Update: the article had been translated by Ynet as well.
The following is a translation of an article that appeared in Ynet, an Israeli news portal. They do have an English site and they translate some of their articles on it, but I decided not to wait for it.
The Middle East in the heart of Brussels
The Muslim waiter, of which there are not a few throughout the Belgian capital, sounds pretty credible when he invites tourists to the Friday prayer in the mosque in the heart of the Muslim quarter. But in the quarter itself the residents don’t like tourists and the tension can be felt in the air. On the one hand Europe prefers that foreigners will clean its houses and officers, and on the other hand – is afraid of the shows of force of the foreign workers, the Muslims. Ynet reporter visited the Muslim quarter in Brussels and heard that “the Europeans have a psychological problem”.
The invitation was smiling and heart warming: “You’re gladly invited to the come to the Friday prayer. There will be 4000-5000 worshippers in the big mosque of Brussels and I will be among them. I’ll wait for you.” The inviter: none other than a pleasant Moroccan waiter, Hasan, who works in the center of Brussels. The full power of the rich history of the Christian culture can be seen all over the European capital. Especially because of that it’s curious to see how a Friday prayer looks in such a city, where the Arab media have reporters.
The way from the center of town, where the impressive buildings of the European Union stand, to the Muslim quarter is very short, a distance of just several stops on the subway from the EU buildings. The idea was to make it to the Friday prayers at the central El Halil Mosque at noon and maybe even talk to some of the worshippers and learn about the big Muslim community in the city. But nothing prepares whoever doesn’t know Brussels’ secrets well for what is happening above ground. The minute you go up above ground the feeling of a rich and impressive Christian culture disappears and you find a Muslim immigrant quarter in the full sense of the word. Suddenly you find it hard to find women whose head is not covered and Christian men. Many shop signs announce their merchandize in Arabic and uninviting gazes welcome the tourists who popped out of nowhere.
A shopkeeper in one of the shops sees somebody intending to photograph the Arabic sign of his shop and signals in a way that cannot be misunderstood that we should get out of there immediately and certainly not photograph the place. Others stare with burning eyes. After a few seconds, two friends who joined me after much imploring on my side are begging to go back. “It’s scary here, don’t be crazy!” they say. A few attempts to ask about the magnificent mosque are not answered. We had to get out.
The representatives of the European Union, which is just a short distance away from the quarter, are aware of the implications of the situation, but they don’t have a real solution. “Despite everything, the foreign worker flow will only increase in the next 20-30 years” says a European Union source in Brussels who deals with the issue. “The European might have a psychological problem. They just refuse to do black work like cleaning and see themselves as too good for such jobs. Some of them, due to the good welfare services in Europe, even prefer staying unemployed and not to work in those fields, which enables a flow of immigrants.”
And what are the implications of the situation?
The situation has a lot of implications. For example: Spain has had the last few years a big Muslim immigrant flow and so in one of the small town in Catalonia grew a Muslim community which makes up 1/3 of the town residents. Two years ago the community asked to build itself a mosque. The local community refused and in response – the Muslims turned one of the local public buildings that was used as a cultural center – into a mosque. When the residents discovered that – it caused a big storm. But despite that there are certainly positive aspects in the flow of immigrants. So, for example, one can mention that the Moroccan community that worked in the electricity field in Belgium – united and started sending cash to invest in electrical infrastructure in rural areas in morocco and that with the encouragement of the EU.”
The Moroccan waiter Hasan is an example of this wave of immigrants. He immigrated to Belgium with his father a few years ago, in his 30s. The father broke down and returned to his homeland, and Hasan is strict about visiting the family every summer. The rest of the year it’s reasonable to assume that he doesn’t feel a great loneliness of an immigrant – in the same street he works in there are quite a few Moroccan waiters and in the stores in the nearby street we had a fluent talk with other Moroccans about the quality of the Israeli fruits that get to Europe. “These are good fruits since they come from the holy land. Too bad that El-Kuds is conquered and it’s impossible to get to it and pray there, maybe one day we’ll get to come and visit you,” said one of the shopkeepers with a heart warming smile. [Esther note: El Kuds is Jerusalem, and to the best of my knowledge Moroccans can come to Israel with no problem].
The head covering that caused public debate in France is much more common in Brussels. Muslim women can be seen in almost every street with hair covered in various situations – some are held in their boyfriend’s arms and in tight clothing, others walk with a conservative and meticulous step and there were even a few who begged with their kids in fast food restaurants.
The Israeli representatives to Europe also observe the implications of the situation that is forming in Europe. So, for example, the Israeli ambassador to the EU in Brussels, Oded Eran, told Ynet this week that Europe is starting to react to the new situation and is toughening up incoming immigration. “Following the Danish caricature storm and the “intifadah” in Paris, you started seeing the implication in polls and votes across Europe. The issue of immigration has become more and more significant. Also in the caricature issue the European countries told the Muslims: that’s enough.”
According to him, “These countries insisted on the sanctified principle of freedom of speech and this was expressed in European legislation in general and in the issue of immigration and border control in particular as well as in the field of the war against terror. There is no doubt that the situation now is different than what it was two years ago in these fields.
Europe is internalizing the new situation?
“The Europeans understand the danger embodied in this situation but there are different approaches to dealing with the situation. It’s hard today for the governments of the European Union to ignore it. Europe today has greater awareness and better tracking of her intelligence services after what is happening within their borders, with an emphasis on sermons in mosques, for example. There’s greater readiness to deal with this in the public sphere and parts of the Muslim society in Europe understand the dangerous potential. Therefore there are attempts at communication from both sides.
Does this have any implications on the attitude of Europe to Israel?
“There is no doubt that today I come up against greater empathy and understanding towards Israel than in the past”, Eran added.
Source: Ynet (Hebrew)