Has Europe raised its very own jihadists?

I am very outspoken about this subject, as I have rather extensive personal experience with regard to living in areas that are otherwise perceived as “no-go” zones. Not because I enjoy socializing with the ordinary petty criminal (or worse) next door, but because I felt attracted to the most multicultural part of whichever city I was in that I could possibly find.

So I am using this Op Ed to state my opinion and critical comments are most welcome! This is no sociological thesis; please bear with me if I oversimplify in order to make a journalistic point.

Sint-Jans-Molenbeek in Brussels (or Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, as the city is bi-lingual) and Belleville in Paris: These are the two areas I have chosen for my non-scientific attempt at dismantling the myth that behind that every person who looks different, race or background-wise, is a killer and that every neighborhood full of dozens of nationalities is no longer a melting pot for multiculturalism but a melting pot for the weapons trade. Because then we would need to, for example, describe London’s Borough of Southwark in a negative light too, as there are 120 different nationalities present!

Have I been to these areas, you want to know? Oh yes: I, as well as members of my family, lived just up the road from the Belleville metro station, and while not having lived in Molenbeek itself, I did live in a neighboring community, separated only by a bridge over a local railroad track.

What attracted me to such types of districts, some decades ago? One was more up-and-coming (Belleville), the other more down to earth (Molenbeek). Yet both symbolized to me the fact that “the other” did not exist as an ideological concept. I say ideological, because inciting hatred within society, at least to me, is an ideological concept much more than a sociological one.

A guy like me, who had grown up in a small town in Germany, was accepted as an equal in neighborhoods full of African-Americans, Chinese, Arabs, blacks, whites… There was no need to hide your background, as everyone had a different one – we were united in diversity. Let me spin the wheel of multiculturalism for just one week: Monday buying groceries in an Algerian market, Tuesday eating out in a Caribbean restaurant, Wednesday buying a French baguette, Thursday meeting with native Belgians for a drink and Friday buying a ticket for the ferry back home at a travel agency jointly owned by French, Arab and African businessman.

My landlord in Brussels was a proud representative of Algeria. My favorite fabric store in Molenbeek was owned by a Middle Eastern family. In Paris, our grocer was Moroccan, our concierge, Portuguese. I could give you a much longer list. It is probably fair to say we had more contacts with those with an international background, like us, than with born-and-bred Parisians or Bruxelloise.

While “flower power” and multiculturalism were all the rage in the 1970s and into the late 1980s, what we discreetly overlooked was that not everyone was benefiting from these supposedly carefree ways of life. More and more “non-white” people (meant in no way as derogatory, simply as technical term to make my argument) followed in the footsteps of the people we so happily mixed and mingled with. But there were no additional jobs. There were no suitable, affordable apartments left. Step by step, Molenbeek in particular, and Belleville deteriorated; Belleville was labeled “immigrant-rich” and unfortunately they became crime hotspots. Petty crime, a few bank robbers, drugs and human trafficking made negative headlines from the mid-1980s onwards. I suggest that you watch the movie “La Balance” (1982). It is a crime thriller and its opening scene is set at the Belleville metro station. While watching it back then, I felt as if the director had made a mistake, showing this part of town in the wrong way. Soon we realized he was right, unfortunately.

All these developments left a mark on us, my friends and acquaintances from those years. It led many of our generation, who by then had long since graduated from college, to look elsewhere and only return on a “multicultural night out.”

The seeds had been sown for a gradual radicalization of entire neighborhoods. I am not going to write about all the various sects and groups and ultimately fanatics who settled in particular in Brussels in the area I mentioned in this piece; that would be a national intelligence service report I, of course, do not have enough information for.

In the long run, the crime did not yield any tangible results, even from a criminal’s perspective — you can steal only so many handbags; you can only sell so many drugs to so many people; you can only walk away with the till only so often, figuratively speaking. Eventually you would attack your own peer groups, your own friends, unless you carry out your criminal activities in another part of town.

Frustrated, even crime would not pay off anymore. No future, no prospects. Outsiders, outcasts! Laissez-faire long gone, estates look grim, ghettoization. Employment opportunities: rare. Going to university? Well, some got lucky, most got not. Integration — a term for academics!

People still flocked to the areas I mentioned above, but by now it was more often than not the seriously underprivileged. “White” families with children but no breadwinner, social benefits recipients, the unemployed. How come? Housing was still relatively cheap. As many neighbors are unemployed no one looks down on you. The unemployed are not welcome in “posh” neighborhoods. So you don’t spy on your neighbor, no matter where that family was from. Perhaps there was an underground crime gang on your street, but as long as no police knock at your own door, you shrug it all off.

But some people coming to these troubled neighborhoods apparently had money, hard cash. Nothing wrong with that, per se, but they had an ideology too, which promised those underdogs they would become famous as holy warriors. Not necessarily the “whites,” but those with a migrant background. They were promised the “other side,” the holy land, if only they would join the ill-fated path where the final stop reads “jihadist.”

As I said, this is a somewhat risky analysis using frank words, but having been around quite a while, I cannot get rid of that feeling that our intelligence services and police only jumped into action after 9/11. Once terror strikes closer to home — no matter whether it is in America or Belgium or France or England — you react, – perhaps too late.

Then investigations start, even television documentaries are made about which radical person tried to radicalize others in which part of which European city. I remember in particular a documentary shot in Brussels… Everyone is shocked. How have we raised our very own generation of terrorists right next door, who have only one plan, to destroy us and our way of life?

Radicalization can be reversed once society offers equality no matter where someone originally hails from, including to second generation immigrants. Once you can afford a flat on your own because you have a decent job, you may meet a girl. You may marry. You may raise a family. You become the antithesis of your previous radicalized peer group. As tough as it is after the Ankara and Paris attacks, to name only two jihadist assaults from the recent past, we must consider everyone as an equal. Laissez-faire with a twist — social inclusion!

Then, we must erase radicalism by putting an end to jihadist preachers and others. We must stop the flow of jihadist cash and weapons to our streets and apartment blocks.

Has Europe raised its very own jihadists ready to destroy our way of life, our homes, families, lives? Yes, we have, in part by not monitoring more closely those who spread hatred and brainwash previously innocent men and even women. Yes, we have, by not creating jobs and opportunities for everyone, regardless of color or background. Yes, we have, by thinking that they would never ever dare to attack us from among us.

Previous and the most recent atrocities were not necessarily carried out by “homegrown” terrorists, but they are at an alarming, ever-increasing rate.