In an article published on May 25th, El País highlights the vast multicultural mosaic of Malinas, a Belgian city situated just 25 kilometres away from Brussels whose citizenry is made up of 128 different nationalities and religions. In times of pressing terrorist threats and constant polarization, the official records show that this particular city has managed to keep its Muslim residents away from joining radicalized ISIS forces in Syria. This relative success can be explained by a “carrot and stick” approach that has focused on providing more resources to the police, more security cameras and, most importantly, comprehensive initiatives of inclusion. These initiatives include after-school centres for vulnerable youth, investments in public spaces and no-segregation policies for the development of living spaces.
The author includes the testimony of Alexander Van Leuven, an anthropologist specialized in anti-radicalization who claims that what makes Malinas different in terms of inclusiveness is the fact that everyone within the community is considered to be a valuable citizen, regardless of his or her background or financial means. The egalitarian strategy of the city ensures that anyone with talent and hard work can have a worthy future. In the words of its Mayor, Bart Somers, the key is to leave behind the clichés of seeing Muslims as either victims or criminals and moving forward with an inclusive vision where everyone has the opportunity of a prosperous life.
The Salaam Mechelen project, an initiative started in 1995, perfectly exemplifies this vision. The gist of the project is to use soccer as a means to unite the community: players of all nationalities and origins who are required to display exemplary academic performances in order to play and get together to enjoy the activity in an atmosphere of respect for the rival.
Malinas, the “city of hope”, demonstrates that having an integrated and cohesive society is not only possible under the right policies of inclusiveness, but also highly desirable.
To see the original article in Spanish, click here.
*Featured image by Demi Alvarez.