Brussels resident Lucien Culot thought it was unusual to see emergency vehicles racing past as he emerged from the metro Tuesday morning.
When he arrived at his office near the European Parliament a short time later, he learned what the commotion was about. A bomb had gone off two stations away on the same metro line Culot takes to work. It was the second deadly explosion that morning in Brussels, part of terrorist attacks that left at least 30 dead and 230 wounded.
As the dark day unfolded, Culot, a 28-year-old business analyst who has lived almost all of his life in Brussels, watched TV news with a Muslim colleague. Culot tells ThinkProgress they were mutually appalled to hear Donald Trump call their city “a hellhole,” citing the hate Trump believes the Muslim community there has for westerners.
“It’s really dangerous if that kind of stuff can help Donald Trump,” Culot told ThinkProgress. “Brussels is a city were you have a high percentage of Muslim people. We work with Muslims, go to school with Muslims. When Donald Trump said the thing he said today, imagine what kind of effect it can do? It’s not the way we can solve the situation… to divide people, they want to get us afraid and stuff, and that’s not the way to react.”
But Trump seems to recognize that fear-mongering about Muslims is good politics for him. In the wake of the terror attacks in Paris last November, Trump talked about closing the border and banning Muslims from entering the United States. Those controversial proposals generated lots of media coverage and ultimately boosted Trump’s standings in the polls.
Trump hasn’t backed away from those positions. Shortly after the Brussels attacks, he called in to Fox News and said his tough talk about Islam and immigration is “at least a small part of the reason why I’m the number one front-runner. People are very concerned about this, and they’re very concerned about the security of this country.”
Culot acknowledges that some of those same fears are palpable in Belgium. The country has the largest Muslim population in Europe by percentage, and it’s also the largest European contributor of fighters to Islamic State, the group that took credit for Tuesday’s terrorist attack.
“It is true there are some neighborhoods like Molenbeek — not even two miles from where I live — where there are plenty of people that have no jobs, haven’t in two generations, and live in poor conditions,” Culot said, referring to one of the Brussels area’s largest Muslim communities. “They’re not integrated, and some of these guys just get mad and they have a movement, they have an organization that can structure them.”
“But it’s the same as people in America that shoot in schools,” he added. “It’s an ideology that is stupid, but you know, it’s a bit like, stupid people exist everywhere and the fact that they are stupid is a thing that certainly hate and fear will not solve.”
Europe isn’t immune from the Trump-style politics of division. For instance, in the wake of the Brussels attacks, USA Today reported about concerns that anti-migrant, anti-Muslim rallies in Flemish cities might grow and become more violent. But Culot hopes people will ultimately see the bigger picture.
“Yesterday, taxi drivers were bringing people home, because all the trains were closed, and a lot of them are Muslims,” he said. “I saw lots of comments on Facebook saying, ‘A taxi driver took us home for free,’ and the drivers saying, ‘Excuse me, I just don’t want you to believe that we support this.'”
Indeed, data compiled last year showed that over a five-year period ending in 2014, less than two percent of all terrorist attacks in the European Union were “religiously motivated.” Instead, the vast majority of attacks were perpetrated by separatist organizations.
Said Kami, director of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe, characterized the Brussels attacks as “barbaric acts.”
“We do not support people who do these things,” he added. “We hope they face justice.”