While This Is My Bike is a personal initiative, it has a base. I can be found in and about Molenbeek, Brussels, Belgium. My neighbourhood is in the public eye recently as its connection to the Paris terrorist attack that killed over 130 people. The sole terrorist on the run apparently fled to my immediate neighbourhood. For the sake of perspective, it should be noted that I am a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant, a quintessential WASP, living in Molenbeek. Read the blog entry for more….
On Monday morning, when police were doing raids in search of the one terroriost still on the run, it was not just my neighbourhood that was prominent. The raids were happening just 200 metres from my home. I watched internet clips that featured my street heavily as in the centre of police activities.
Getting to my home was a zig-zag through the area’s streets and I found the police barricade set up immediately outside my front door. Balaclava-clad forces were visible at the end of my street, planning their entries using percussion grenades.
I made my way home, stopping to chat to my neighbours, who are mostly Muslim, dressed according to their culture. We spoke about the Paris event, the police activity and then left each other, with a last friendly word. I had Muslim friends and friendly neighbours before the Paris attacks and I remain with the same friends and friendly neighbours today.
But the Molenbeek Arabic/Islamic faith connection to Paris has been the sole image coming out of the neighbourhood recently – until last night, when local community leaders organised a Molenbeek Peace rally in the community council square. Thousands of people came. Locals as well as people from probably every Brussels quarter who came to show solidarity with the community.
I want to be careful about saying what religions were there. Frankly, I would think every faith was represented. But there has been an inclination to identify Muslim people by their skin colour. Islam, the Muslim faith, is a religion and not a genetic trait. People choose their faith and a blonde, blue-eyed person in western garb may also be a Muslim. Moroccans in traditional dress may also be Christian.
That said, I would imagine the thousands of people present at the rally would represent the world’s faiths.
Police presence was only visible at the entrance to the square, where every person was searched before being cleared to enter. Inside the square, everybody mingled; young, old, locals and other communes, parents, families and circles of friends.
The media were there in a wall of cameras, journalists all over the square conducting interviews.
Molenbeek presented itself as it is. A widely mixed commune, extended families, young people starting out, children everywhere. Peaceful. Friendly.
I spent my time there talking to friends, meeting my neighbours and seeing many faces I have never seen before who had come out in support of Molenbeek, to reassure people that the commune is not what knee-jerk journalists and amateur pundits proclaim for sensationalism.
I have lived in Molenbeek for well over a decade, now. I work in community gardens alongside my neighbours. I buy my vegetables and bread locally, use the local laundromat, am sitting in a neighbnourhood internet cafe typing this entry, listening to Arabic spoken all around me. I count many of my Muslim neighbours as people who care about me and look for me on the streets to call ‘Hello’. And I have the same affection for them.
Everybody here knows there is a Molenbeek connection to Paris, just as there was a local connection to the Thalys train act that was foiled recently. The Thalys connection was a mere ten doors from my home.
I also know that all my neghbours, Muslim, Christian, and more, condemn the attacks. They are sad for the loss of life and disappointed, concerned, and that it has happened, for my Muslim neighbours, in the name of their religion.
Gratefully, the vast majority of people seem to understand terrorism and the violence against innocents has no connection to any faith.
I live in Molenbeek. I will live there tomorrow and the day after that. I will walk out my front door and call hello to a half dozen neighbours as I ride through the streets. I will visit the local bakery and hold the door open for people carrying their packages as they enter or exit. Later, I will get my vegetables from the local store and walk home. This weekend will likely be another laundry session in the local laundromat – and I will beggar change for the machines from the local cafe.
My neighbours will smile at me, and I at them. The terrorist attacks are casting an unfair light on Molenbeek, people are using the connection to disparage every resident as a potential threat. But, in the reality of Molenbeek, amongst the people who live here, we remain friends.
This Is My Bike is carrying a collection of images today from the rally – granted with a cycling connection where possible. And then, it will be back to the usual cyclist fodder.