Debates are getting pretty heated about countering terrorism on an EU level. Belgium has already declared highest terror alert, Saturday, and warned of “imminent threat”. Other member states are still deciding on their new policies.
Ironically enough, a 17 minute train ride will take you from the European Parliament to the so-called “Europe’s terror capital” in which a protest took place on Wednesday, November 18th, in honour of the innocent people killed in the Paris attack.
The manifestation did not only express solidarity, but was a self-defending statement from the people living in Molenbeek; the municipality that is continuously described in the media as a “hub for terrorists”. Dozens of terrorists used to live in Molenbeek, including two of the assailants in the Paris attacks: Ibrahim and Salah Abdeslam.
Outside of Etangs Noirs train station at 16:00, candles were already lit around the place. The end of the street could not be seen from either side. Needless to mention, personal space was basically a privilege. The Police Press Office estimated the number of participants to be 2500.
At the entrance to the event’s meeting point, such high security measures were taken that no one could pass before their belongings were thoroughly checked.
Several people waiting in the queue expressed their uncertainty about the safety of the event; they expected provocations to happen from the far right side, the extremists’ side, or maybe both. On the other hand, the Police Press Office said that they did not expect that to happen, despite of the high security measures described.
A few minutes before daylight was gone, Mohamed Abdeslam, the brother Ibrahim and Salah Abdeslam, put some candles in solidarity with the participants on the balcony of the apartment where the family lives. A move that was not only surprising and shocking to the participants, but will probably remain one of the most complex scenes for humanity.
Mohamed Abdeslam spoke to a number of media outlets after the attacks. He explained that the family first knew about the involvement of their sons in the attack from the media, like everyone else. He also said that their thoughts are with the families of the victims, despite of the state of shock and denial that they were in.
In an interview on the Belgian broadcaster RTBF Mohamed urged Salah to turn himself in. “ So that he can give us the answers we’re waiting for, we, his family. But also the families of the victims … We’d rather see Salah in prison than in a grave.”
After giving a speech to express solidarity with and appreciation for the participants, Molenbeek’s Mayor, Françoise Schepmans, said to Euroscope: “ Most of the people here just want to live in peace together, they just want to have an ordinary life with a good education for their children. More importantly, we’re all here today to share the same values.”
Schepmans still acknowledges that there is a problem related to the radicalisation of some young people in Molenbeek; she explained a range of reasons to this problem. Firstly, there is societal alienation and racism against some youth due to their ethnic and religious background. In addition, governmental policies have tended to go back and forth between denial, leniency, or excessive unrealistic measures, which she thinks will not lead to a sustainable, long-term solution.
Philippe Cordery, French Member of Parliament, representing the French citizens living in Belgium, also attended the event. He shared his thoughts about the fact that it was really hard to say that there was a majority of participants from a specific ethnicity, gender, or age. This diversity came to defend the basic thing they have in common, and that ISIS is threatening: humanity; added Cordery.
“Fights against Fundamentalism of ISIS are not related to one area; it is not one municipality that has the problem, it’s the whole world.” He added that Russia, Lebanon, and Paris were attacked by ISIS in one week, therefore, the whole world needs to step up to the fight against them.
“There is military intervention at the moment against ISIS in Syria, and it will continue; but we also need everyone in the country to dismantle all the groups living here.” said Cordery.
According to the Police Press Office, there were no tensions in the area during or after the event, no one was found acting suspicious, and everybody was allowed to get into the square. The event ended peacefully and crowds started dispersing at 19:00.