Saturday, June 25, 2016

Tyler Cowen in Molenbeek

From Marginal Revolutions:
Molenbeek is the “Islamist” section of Brussels which recently became well-known as a breeding ground for terror attacks; it is sometimes described as a kind of desperate hell hole. The Time Out guide for Brussels doesn’t mention it at all. Naturally I wanted to see it.

I visited yesterday morning and saw the fruit, vegetable, and clothing market, and then walked around for another two hours. It was charming, everyone was friendly to me, and I never felt threatened. I bought some excellent cherries at a very good price (“cheap cherries,” and the surrounding streets offer “cheap charcuterie” as well).

Most of the people seem to be either Moroccan or Turkish. The high ratio of Muslim women to Muslim men in the market was striking.

On the vegetable but not the clothing end of the stalls, I saw a fair number of blond Belgian women pushing their baby strollers and buying produce. On my way in from the airport, my (white) Belgian cab driver told me he lived in Molenbeek and loved it, including the low rent — my apologies to Thomas Friedman of course.

Inside the boundaries of the market is a well-known Art Deco church from the 1930s, which upon first glance appeared to be an old mosque tower. At that moment I was surrounded by hundreds of Muslims, and so was primed for the mosque look I suppose. I walked up the stairs of the church to the door, and found it was barred and showed no signs of life.

One plaintive-looking Belgian man was standing on the steps, and he asked me quietly (in French) “Are you here for Mass?” “Yes,” I said, not wanting to end the conversation. “You’ll have to wait, then,” was his dead pan response.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

The comments on that article bring up the matter of crime and unemployment in Molenbeek, as well as in other immigrant heavy areas of other cities in Europe. There are accounts of fear of "young thugs" and "drug dealers" and complaints of shuttered shops and hostile locals.

Some people suggest this is the inevitable result of allowing in "violent", "criminal" foreigners of another culture and religion, and that the problem is we're too tolerant and generous to these people.

And yet, I can't help but think of the long history of immigration in the US, and the realities of crime and unemployment among those populations. Every major migrant group that came to America suffered and struggled to make a life here. In every major immigrant neighborhood, unemployment was high, and consequently crime was rife.

These were poor, desperate people trying to survive in an openly hostile environment, without any help or support from society at large. Is it any wonder jobs were scarce, since no one wanted to hire foreigners? Is it any wonder crime was everywhere, with so many poor and desperate people unable to find honest work? Was it any wonder that these communities were insular and unfriendly to outsiders, when they received the exact same treatment when they ventured outside their own national enclaves?

Every single immigrant nationality in America faced these problems. The Germans, the Irish, the Italians, the Chinese, the Mexicans... is it any wonder that poverty-stricken people struggling to make a life for themselves in an unwelcoming foreign land end up resorting to criminality, or that they don't seem terribly quick to assimilate?

And yet, who today can say that America is not better off for its historical immigration? Yes, we had to deal with the troubles of the Irish Mob, and the Italian Mafia, and the Chinese Triads - and yet, today Americans love to visit Irish pubs and celebrate Saint Patrick's Day; we eat pizza and ciabatta bread at our Italian bistros, and our businessmen and politicians wear fine Italian suits; we simply can't get enough of Chinese takeout, and we have a love affair with Kung-Fu flicks.

Even today, we fall into the same idiotic trap. Millions of Americans fear and revile poor Mexican immigrants and other Latinos, citing all the usual complaints including criminality and a failure to assimilate. And yet we love us our taco trucks, observe Cinco de Mayo without the slightest clue what it is actually a celebration of, and our country's collective drug habit and demand for illicit product directly supports and promotes the street gangs and cartels we're so ready to point to as an indicator of supposed inherent wickedness of Mexican immigrants. Figures like Trump and his ilk paint Mexicans as rapists coming to America to sully our innocent women, despite the reality being the exact opposite - desperate Mexican women get lured across the border by Americans promising them jobs, then are abducted and sold into sexual slavery.

Can you imagine a world in which instead of fearing immigrants, we actively welcome them? A world where rather than make it impossible for them to find gainful employment and drive them to resort to crime, we instead have government programs designed to immediately put them to work and help them assimilate and become productive memebers of society as quickly as possible, preventing crime in the first place? A world where we actually have the wisdom and self awareness to realize that all of us directly benefit from the effects of immigration and in many cases are ourselves the descendants of immigrants, and where we have the good grace and humility to thank them for their cultural, societal, and economic contributions? A world where we're not happy just to eat their food and co-opt their culture for our own purposes and objectify them as exotic sex objects, but to actually value and respect them as fellow human beings?