut and Paris. Together we must refuse to resign ourselves to the fear that is sown by terrorists – and by politicians and the media.
Politicians and the media are falling into the terrorists’ trap. Movements like Islamic State have a clear goal: to sow panic and distrust. Terrorism specialist Béatrice de Graaf has aptly called this the “theatre of fear”. It’s not only Belgian politicians and media that are giving the terrorists what they want: look, for example, at the reaction of French president François Hollande. The answer to terror is not vengeance or fear. We cannot fight fear with fear, or violence with violence.
This does not mean that we should not tackle terrorism. As well as addressing socio-economic misery, we need a foreign policy that rejects militarisation and wars in favour of political solutions and dialogue.
Moreover, it is important to offer an alternative. We need to strengthen vulnerable communities and groups. We need to invest in young people so that they develop self-respect and engage in society. We need to offer them clear prospects. This is one of the most effective ways to fight terrorism.
And to those who sow fear we must respond with love, because love is a powerful weapon against terrorism.
Iyad El-Baghdadi, once a Salafist and jihadist, now strongly condemns Isis. According to him, love is the best answer to Isis, for “love destroys their faith”. By forging friendships with Muslims, he says, “you defeat Isis”. If we respond with fear and hate, this will strengthen it.