Two Antwerp residents are making plans to set up a leftist Islamic party with hopes of participating in the 2012 municipal elections. The party – simply called “Moslem” is being created because its founders feel that the traditional parties neglect the local Muslim community, and call on them only when it is convenient for politicians, said Mohamed Sidi Habibi. Habibi added: “We are a democratic party that has respect for the law; the law of Belgium and the law of Islam. The spirit of Islam has respect for everything that lives, and that is the heart of Green.” The new party will also oppose the ban on headscarves for civil servants in Antwerp, saying that “that ban hinders the emancipation of women.” Habibi’s comments were in reference to a wholly emancipated female Muslim doctor, who was rejected by the University of Antwerp when they were made aware that she wore a headscarf.
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The Arab European League plans to sue the Antwerp police department, blaming them of acting in racist manners after the murder of Mohammed Achrak in 2002. The AEL bases itself in the blog of the former police commissioner of Antwerp, Bart Debie, who wrote about the testimony during the AEL appeal trial. According to AEL, his writings show that racism is deeply rooted in the police department.
The spokesperson for the Belgian Muslim League, Farid El Machaoud said that mosques in Belgium don’t have enough space for all those who come for Friday prayers. “The Muslim population continues to grow and more and more youth go to the mosque,” says El Machaoud. In addition, he added that in big cities, there is significant shortage of adequate space – including the cities of Hasselt, Antwerp, Ghent, Brussels, Liege, Charleroi, and Doronik. The imam’s popularity also plays a role in this, where popular imam’s draw larger crowds, and less popular imam’s leave empty space in prayer areas.
Philip Heylen, the Antwerp alderman of public worship, proposed an ambitious plan to do something about the half-empty churches in the city. Currently, some 80 churches await demolishment or possible use other than worship. Heylen sees the churches as an opportunity for Muslims to take over the barely used, but empty churches. Vlaams Belang reacted to the proposal with shock. The party promised actions and campaigns if the alderman pushes through with the plans.
Antwerp has 36 mosques, and according to Monica De Coninck, the alderman in charge of diversity, this is 75% too much. De Coninck would like to see up to nine medium sized, well equipped and safe mosques. Currently, many of the mosques in Antwerp are small, located in old buildings, and unsafe in emergency situations (for example, they lack an emergency exit). De Coninck says that the new mosques should be built by existing neighborhoods, but planning may be assisted by professional urban planners to design architecturally integrated mosques for a Western look.
The headscarf ban in Antwerp is now being extended to personnel in the social services (OCMW). Two employment counselors were given a choice to either remove their headscarves, or move to the complaints department, where citizens won’t see them. One woman refused to remove her headscarf and was transferred to the complaints department, while the other woman is still thinking things over. Last year, Antwerp’s city council approved a controversial uniform code; civil servants who come into contact with residents may not wear external symbols of life outlook convictions. OCMW chairperson Monica De Coninck justified the decision, while OCMW councilor Dirk Geldof fears that extending the headscarf ban to the OCMW would create a dangerous precedent.
About 7% of entrepreneurs in Belgium are not citizens of the country. In Brussels, the figure jumps to 27%, and in Antwerp, the figure stands at about 15%, making the city the most attractive to immigrant entrepreneurs in Flanders. This data comes from the Unizo organization, with data available from the national service for social security and self-employment, from the end of 2006. According to Unizo, there are 62,246 foreign entrepreneurs in Belgium, comprising 7% of the recorded total 880,662 entrepreneurs in Belgium.
Thirty-eight people appeared in front of a court in Antwerp for participating in driving exam fraud. Twenty-two of the suspects were accused of taking the exam for someone else. Prosecution spokesperson Dominique Reyniers said that the suspects were exclusively immigrants and of Moroccan or black-African origin. The suspects are believed to have paid upwards of 500 euro for an accomplice to take the exam, before failing the test several times.
The Municipal council of Lier, a city in the Antwerp province of Belgium, approved a ban on the wearing of religious symbols for counter personnel. The approval of the disputed proposal caused angry reactions by many immigrants who followed the meeting. After the Vlaams Belang party retracted the proposal for a total headscarf-ban for city personnel, the party approved a tone-down proposal. The city has one employee who wears a headscarf, who cited the ban as a personal attack. However, the woman will not have to remove the garment as she is not considered a _counter’ worker.
Moroccan mothers established approximately 10% of new nurseries opened in Antwerp in 2007. There are a total of 13 nurseries in the city with a Moroccan babysitter – 9 of which opened last year. The town of Mechelen is also following a similar trend. According to Kind en Gexin, the Flemish agency for children and families, the increase is due to the long waiting lists for many nurseries, leading to the establishment of new options. Also cited for the increase is the rise in the number of Moroccan mothers entering the workforce.