Beyond stigmas, HIPSTER/MUSLIM aims to start a conversation. Through personal interviews about identity, prejudices, faith – it’s a new playground given to speech. In conversation with Nikita and Samuel, the journalist and artist.
Samuel (1982) artist, works in Molenbeek, lives in Schaarbeek
To cope with so many different cultures, identities and approaches on how to live life is challenging sometimes, both as an artist and on personal level.
I’m an artist and I have my own studio in LaVallée, a creative hub in Molenbeek. The relative convertibility of ideologies is a central topic within my work. Especially within the project I LOVE YOU ALL. From my personal perspective, I find ideologies are based on norms and values that we create and impose on ourselves. It’s not the absolute truth they are based on, and therefore there isn’t one ideology that prevails.
As an artist, I try to consciously open up to the other, and understand their ways of thinking, or at least respect them. To cope with so many different cultures, identities and approaches on how to live life is challenging sometimes, both as an artist and on personal level. I go through different neighborhoods, cities and countries with a sign that says I LOVE YOU ALL in different languages. My main goal is to step out of my comfort zone to be able to really understand others’ perspectives on things.
As a performer I’m growing thanks to this project, but as Samuel the person, I still find it challenging. I feel like an outsider, a spectator. Like I don’t really participate in today’s society. I don’t yet feel comfortable with everyone to really open up to others. I have difficulties in dealing with the ideologies of Trump, Erdogan or suicidal terrorism. In the end, I believe respectful dialogue and mutual understanding have the ability to create common ground, something everyone can relate to. To trust people and offer trust is my aim. I don’t consider this to be naïve or childish. I believe it’s a realistic and mature way to deal with today’s society.
Honestly in the beginning, I had my doubts about Molenbeek because of what I had heard. This was at the time of the attacks. Yet I didn’t want these prejudices to influence me, so I decided to find a studio there. It worked out well.
Indeed, you can feel a gap between cultures. Naturally, I also experienced the challenges of integrating a new society. Everyone looks at things from their own perspectives at first. Even as a Flemish citizen who’s moved to a city like Brussels – to understand the culture, and the mishmash of identities can be very challenging. It’s in human nature to automatically search for the familiar. Like I myself mingle with other artists because it’s a scene I’m familiar with.
The differences in culture are the result of an educational process that already starts during your childhood and will influence the way you think. Under these socially influenced layers, we are just individual human beings. In the end, we are all equal. I don’t think there is a wrong or right answer.
I feel Molenbeek is a peaceful neighborhood. I believe religion does influence solidarity. However many people are not comfortable with it. Without a fixed ideology, without anyone telling us what is good or bad, we became a divided society. We created our own society based on individualism. Our culture seems to be like a bubble of freedom and happiness, but ironically it mostly nurtures unhappy people.
Some people favor polarization over social cohesion. But it weakens the collective.
I can imagine there is a strong collective identity in Molenbeek, possibly influenced by the fact our life style might not appeal to them. On the other hand, their religion and the way they think might not appeal to us either. We think we hold a ticket to freedom and happiness. But I guess they don’t necessarily agree and have their own perspectives on that matter. Nevertheless, in Brussels this doesn’t cause many confrontations. Which is great. People just give each other space.
It is clear the great majority of people in Molenbeek are not originally from Belgium. Not that Molenbeek is cheap but young people like to settle up here, although they don’t seem to be willing to integrate really. Yet this is a requirement if you want to feel at home. You can isolate yourself from your surrounding, but I don’t think it brings you joy. One must have the guts to step in a café they don’t know, or eat couscous somewhere out of their comfort zone.
For me, God symbolizes a positive and hopeful way to look at life, and the devil a negative and anxious way. I think we assume we know it all, and that newcomers should adapt to us. The Western society is very much focused on individual success and competition. Some people favor polarization over social cohesion. But it weakens the collective. I believe in the future the collective well-being should be more essential than individual needs. I feel Brussels’ culture is stronger, more self-confident and more tolerant than the Flemish one. It’s a culture that is used to dealing with diversity.
Original interview in Flemish – translated to English by Mélanie Cravero
Nikita (1989), journalist, works in Molenbeek, lives in Auderghem
It’s my duty to spread the word that we are also entitled to study.
I grew up in a working-class neighborhood and before I used to think that in order to be happy, I had to get into trouble. Fights, girls, money… I even ended up in police custody once. But I wasn’t happy.
Back then we were proud to say “we’ve lived in misery”. It’s sad but we needed to claim a different system of values to exist in this society. Then I studied communication and got two Master’s degrees in Political Sciences and Theology. Today I can talk with intellectuals, go back home and say, “what’s up bro”. Those who study are the bridge between both worlds.
People tell me things like: “Wow, you studied at university, you went far!” They’re wrong. Why would studying be a white middle upper class thing? What about us? It’s my duty to spread the word that we are also entitled to study. As a rapper puts it: “rap is harsh but the environment in which we live is harsh. Change the environment and rap will change.” Out-of-order, smelly elevators can be harsh indeed.
In Uzbekistan, Muslims wear a chapan. It’s rough. It’s meant to last. There are different interpretations of Islam like Shia and Sufism. For Uzbeks, Sufism is very spiritual. We must leave material things behind. That’s why we had to wear these clothes, to not buy new ones. Before the chapan was made of wool (soufe).
We have a spiritual master who teaches us how to get closer to God by choosing for the more difficult path. Do I keep sleeping or do I start studying? Your soul goes for the easy choice. If you say no to your soul, you kill your ego, or at least you try. Life is a gamble. If you get mad, you lose. If you keep calm, you win. You’ll see God once you’ve killed your ego. You’ll see the light once you’ve killed your ego.
I listen to a lot of rap music. I love it. I found Islam through rap music five or six years ago. I got to know Abd al Malik who’s also a slammer and when I read his book about Islam, Sufism and love, I thought it was strange. In my family, we are reserved about love but he wasn’t, so it triggered me. Sufism says that love is the bridge to reach out to God. It’s been a year now since I’ve joined the brotherhood. Before I was afraid. Now I can show love.
I don’t want to claim I’m a Muslim because it’s not the only thing I relate to. I relate to many other things, like my working-class upbringing.
I don’t say I’m a Muslim when I introduce myself. I’m Nikita, I’m 28, I’m a journalist and I live in Brussels. I’m embarrassed to say I’m a Muslim. I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. I mean it’s not that I’m embarrassed but it depends whom I’m talking to. It’s a way to preserve our conversation. I’m afraid they might change their attitude towards me. I don’t mind talking about alcohol or girls. Actually it interests me, I think about it. Well maybe not alcohol so much, but girls I do think about it. I’m only human.
I don’t want to claim I’m a Muslim because it’s not the only thing I relate to. I relate to many other things, like my working-class upbringing. That matters. It affects me for the rest of my life. We did not have much when I was a kid. Today I make a decent living, but at the restaurant for instance, I still feel awkward. I’m not used to it. I feel more comfortable at a snack bar.
If I tell my friends “let’s go for a drink” they’re like “what for?” We used to buy a bottle, sit on the staircase and share it with the six of us. Once we planned to have dinner with my friends from university and they asked me to fix the “apéro”. I had to look it up online to know what it meant. Where I come from there was no “apéro”. Then I figured it was chips and stuff. At home, either there were no chips or that’s all there was. It was the main course.
Original interviews in French – translated to English by Mélanie Cravero