BRUSSELS, March 24. /TASS/. Belgian Muslims’ response to the suicide bomb blasts that hit their country’s capital on March 22 takes just two words to describe - pain and grief. Devout Muslims keep saying again and again: their faith and religion have nothing to do with insane cruelty and violence, committed by terrorists who claim that their aim is the triumph of "true faith."
As polled members of the Muslim community in Brussels have told TASS, the latest developments have proved very painful to them and every coreligionist they know. The media background as it is, the shadow is cast on all European Muslims, they complain.
"I’m Brussels-born. I’ve grown up here. We’ve never felt racism towards ourselves. But now we have some uneasy feelings. True, for now nobody has pointed the finger at us so far, but many of my friends and relatives are complaining that when they go to Morocco, only the Arabs’ luggage undergoes special checks," says Mbrak, the owner of a fast-food joint in Brussels’s Saint Gilles community.
He is certain it is very wrong to associate the extremists’ ideology of hatred with Islam, because violence and religion have nothing in common.
"Killing people over nothing… I really don’t know what a person should have on one’s mind to do such things. This has absolutely nothing to do with Islam," Mbrak said with bitterness.
The residents of another Brussels community, Schaerbeek, now have to learn to live under a pall of restlessness on the local streets. Nearly half of its population is Muslim. Suicide bomber Najim Laachraoui, who exploded himself at Brussels airport on March 22, had been a local resident. Schaerbeek currently sees incessant security sweeps and crowds of journalists from all over the world roaming the streets.
"We’d lived peacefully all along. We’d never thought life might turn us this way. No one could’ve ever thought Islamic radicals would be in hiding here," says Marocco-born local dweller Feisal.
He blames the radicalization of youth on a conflict of generations and a crisis of identity.
"By and large it’s the third generation of migrants. Their parents had moved here in the post-war years to take builders’ and other unskilled jobs, their prime concern being to earn a living. They paid very little attention to rearing their kids, if at all," says Feisal.
It is such young people who are the easiest prey for radical recruiters.
"They were abandoned to stew in their own juice. To look for a place in life. They had no identity or a niche in society. Born in Belgium, they proved aliens for those who had stayed in their home countries and for the indigenous locals. As a result many go astray and get brainwashed," he said.
Feisal, who has established himself in Belgium well enough, believes that only enlightenment and education can banish extremism.
"The Quran does not call for murder. It’s all madness and lies, but the media keep pouring oil on the fire. A majority of us are peaceful people in their right mind. The schools and well-versed intellectuals should do their job properly. Regrettably, this may be a very lengthy process. The fruits of such efforts are not immediately clear, though," he said.
The March 22 Brussels blasts drew strong condemnation from Belgium’s senior Muslim clerics. The League of Imams of Belgium has described them as "criminal doings beyond description."
"In the face of this tragedy we are calling upon all citizens of our country for solidarity and unity regardless of faith. We are to get through this test together and steer clear of the traps that may be planted in our way by those who wish to trample underfoot the values of tolerance and neighborliness we all together have worked for," the league of the Muslim clergy said in a message. The head of the Belgian Muslims’ Executive, Salah Echallaoui, elected just before the tragedy, urged all Belgians to unite. He called for a common front against all types of violence and terrorism, adding that the true Muslims of Belgium remained deeply committed to democratic values.
The Muslim community in Belgium took its current shape in the postwar years to incorporate migrants from the Arab world, who arrived in the country back in the 1960s in search of a better fortune.
Sociologists currently estimate it at 620,000, or 5.8% of the Belgian population. An overwhelming majority of Muslims are either Morocco-or Turkey-born migrants or their descendants (first or second generations).
Muslims are resident mostly in the area of the capital city, Brussels. Communities vary considerably from region to region. Some surveys say the Muslim community in the region of the Belgian capital reaches 22% of the population. Most of them are resident in the communes of Saint Josse, Schaerbeek and Molenbeek. The share of the Muslim population exceeds 30% and keeps rising, as birth rates in migrant families remain high.
In the well-off communes the presence of Muslims is far less noticeable. In Uccle, for instance, there are no more than 6% of them.
Belgium has more than 320 mosques. All are Muslim houses of prayer recognized by the Muslim clergy. There are no statistics, though, regarding quite a few improvised mosques that may exist in any residential building or garage. Such meeting rooms are hard to count and quite often it is such places that prove hotbeds of extremism.
According to demographers, Belgium’s Muslim community is likely to double by 2030 to above one million.