Toni CERDA – One year on Brussel attacks, Belgian Muslims and rights advocates are complaining of a rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes.
Ahmed Zine El Aabedin, whose name was withheld by Agence France Presse (AFP), is a Belgian Muslim teenager who suffered hostile hate comments last year.
The young Muslims said he is still reeling from the hostile reception he received from a teacher the first day he attended a new sports school last September.
“If you’re going to set off a bomb, warn me because I have a daughter and she needs me,” the Moroccan-born 16-year-old recalls the teacher telling him in front of his classmates.
“Deep down it hurt me, but I laughed with everybody in order not to show it,” Ahmed said at his home in Brussels.
The hostile remarks have continued during his time at his school for future athletes in southern Belgium.
“All that because of my origins,” Ahmed added.
A year ago, 32 people were killed in the Brussels metro and airport on March 22.
The fact that the attacks were carried out by young men of Muslim origin, many of them from the largely Muslim Brussels district of Molenbeek, fueled the prejudice.
One year on, the problem was getting worse, according to activists.
“Islamophobic acts have increased in quantity and seriousness,” said Hajib El Hajjaji, of the Collective against Islamophobia in Belgium (CCIB).
This non-government organization recorded 120 Islamophobic incidents in 2016, including 36 in the month that followed the attacks.
A similar notice was made by Unia, Belgium’s public body for equal opportunities and the fight against racism, which recorded a rise in Islamophobic incidents.
The workplace is not shielded from this “polarization of society,” said Unia director Patrick Charlier.
Last year the number of incidents motivated by race or religion increased by 14 percent and 91 percent respectively, Unia said.
Tackling the problem, the Belgian authorities launched the “Canal Plan” to fight radicalization in Molenbeek and other neighborhoods.
The plan, which involves increasing the deployment of security forces, also targets drug trafficking as a source of financing of terrorism.
The Belgian League of Human Rights, however, blamed police for using illegal “ethnic profiling” during checks.
“Our Prime Minister (Charles Michel) should, like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, send positive messages of recognition, reject hate and refuse conflating” Muslims with terrorism, Hajjaji said.
Hajjaji urged more effort to promote diversity inside the Belgian community, giving the Spanish city of Barcelona as a lead to follow.
The city’s plan to fight Islamophobia included launching an 18-month project to improve the image of Muslims, showcase religious diversity and step up the battle against discrimination.
Ahmed’s father, Zine El Aabedin, supported this positive message.
“We cannot accuse a whole community because an idiot has set off a bomb. We want to live, create a generation which works for the good of Belgium,” he said.
“We’re not here to set off bombs. Do you understand what I mean?”