I quickly checked whether my screen might have been set too dark. But no, Sinan Can’s new docuseries Fault lines showed unfiltered the gray reality of everyday life in Europe’s drains. There were also stars twinkling in the firmament, but there were not many.
Four nights in a row this week, Can took us to neighborhoods in Paris, London, Stockholm and Brussels where he spent a lot of time over the past year. In press releases, BNNVARA describes these areas as vulnerable. Battered to pieces often seemed a better formulation for the poor neighborhoods where unemployment, radicalization and crime go hand in hand. The episode about dilapidated flats in the Parisian Clichy-sous-Bois was especially depressing. The mess in the stairwells, the sluggishness of young Algerian residents (‘we have to steal’), the gang violence. They buzzed an unanswered question: Why hasn’t Paris long since expropriated and demolishing these privately owned buildings?
shabby little flats
But Sinan Can didn’t walk around as a know-it-all, nothing like that annoying parent or girlfriend who always knows how to tell you exactly how to tackle your problems. No, Can came, saw and reported. He lived in shabby little flats, made contact with local residents, learned in-depth stories and listened. Himself a migrant child, Muslim and familiar with threats from extremists, he had little trouble finding the pain points of life in old neighborhoods where the original inhabitants and structures give way to Islamic newcomers.
As calm as his approach was, Can became very irritated on two occasions. One time during a conversation with the former chairman of the Great Mosque of Pantin, who distributed the incendiary video that led to the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty. And it still finds defensible that he posted that video. Can also seemed to explode at a misogynistic hate preacher who can spew his anti-democratic poison unhindered in London. Shocking, how many sharia courts operate there and how many men-brothers oppress their wives in this way. For this episode you would like the series too concrete rot can say: how can a democratic country allow these kinds of opposing forces?
Looking for the light
I already wrote it: my screen looked dark. What if I close my eyes and look for the light in the series? Then I remember patrolling mothers in the Swedish evening cold. See the first black policewoman in Stockholm’s Rinkeby district and hope she’s proud of herself. Ditto for those girls playing soccer in Molenbeek in Brussels, where a Belgian in a neighborhood pub said that he had been happy with his Moroccan wife for thirty years. And where the CEO of Google handed a big check to Ibrahim Ouassari for his successful tech training company MolenGeek.
This Ibrahim had as a boy next door Ibrahim Abdeslam, in 2015 one of the attackers in Paris.
Talk about life twists.
Because societies are never finished and static, an essential comment from Father Dominican, professor and youth worker Johan Leman in Brussels, remains. In his Belgian modesty, he carefully raised the question: “Are politicians really committed to these very concrete people?” Sinan Can certainly seems to.
Renate van der Bas and Maaike Bos write columns about television five times a week.