Our holiday in Schaerbeek, Brussels

Five years ago we spent a couple of weeks travelling around Belgium and Germany with the kids. It was an exciting family holiday, staying in youth hostels, visiting the picturesque Rhine and Moselle valleys of Germany, and spending a night in the cosmopolitan city of Brussels. Unwittingly, we chose the now notorious Schaerbeek district of Brussels to stay, as it was cheap, convenient for the centre, and we had no idea that it was a hotbed of Islamic terrorism.

Schaerbeek isn’t what you might imagine if you’ve been following the news recently – a run-down place of despair, abandoned by society, and a no-go area for the Belgian authorities.

Admittedly, it had character, and we clung to our bags and phones carefully – just as we would when visiting London, or any capital city. We noticed that many of the people on the streets were of Turkish or Moroccan origin. It wasn’t an affluent part of the city, and there were no other tourists in sight.

But it was thriving and bustling and friendly too, full of shops and markets, full of colour, full of life. It didn’t feel dangerous. We weren’t threatened. I have been to parts of London that have made me feel much more nervous.

There were thousands of people out on the streets of Schaerbeek, talking, meeting, buying, and selling. Perhaps one or two of them harboured dark thoughts of murder. Perhaps behind closed doors a small group of young men were meeting, discussing their hatred of Western society, and their desire to die as martyrs. But the overwhelming majority were ordinary people going about their daily lives.

The Brussels bombers didn’t represent those people. They didn’t represent anyone. Like the Paris bombers, they were petty thugs and criminals who found a twisted reason to hate.

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9 responses to “Our holiday in Schaerbeek, Brussels

  1. I would say they were murderous insane religious fanatics, definitely criminals, but not petty. Nothing petty about what they do. They’re also uncivilized dangerous animals and should be treated as such.

    Wonder if that neighborhood has changed in five years?

    • Wyrd, I trust you are referring only to the human animal. All the other animals might take offense (if they could).

      BTW, I heard on the news one of the bombers left a note, saying he was tired of being a career criminal and preferred going out in a blaze to being arrested and sent back to jail.

      • Heh, yeah! The human ape does have the added dimension of hate and rationalization not found in the animal kingdom! (Although some of our primate rivals are at least in the game.)

        I can appreciate the impulse, Free or Die!, but the taking a bunch of others with you part is insane. A kind of human psychic rabies.

  2. Well said. I often have to remind my friends and family here in the U.S. that, working at a university, I know a good number of Muslims, and the vast majority are kind decent people. They’re no more represented by the terrorists than were rural Americans by Timothy McVeigh.

  3. Like

    (just getting you back for removing your Like button)

  4. “The overwhelming majority…”

    Yes! I am struggling with keeping everything in perspective. I know these (for lack of a better word at the moment) fanatics are the minority, but they make me so angry! I cannot for the life of me understand why people seem to want to hurt other people. It sounds so simple— but, can’t we all just get along?

    I want to live in a world where people are celebrated for their differences. I want a safe place for my son to explore and learn. I am tired of being afraid of other people because of a few who seek to harm innocents. I don’t pretend to understand what point they are trying to make… All I know is that I am tired. Tired of all the violence.

    We only have today- and I hope I am able to live my life in a way that creates positive energy. I hope I spread good feelings- and I hope I remember that the good is so much more than the bad.

    • They make me unbelievably angry too. But I don’t think anger is very helpful in this situation.

      A significant number of people don’t seem to be able to get along with others. Every society seems to have people who, for whatever reason, just can’t function in a civilized society. Maybe they are victims themselves of some kind, I don’t know. In some cities, they might join criminal gangs. In other situations they are at risk of becoming drawn into extremist groups.
      I think that we must fight hate on every level. Authorities must seek to disrupt organised hate groups. Religious groups must seek moderation and inclusiveness. Institutions must promote a civilized world. And each of us must practice tolerance in our daily lives. Perhaps that’s the most important factor of all.
      The worst action is probably to react with hate, and pander to these people’s warped ideologies.

  5. Thanks for the excellent perspective, Steve. Yes, life is a daily crap-shoot, but, by far, most people are decent and law-abiding. Civilization is still our best bet for safety and security.

    Hate knows nothing of civility, except to envy it.

    • Yeah, I can’t really understand what drives such people, but it seems to be a toxic mixture of many factors. Some of the Paris & Brussels bombers had criminal records, others seemed to be ordinary people who had somehow fallen under the spell of charismatic extremists.
      There are plenty of examples of that in Christian America too – cult leaders like Charles Manson and other apocalyptic cults.

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