Few things are more ubiquitous than a group of old men chatting about life in a local barbershop. Cornered in Molenbeek starts innocently enough as it drops us, seemingly randomly, into one of those barbershops. Sure, the customers are speaking Arabic, but they are also speaking about things that I might talk about with my barber (sorry, stylist).
The shop closes for the day and then, in an instant, everything changes. News breaks of a terrorist attack on Paris. It’s November 13, 2015 and when the dust settles, 130 people are dead and 413 more are injured in a series of coordinated attacks at various locations throughout the city. The investigation quickly determines that the attackers are from Molenbeek, Brussels, the very neighbourhood where this barbershop is located. Of course, the attack becomes the main topic of conversation here, just like it was everywhere else.
Not surprisingly, this barbershop collective has no real answers as to what made the attackers do what they did. Because guess what? I have no real answers either. The lack of answers here is revealing, though, particularly as the collective’s attempt to find an explanation weaves through a wide variety of possible causes, often looking for someone or something to blame, such as government, poverty, and the attackers themselves, with one notable exception: these people do not try to place blame on Muslims as a group for these attacks, because they are Muslims themselves.
Contrary to the torrent of right-wing nationalist propaganda that is so often shouted at me online by a host of faceless idiots (oh, and also by the President of the United States), this group of Muslim acquaintances in this barbershop are just as innocent, just as angry and just as confused about the attacks as the rest of the world, and maybe more so because their religious and geographical association with the attackers draws them personally into the aftermath, exposing them to significant consequences that most people don’t have to worry about.
The phenomenon of terrorism is worthy of examination, and it was a refreshing approach to do so through the familiar lens of this barbershop, which otherwise would be functionally closed to me as a uni-lingual white Canadian (Arabic and French are the only two languages being used in these conversations). The film’s structure serves to enhance the fly-on-the-wall feeling by letting us experience the barbershop’s normal environment before the attack happens. The stark contrast in what is being discussed before the attack, as opposed to afterward, clearly shows that these types of events affect everyone regardless of their religion or native language. We all need to be involved in this discussion on terrorism in order to stop it. Cornered in Molenbeek does its part to start the conversation, and it’s up to us to keep it going.