Photography

Photo Feature: Molenbeek, the Brussels Neighbourhood that Everyone’s Talking About

Photographs by John Vink of the Brussels borough Molenbeek, stigmatised by the media the world over after evidence was found linking some of its radicalised Muslim residents with the perpetrators of the Paris attacks last November.

A girl plays with her umbrella in front of masked policemen in the Ransfort street who prevent access to the security perimeter set up during an operation around the Delaunoy street in the predominantly Muslim borough of Molenbeek Saint Jean, in connection with the terrorists attacks in Paris.

A girl plays with her umbrella in front of masked policemen in Ransfort street who prevent access to the security perimeter set up during an operation around Delaunoy street in the predominantly Muslim borough of Molenbeek Saint Jean, Brussels, in connection with the terrorists attacks in Paris.

Brussels: It was after the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris that Molenbeek suddenly became, in the eyes of the world, a terrorist hotbed.

Molenbeek is one of the 19 boroughs of Brussels. It has a large Muslim population, and high unemployment and petty crime rates.

After the attacks, which were claimed by IS, evidence was found between the perpetrators and radicalised members of the Muslim community from Molenbeek.

BELGIUM, Molenbeek Saint Jean (Brussels). 15/11/2015: The Sunday market, next to the city hall of Molenbeek Saint Jean. In connection with the terrorist attacks in Paris on the previous day, several people were arrested and houses searched on the previous night in the commune of Molenbeek Saint Jean, one of the 19 communes of Brussels which counts an important muslim community.

The Sunday market next to the Molenbeek city hall.

BELGIUM, Molenbeek Saint Jean (Brussels). 15/11/2015: The Sunday market, next to the city hall of Molenbeek Saint Jean. In connection with the terrorist attacks in Paris on the previous day, several people were arrested and houses searched on the previous night in the commune of Molenbeek Saint Jean, one of the 19 communes of Brussels which counts an important muslim community.

BELGIUM, Molenbeek Saint Jean (Brussels). 15/11/2015

BELGIUM, Molenbeek Saint Jean (Brussels). 15/11/2015: The Sunday market, next to the city hall of Molenbeek Saint Jean. In connection with the terrorist attacks in Paris on the previous day, several people were arrested and houses searched on the previous night in the commune of Molenbeek Saint Jean, one of the 19 communes of Brussels which counts an important muslim community.

BELGIUM, Brussels. 21/11/2015: The Place de Brouckère subway station is closed. Following the terrorist attacks in Paris of Friday 13th 2015 and the connection with radicalised Muslims from the borough of Molenbeek, a level 4 alert (the highest) was announced in Brussels, closing the subway, shopping malls, cinemas, and leaving the center of the city empty on a usually busy Saturday night.

The Place de Brouckère subway station, closed. Following the Paris attacks, a level 4 alert (the highest) was announced in Brussels, closing the subway, shopping malls, and cinemas, leaving the centre of the city empty on a usually busy Saturday night.

BELGIUM, Brussels. 21/11/2015: An army truck passes in front of a souvenir shop near the Grand' Place. Following the terrorist attacks in Paris of Friday 13th 2015 and the connection with radicalised Muslims from the borough of Molenbeek, a level 4 alert (the highest) was announced in Brussels, closing the subway, shopping malls, cinemas, and leaving the center of the city empty on a usually busy Saturday night.

An army truck passes in front of a souvenir shop near the central Grand Place market.

After the Paris attacks, hundreds of journalists contributed to creating the image of Molenbeek as a ‘terrorist hotbed.’ The effects were felt by its mostly law-abiding citizens.

Two days after the Paris attack, Ahmed El Khanouss, councilman for social affairs and economic development at Molenbeek. 

Ahmed El Khanouss, councilman for social affairs and economic development at Molenbeek, after the Paris attacks.

BELGIUM, Molenbeek Saint Jean (Brussels). 17/11/2015: Inhabitants photograph the media circus stationed in front of the City Hall. Evidence of connections between the perpetrators of the Paris terrorist attacks of November 13th claimed by the IS and the radicalised faction of the Muslim community of this burrough of Brussels has brought international attention, and the media, to this Muslim community which for the largest part has nothing to do with extremism.

 Inhabitants photograph the media circus stationed in front of the City Hall. Evidence of connections between the perpetrators of the Paris terrorist attacks of November 13 claimed by the IS and the radicalised faction of the Muslim community of Molenbeek has brought international attention and the media to this Muslim community - the majority of which has nothing to do with extremism.Inhabitants photograph the media circus stationed in front of the Molenbeek city hall. 

One must realise that there are many other Molenbeeks – in Belgium itself, and also in France, and Great Britain. The societal failures leading to the Islamisation of a minority of radicalized citizens who are left to drift away – this scenario is not unique to Molenbeek.

How can a country where self-centred citizens who question the very existence of their own institutions be aware of the needs of other communities, and anticipate the problems they are confronted with now?

Nationalism, exclusion, racism and alienation close doors; they do not open them.

Masked policemen prevent access to Rue Ransfort and the Rue Delaunoy area during an operation at house number 75, Molenbeek.

Masked policemen prevent access to Rue Ransfort and the Rue Delaunoy area in Molenbeek during an operation at house number 75.

A security check in the Rue Ransfort area.

A security check in the Rue Ransfort area.

BELGIUM, Molenbeek Saint Jean (Brussels). 16/11/2015: Inhabitants talk to the press during a police operation around the Delaunoy street in the predominantly Muslim borough of Molenbeek Saint Jean, in connection with the terrorists attacks in Paris of the previous Friday.

Residents talk to the press during the police operation in the Rue Delaunoy area.

The press is kept away from the scene during the police operation around the Rue Delaunoy area.

The press is kept away from the scene during the police operation.

Masked policemen prevent residents from going home in the Rue Delaunoy area.

Masked policemen prevent residents from going home.

BELGIUM, Molenbeek Saint Jean (Brussels). 16/11/2015: Inhabitants prevented from going home by masked policemen in the Ransfort street who prevent access to the security perimeter set up during an operation at house number 75 and around the Delaunoy street in the predominantly Muslim burrough of Molenbeek Saint Jean, in connection with the terrorists attacks in Paris of the previous Friday.

BELGIUM, Molenbeek Saint Jean (Brussels). 16/11/2015: A police operation around the Delaunoy street in the predominantly Muslim burrough of Molenbeek Saint Jean, in connection with the terrorists attacks in Paris of the previous Friday.

BELGIUM, Molenbeek Saint Jean (Brussels). 16/11/2015: Inhabitants prevented from going home by masked policemen in the Ransfort street who prevent access to the security perimeter set up during an operation at house number 75 and around the Delaunoy street in the predominantly Muslim burrough of Molenbeek Saint Jean, in connection with the terrorists attacks in Paris of the previous Friday.

BELGIUM, Molenbeek Saint Jean (Brussels). 16/11/2015: Inhabitants prevented from going home by masked policemen in the Ransfort street who prevent access to the security perimeter set up during an operation at house number 75 and around the Delaunoy street in the predominantly Muslim borough of Molenbeek Saint Jean, in connection with the terrorists attacks in Paris of the previous Friday.

Terrorists are always targeting the weak spots (Belgium certainly is one). They sow the seeds of fear, instil discord, and whip communities up against each other.

But Belgium has been at the crossroads of so many cultures over the centuries, the battleground for so many armies, the breeding ground for so many artistic geniuses. And it has always used its diversity to nurture its creativity.

Multiculturalism is a strength. It has always been so – why would it be any different today?

Molenbeek is an asset, not a threat.

There will be a price to pay, but in the long run, the terrorists will lose.

 In light of the stigmatisation of the Muslim community of Molenbeek after the Paris attacks, a number of local organisations held a demonstration to express solidarity with the victims and stress the fact that the majority of the population of Molenbeek has little to do with its radicalised elements.

Responding to the stigmatisation of the Muslim community of Molenbeek after the Paris attacks, a number of local organisations held a demonstration to express solidarity with the victims and stress the fact that the majority of the population of Molenbeek has little to do with its radicalised elements.

In light of the stigmatisation of the Muslim community of Molenbeek after the Paris attacks, a number of local organisations held a demonstration to express solidarity with the victims and stress the fact the large majority of the population of Molenbeek has little to do with the radicalised elements.

BELGIUM, Molenbeek Saint Jean (Brussels). 18/11/2015: Following the terrorist attacks in Paris of November 13th which seemed to have been masterminded by radicalised Muslim inhabitants from this borough of Brussels and the ensuing stigmatisation of the community, a number of local organisations hold a demonstration in solidarity with the victims and stress the fact the large majority of the population has little to do with these radicalised elements.

BELGIUM, Molenbeek Saint Jean (Brussels). 18/11/2015: Following the terrorist attacks in Paris of November 13th which seemed to have been masterminded by radicalized Muslim inhabitants from this borough of Brussels and the ensuing stigmatization of the community, a number of local organisations hold a demonstration in solidarity with the victims and stress the fact the large majority of the population has little to do with these radicalised elements.

All the photographs on this page are the copyright of John Vink.

John Vink is a Magnum photographer. Born in Belgium, his photographs can be seen on Instagram and Tumblr.