Criminologist Bouabid: ‘Riots have nothing to do with Moroccan culture’

Rioting after a football match has nothing to do with ‘Moroccan culture’ but everything to do with ‘street culture’. So says the Dutch criminologist Abdessamad Bouabid, who researched the connection between disturbing behavior and origin.

27 November. Morocco wins gloriously over Belgium 0-2. After the match, rioters destroyed cars and scooters in the heart of Brussels; bonfire burns in the street. On social media, Belgians with Moroccan roots quickly spoke out against the vandalism, but the images were nevertheless eagerly shared by the extreme right, who spoke of a ‘Moroccan problem’. Even after the other matches that Morocco played and won, tense confrontations ensued between the police and a group of youths. Which of course didn’t help the framing.

To get straight to the point: Can Moroccan culture serve as an explanation for the violent behavior on the streets?
Bouabid: “No. This cannot be proven empirically. A causal relationship cannot be drawn between nuisance behavior and origin. I investigated this extensively in my thesis, and found nothing. The fact that the vast majority of a certain society follows the rules shows that we have to look elsewhere’.

Where does this focus on ‘Moroccan culture’ come from?
: “It is a form of racism based on the overrepresentation of people of Moroccan origin in crime. Furthermore, it is human nature to be afraid of the other. What is striking is therefore the difference in the politicians’ approach. After the recent riots in the Netherlands involving young people with Moroccan roots, the Minister of Justice said: Where are the parents? When riots also broke out in Urk, but then among white Dutch, it remained remarkably quiet politically.”

Why is it so important not to talk about that ‘Moroccane-culture’ as the cause of the riots to speak?
Bouabid: “First: stigmatization. A very large group of Moroccans in Belgium and the Netherlands are on the one hand very happy after such a match, but on the other hand they look at their phones to see if things are going wrong and they have to answer for themselves. Second, it leads to wrong problem analysis, and wrong problem analysis leads to wrong solutions. In that sense, it is significant that the Belgian Minister of the Interior, Annelies Verlinden, said after the unrest that more should be done in relation to integration. As if the troublemakers entered the country with criminal characteristics at some point.”

What then serves as a valid explanation for the behavior of these rioters?
: “Socioeconomic factors: the causal relationship is proven. There are also theories of subcultures: they do not look at popular culture, but at the culture from which crime originates. In this case, street culture, and there are different values ​​than in the rest of society. Incidentally, street culture is not a purely Belgian or Dutch phenomenon, but can be found all over the world.”

With an accompanying culture of glorification of violence?
Bouabid: “From the point of view of the political and police authorities and the behavior of the parents, a culture often emerges where violence actually has a status-enhancing effect. Climbing on a tram, doing hard things: it shows you as a young person: I am dangerous and I am special. Incidentally, you also see that behavior among football supporters, and especially hooligans.”

What can a society do about this glorification of violence?
Bouabid: “In street culture, youth work is very important. You need professionals who have access to the people and who understand what is going on and what exactly is needed. It is sometimes underrated. Then you need to focus on integrated collaboration with experts, while being able to offer specialized, tailored assistance. Because it often involves young people struggling with multiple problems.”

Riot prevention, is it even possible?
Bouabid: “It’s impossible to completely prevent riots, especially when large crowds are on their feet. If there are people who seek excitement for status, it will always go off the rails.”

Does a human chain between police and rioters serve any purpose?
“In any case, it is an important signal to the hangers-on, who are tempted to participate. Some turn off the moral compass for a while, once in the anonymity of the masses. The strange thing is that we do not ask for a human chain from Anderlecht- supporters when hooligans go berserk. With Anderlecht hooligans, people seem to be able to tell the difference. Anderlecht supporters don’t feel like apologizing for a radical sub-group.”

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