Magazine article New African

In the Shadow of Terror

Magazine article New African

In the Shadow of Terror

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

When we moved to the States in 2013 and our boys started school, they complained often of having to explain to some of their classmates just where exactly Belgium was (not in France, thank you). After the Paris attacks and the associated spotlight on Molenbeek put Belgium in the news, one of them came back and said to me that everyone at school now knew exactly where Belgium was, he only wished that that knowledge had come through something positive. The recent horrific attack in Brussels has cemented that knowledge in a very tragic way.

This attack has also brought terrorism, in a more personal way, to my family's doorstep. Zaventem airport is one we have used numerous times. A friend's daughter was on the affected metro. A Nigerian friend was in the arrivals hall when the bomb went off. Fortunately, both were safely evacuated. There has been an outpouring of messages of support ana concern from friends all over the world asking if our family and friends back in Belgium are fine. My response to all the messages is the same: everyone is fine but shaken. My Muslim friends are especially worried that in an atmosphere where the rhetoric around Islam is already biased, this will exacerbate an already bad situation. There have been attacks on Muslims by anti-immigrant protesters and this month, a Muslim woman was deliberately run down by a car. In a country that, according to a recent UN study, is not particularly migrant friendly, relationships between the natives and the "other" are bound to get worse.

Yet it is obvious that what is needed is not further alienation and stigmatisation of a specific population group (which does enable radicalisation) but a thorough examination of the reasons why young men, born and bred in Belgium, would choose to align themselves with a group determined to destroy everything their parents came to the West for.

The divisive rhetoric of "them" and "us" is effective mostly because Belgians of a different colour, no matter how long they have lived in the country and regardless of whether or not they were born in Belgium are referred to (and regarded) as "allochtoon" ("from foreign soil"). They can never, unlike their white counterparts, cross the boundary into being "proper" Belgians. My children, born and raised in Belgium, with a Belgian father, have been complimented on their flawless Flemish "for an allochtoon." And they have been asked on more than one occasion, "Where are you really from?" My oldest was once told off by a teacher for not being available for a fundraising event for a school in the Congo (I believe), "because we are doing it for you lot!" My son, who has never been to the Congo responded, "I'm just as Belgian as you are, Sir!" It was not the first time his "Belgianhood" had been questioned in a society where nationhood and skin colour are conflated. And sadly, it would not be the last. This teacher was not atypical.

Unfortunately, one of the consequences of this unwillingness to accept that non white Belgians have as much right to the nation as their Caucasian countrymen is discrimination. Only 57 per cent of factories in Belgium have non-white employees, according to a 2014 study. A friend was told by an employer that she was sent to by an employment office that they did not want to work with an African. …

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