By Andrew Higgins
April 19, 2016
Photo: DANIEL BEREHULAK, STR Residents walk last month through a market area in the Molenbeek area of Brussels, where some Muslim immigrant groups have proved vulnerable to radicalization. Turks maintain a separate identity, while Moroccans feel excluded.
Around the world, this city of great, if often ramshackle, charm has become Exhibit A in the case against immigration, particularly when it involves large numbers of Muslims.
Donald Trump called the Belgian capital "a hellhole," while Lubomir Zaoralek, foreign minister of the Czech Republic, recently cited the city to explain why his and other Eastern European countries had steadfastly resisted a plan by the European Union to spread Syrian and other Muslim refugees around the continent under a quota system.
"All the people in the Czech Republic and in other countries see what happened in Molenbeek," he told a security conference in Slovakia over the weekend, referring to the Brussels borough where many of those involved in the attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 and in Brussels on March 22 grew up.
It is true that all those so far identified in connection with the Paris and Brussels carnage were young Muslims from immigrant families.
But a more significant marker than their faith was their shared origin in North Africa, especially Morocco.
None of them were from Brussels' large community of Turks, who share the same religion and the same discrimination, as well as other hardships that are often cited as a root cause of Jihadi rage against the West.
Brussels first became a magnet for Muslim immigrants in the 1960s, when the Belgian government eagerly invited workers from Morocco and Turkey to move to Belgium to take jobs available in factories and mines.
The two countries were regarded as generally pro-Western and full of poor and hardworking people eager for jobs in Europe, unlike many developing nations that at the time were frothing with rage at European colonialism and racked by conflict.
Together, Belgians of Moroccan and Turkish origin today account for the vast majority of the capital city's Muslim population, and both groups are heir to a fairly relaxed form of Islam that has none of the reactionary dogmatism of Saudi Arabia and some other Arab states.
So how it that some of the Moroccans became so angry was, alienated and, in some cases, radicalized?
In contrast to Belgium's Turks, the Moroccan community is far more divided and resistant to authority, in part because many of the early immigrants came from the Rif, a rebellious Berber-speaking region often at odds with the ruling monarchy in Morocco.
"When emigration to Europe started, the king was happy to get rid of these people," said Bachir M'Rabet, a youth worker of Moroccan descent in Molenbeek.
Another source of anger in his community, he added, is that many Turks often speak poor French and no Dutch, Belgium's two main languages, and cling to their Turkish identity.
Most Moroccans, on the other hand, speak fluent French and aspire to be accepted fully as Belgians. This, he said, means that many Moroccans feel discrimination more acutely and, at least in the case of young men on the margins, tend to view even minor slights as proof that the entire system is against them.