Anti-Muslim sentiments and racism against them are sweeping across Europe. Biased western Media held Muslims liable for draining social welfare money and some scholars and politicians also joined this witch hunting.
Today, I had an interview with a M.C, a Belgium business man, originally from a Moroccan family. After graduating from the best business school in Belgium, he is now enjoying already a big fruit of success, working in sales. We had dinner together before the sunset despite during Ramadan over a glass of wine. Yet, he left his long and dark beard unshaved even at an important business meeting, as if he had had to do at least something holy and religious.
Now, he is a good looking guy in his late twenties with bright prospects in the future. But he has made a little confession that he used to be a trouble maker scaring people on the streets away in Brussels. How come he is sitting on a business table over more than 1 million euro deal in a fancy suit today?
P: You immigrated to Belgium at the age of 4, why did your parents come to Belgium?
M : During the unprecedented economic boom shortly after the war here in Europe, my father came to Belgium, but not as a miner or factory worker, but as qualified work force. Later, at the beginning of the 90s, communist states in Eastern Europe collapsed and a huge market with great potentials opened to us. My father made use of this opportunity by selling second hand cars to Eastern Europeans and he made enough money to land himself into Belgium middle class, not if he had earned a big fortune. He came to Europe to give us better future and education.
A successful Muslim business guy? an exception but not the only exception
The best time during high school with only Muslim friends in a ghetto zone
Landed in the best business school after cutting the vicious circle of no self-esteem and confidence
P: How have you become a successful business man in your early life? Unless you are a doctor, lawyer or engineer, it is hard to lead an outstanding career in business world as an immigrant. I have heard that as a Muslim, it is just difficult to get a job at the first place.
M: Well, I would say that I am a case of exception but not the only exception. I have a number of friends doing really well in business.
I graduated from the best business school in Belgium. The most prestigious universities are national ones here in Belgium and its doors are open to every high school graduates. But finishing with the study is a big challenge. I guess about only 100 out of 800 can make it. Public universities are usually tuition fee free, and this removed heavy burdens from my shoulders. Unlike the US, only the stupid kids go to private universities in Belgium to buy their degrees.
On graduation from this university, you can start your career from a management level. I had some, if not many, Muslim colleagues in my school and they are also working under very good conditions.
P: How was your high school life? Most of Muslims build their own circles with only Muslim friends. During your puberty, you are extremely sensitive to what others think about you.
M: I went to a so called “ghetto school”. 90 percent of the students came from Moroccan families, and mostly middle or low income ones. But the school itself was a prestigious one and teachers were very passionate and strict. Only the high number of immigrant kids at school gave it the nickname of “ghetto school”.
I spent the best time during my puberty in Ghetto. Hanging out with friends from Morocco, I was always laughing, chattering and playing. Looking back on the past now, I used to be an aggressive rebel. During my middle and high school, I committed a lot of misdeeds with my friends, for example, stealing little stuffs from school for fun. At some moment, all of a sudden, I decided to stop wrongdoings only to make others happy. Some of my friends failed to handle their teenage rebellious behaviors and they got stuck in them. They were always unsatisfied, rebellious and aggressive.
(Many Muslims are residing at the capital of Belgium, Brussels and they are labelled as jobless and rude youth without manners. According to Mr. C, the interviewee, they are actually living up to these stereotypes. Nowadays, people are scared of them. )
Once a rebellious and scary young trouble maker later to join the main stream society
From one of the Muslims to the Muslim among white people, racially discriminated and laughed at, for the first time in university
When I was a kid, I did not even know that I was scaring people away. One day, I got on the bus as usual and I realized that I was a scary and terrifying person. As soon as I got on the bus, the other passengers were seized with fear as if I were a robber. I did not do anything, so I was baffled. Since then, I began to think why and I started to see aggressive and violent behaviors from myself and my friends.
I kept asking myself “why are we rebellious, aggressive and violent?”
Although I am not a psychologist, from my observations about myself and people around me, this violence is highly connected to low self-confidence and self- love. Typical Muslim behaviors have been already coded in our society. No matter what we do, we are described and viewed as trouble makers who are stealing and committing violence. We also read newspapers and we know what others think of us. How can a Muslim teenager behave well amid widespread negative stereotypes and well known anti Muslim sentiments?
When I was young, I even felt guilty and ashamed of terror attacks by Muslim fundamentalists and problems in Palestine and Iraq. These feelings turned into sometimes helplessness and despair.
Fortunately, I told myself that the surroundings are only surroundings and I began to change myself. However, I see also many Muslim young boys falling into a trap of self-hatred due to racial discrimination and clichés against Muslims. .
P: Did not you have any hard time during university, as you were one of the Muslim minority?
M: Most of my colleagues were white Belgians and this was very new to me. My entry to the university led me to a whole different world and brought me drastic changes. I never regarded myself as an immigrant before my university life. All my friends were Muslim and I was living in a Muslim neighborhood. Before my university, I had never been through first hand racial discrimination and never treated as an immigrant, as everybody around me was Muslim and Media was always telling negative things about us since ever.
Then, during my university study, I experienced a lot of discrimination. Things changed as I was one among white students. My colleagues regarded me as a stupid gangster from a ghetto village. They thought that I would get into fight with anybody and spit on streets.
You can join fraternity groups in Belgium like in the US in order to expand your connections and gather new experiences. I joined one of them and as every fraternity members, I underwent harsh hazing. I always had to play a typical Muslim gangster, shaming Muslim society and mocking low class people. Of course, I was not happy, playing this role, but I did it. I wanted to make them realize how wrong their stereotypes were. I thought that I will teach them a lesson only by graduating from the university with excellent grades.
P: How come you escaped from the vicious circle of self-hatred and misdeeds and went further to graduate from the best university? It must have been really tough.
M: Well, this was not absolutely easy. Fortunately, I did not fall into this vicious circle. I was not trapped. I finished with my study in the best university and I got a very good job. Some of my friends could not manage to break out of the circle. Some could not finish the study even after being admitted and some could not get a job, even having better skills and resume than white Belgians. Trapped in unemployment, they became full of hatred towards themselves and the society. Poverty was added to a long list of problems and you are just losing your self-pride and self-esteem. Things are just getting worse and worse.
A society in need of the weak, as a scape goat to manipulate the public
Muslims held liable for all the social problems, labelled as not integrated
Big conglomerates evading tax face no discrimination or harsh criticisms
P: we have a wide perception that the Muslim women are under oppression due to religious reasons and Muslim immigrants, in particular, are lazy third world people, living on social money. Apparently, they are today’s target of witch hunting by Media. What is the reason for this? And what do you think about this?
M: A society always needs scapegoats. Everything is easy when you attribute the problems to somebody weaker and minor. In my opinion, our society is discreetly manipulated by a bigger power so that we are not aware of the fundamental reasons for such problems. I hate media. They are well paid demagogue shielded by entrepreneurs or politicians in the cause of the right to the freedom of speech.
Muslims take up a mere 10 percent of the Belgian population and many of them are hard workers with low salary. We do not have any power or ability to cause all this financial crisis or chronical government deficits.
For example, no one is labelling IKEA as a financial criminal or evil, even though they pay no tax to the government. In contrast, when some Muslim families receive no more than 1,000 euros from the government, we are seen as the biggest reason for large government deficits.
With the Muslim name, you are always a Muslim no matter what you do, what you are like
It is a White privilege to enjoy multi identities, (Muslim) immigrants can have only one, that of immigrant
P: Do you consider yourself as Belgian or Moroccan?
M: Both of them. I enjoy wine and I am native French speaker, but I grew up in a Moroccan Family. Yet, as an immigrant, I will always be Moroccan here in Belgium. I drink, I am quite secular and I have a nice job. This cannot make me Belgian here as long as I have a Muslim name. People always regard me more Muslim than Belgian.
White Europeans can have a lot of identities. They can be men, women, gays, hippies, bankers, artists and etc. However, no matter what I am, I am just a Muslim here.
Nevertheless, I am very grateful for all the opportunities I was given and I believe that you can also earn them if you work hard, even as an immigrant.