“I am not always on the bike. I have a bad hip. I do not live that a far from here, but today. you cannot take a car today. I took the bike.”
Photographer’s notes: I was riding the bike about the city on the day of the recent bombings here in Brussels and, on the way home, I rode through one of the more visible Muslim neighbourhoods. It was no special trip. This is a regular path for me. I ride here three of four times a week, at least.
When I passed this man, there were actually two of them, both elders, both on bikes, both (I presume) Muslim, and they were perfect for a photo. One refused the request and this man permitted it.
We chatted for a while, talking, oddly, about cycling in Molenbeek, the bike, life in general. Neither one of us mentioned the bombings. When he mentioned that, today, he had little choice but to use the bike, we both understood the context. And, well, the image does not show this clearly, but this man has a happy face. His smile is infectious and draws you in. Odd, once the camera came out, he was rather more stern in appearance. .. But maybe I just have to become as better photographer.
In the days after the bombings, there has, again, been the usual call for closer attention to specific populations. Muslims are, again, being identified, by some, as part of the problem.
I live in a Muslim neighbourhood. The “terrifying” Molenbeek. The overwhelming majority of my neighbours are Muslim. And you can speak to me about how rough the neighbourhood is, how people race their cars, how there is an occasional brusqueness in life here. But not one person can convince me, offer any credible evidence (facts, facts, facts) that the entire neighbourhood is anything but appalled by the terrorist actions. Clearly there is a faction, a small group who are undertaking the bombings. No one denies that. However everyone openly condemns the acts, openly protests the suggestion these bombings could have been done in the correct name of their religion.
And I can still ride my bike through the neighbourhoods without an additional worries. Well, there some may be frustrated by cyclists and think their cars have more right to the roads – but that has always been the case here.
I feel as safe as ever. And the locals are as friendly and accepting of me as they have ever been. I hope I treat them with the same respect.