Not all foreigners are « foreigners

On Thursday, May 10, Didier Reynders was questioned by Philippe Moureaux, mayor of Molenbeek, about the comments he had made on the radio station La Première that morning, comparing Belgian roads to Afghan roads. The answer was not long in coming, a spontaneous expression that is often overshadowed by the humanistic disguise of certain political figures: « I could have gone to Molenbeek, it would have been closer, it was shorter to move abroad, » he retorted, with a morgue and condescension accompanied by a gesture of adjustment of his tie, a probable expression of his assurance. This says a lot, the following also, and even more, Mr. Reynders continuing « go, go, I am therefore well in the Senate Madam President, it is a real pleasure », touching with his two hands the branches of his glasses. No explicit reaction in the hemicycle, no indignation, the debate continues. Obviously not an ounce of discomfort in the one who just spoke.

For the indignation of leaders and other public figures has taken on theatrical airs in our societies, seeming to have more of a function of attracting the gaze of the press, when one knows that it is there and that one is coming to it, than of expressing real feelings. So, nothing in the hemicycle… the press is not there. No one shouting, no one taking offense, no one yelling, no one getting up to leave the room. Because the comments are only the result of real prejudices. Because racism is still there.

Prejudice does not need truths and uses confusion. Indifferent to the real figures of immigration according to the municipalities, the speaker establishes, like many, an arbitrary definition of the foreigner who varies according to the country — outside the host country — of which he has the nationality, just as he maintains the confusion between origin and nationality (which consists in assimilating the non-white Belgian to a foreigner). Certainly, because this difference re-established, one of the foundations of the racism of the dominant class could be expressed: the difference of wealth.

In Molenbeek-Saint-Jean there are 20,893 people who do not have Belgian nationality, out of a total of 83,674 individuals. Uccle has 20,614 non-Belgian residents out of 76,732 people. Ixelles, 33.344 out of 79.768. But Mr. Reynders will not feel like a foreigner in Uccle — where he has just taken up residence — nor in Ixelles, because most foreigners do not meet the criteria of what makes a foreigner for the Minister of Foreign Affairs… Uccle counts 7,155 French people — among 16,410 foreigners from the European Union; a minority comes from non-EU European countries (830) or from the whole African continent (1,489) including 421 Moroccans — we focus here on these less white populations, these Others to whom the minister seems to pay more attention. More than 30% of the foreign residents of Ucclois are therefore French, compared to 7.5% of Africans (all nationalities combined for a continent with more than one billion inhabitants).

Of the three municipalities of Uccle, Molenbeek and Ixelles, Molenbeek has proportionally the fewest foreigners. But the distribution is different between the « types » of foreigners: among the foreign population of each municipality, there are 35% French in Uccle and 2% Moroccans, 10% French in Ixelles and 4.2% Moroccans, 35% Moroccans and 9.5% French in Molenbeek.

Depending on the country of origin, therefore, a foreigner will not really be considered a foreigner even if he does not have Belgian nationality — a Frenchman in Uccle, for example — whereas he will continue to be perceived in the collective representations as a foreigner even though he has Belgian nationality — a Moroccan Belgian of origin in Molenbeek, for example. Ignoring the real nationality and perpetuating the confusion between origin and nationality, leading to the belief that there are more foreigners in Molenbeeek than in other municipalities, when this is not true. Mr. Reynders calls « foreigners » the faces of the metèques, even Belgians!

The minister thus defines as foreign what is darker and poorer, the French immigrants of Ixelles, for example, often richer and whiter. The fact that the different non-native entities are grouped together in different municipalities is largely the consequence of a socio-economically based geographical segregation that distributes individuals in the city according to their income and therefore, necessarily, differently according to the causes of their immigration. Where French immigrants in Ixelles and Uccle flee their country because they refuse to share their wealth and pay wealth tax, Moroccans flee because they are looking for better living conditions. Without forgetting that many Moroccans were simply called in the past to participate in the enrichment of Belgium. Can you imagine Mr. Reynders making the same disparaging remarks about the French in his newly elected commune, or the Americans in Brussels?

By assimilating Molenbeek to a foreign country, Mr. Reynders expresses a dominant class racism, which legitimizes racism in general. The senators, by not reacting immediately to the minister’s racist remarks, tacitly legitimize this kind of speech. The subsequent reactions in the media appear to be an affected staging, verbal jousting between politicians who use Reynders’ confession as a pretext to settle scores, rather than genuine indignation. The most serious thing is not the expression of his thoughts by the former president of the MR! Because we know that he « needs » the « Moroccans », to focus attention elsewhere and justify inequalities. What is even worse is that this expression does not automatically arouse the indignation of elected officials.

Finally, in order to restore the truth about the summer predilections of Mr. Reynders and his family, and not to distill doubt about his real intentions to venture to Molenbeek, his past alone will reassure us. There is little reason to worry, as the latter would certainly prefer to spend his vacations in Marrakech and have lunch in the villa of Albert Frère, a Belgian businessman and billionaire who has largely benefited from the measures put in place by the former finance minister, such as notional interest. You will have to ask the minister why Moroccans, Belgian or not, are a problem in Belgium and not in Morocco.

In any case, for Mr. Reynders, the Moroccans are not at home here. The French do!

Alexandre Penasse

  1. Population au premier janvier 2008, ces données et celles qui suivent sont tirées des statistiques nationales, voir http://statbel.fgov.be/fr/statistiques/chiffres/
  2. Imaginez un instant que Reynders ait tenu le même type de propos à l’encontre des Français ou des Américains de Bruxelles…
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