False bomb alerts disrupt train traffic through Belgium

A man claiming to be part of al-Qaeda made several calls to report bombs at train stations in Brussels, Ghent, Antwerp, and Leuven. The alerts disrupted traffic for hours, as authorities thoroughly searched the premises, though no explosives were found. Police in Leuven were able to track the anonymous calls to a 33-year old man living in a psychiatric institution in Bierbeek. It is unsure yet whether the man will be prosecuted, as proof of _sound of mind’ must be given.

Headscarf fashion show

An organization called Boss of Our Own Head (BEOH!) carried out a demonstration during a fashion show in the San Marco Vilge in Schelle. The organization’s members had separately organized a counter fashion show to bring to attention the importance of the headscarf for many Muslim women. The goal of the counter-show was to also demonstrate that it is perfectly acceptable for the headscarf to be worn everywhere, and that legislature about what people wear on their heads is counteractive when it comes to integration, citing the many Muslim women in the workplace who wear the headscarf. BEOH! came into being after Antwerp implemented a ban on headscarves.

Belgian jailed for race killings

A court in Antwerp has found Hans van Themsche guilty of a race-inspired shooting spree resulting in the death of two people, and wounding of one. The victims included a Malian nanny and her two year old, and an injured woman of Turkish descent. The gunman told police he hoped to kill at least five foreigners. Van Themsche’s conviction is the first of its kind under a recent law introduced in 2003 to punish crimes with racist motivations.

VB protests new mosque in Deurne

Right-wing party member Vlaams Belange and his followers gathered in the Antwerp district of Deurne to protest the construction of a new mosque. Police estimated there to be about 150 people with signs and banners at the planned site; slogans such as adapt or go back where you came from, Keep Muslims out and keep Europe European were among the slogans shouted. The protest ended without incident.

VB: “Stop Islamisation”

BRUSSELS – Extreme right wing Vlaams Belang is going to launch a campaign to “stop Islamisation,” first in Antwerp and later in other cities. The party is calling for a stop to the registration of newcomers in the city, a restriction on the number of mosques, and the expulsion of radical imams. VB faction leader in the Flemish Parliament Filip Dewinter says that Islam is pursuing a deliberate strategy to conquer Flemish cities. That is being done through increasing concentration, the formation of ghettos, and the refusal to integrate, he says. More and more native Belgians are leaving the cities and the government is making the situation worse, Dewinter says.

Fear of Islamists Drives Growth of Far Right in Belgium

ANTWERP, Belgium – Filip Dewinter, a boyish man in a dark blue suit, bounds up two flights of steep stairs in his political party’s 19th-century headquarters building where posters show a Muslim minaret rising menacingly above the Gothic steeple of the city’s cathedral. “The radical Muslims are organizing themselves in Europe,” he declared. “Other political parties, they are very worried about the Muslim votes and say let’s be tolerant, while we are saying – the new political forces in Europe are saying – no, we should defend our identity.” From the Freedom Party in Austria to the National Front in France to the Republicans in Germany, Europe’s far right has made a comeback in recent years, largely on the strength of anti-immigration feelings sharpened to a fear of Islam. That fear is fed by threats of terrorism, rising crime rates among Muslim youth and mounting cultural clashes with the Continent’s growing Islamic communities. But nowhere has the right’s revival been as swift or as strong as in Belgium’s Dutch-speaking region of Flanders, where support for Mr. Dewinter’s Vlaams Belang, or Flemish Interest, has surged from 10 percent of the electorate in 1999 to nearly a quarter today. Vlaams Belang is now the strongest party in Flanders, with support from a third of the voters in Antwerp, the region’s largest city. Many people worry that the appeal of antiIslamic politics will continue to spread as Europe’s Muslim population grows. “What they all have in common is that they use the issue of immigration and Islam to motivate and mobilize frustrated people,” said Marco Martiniello, a political scientist at the University of Li_ge in the French-speaking part of Belgium. “In Flanders all attempts to counter the march of the Vlaams Belang have had no results, or limited results, and no one really knows what to do.” Fear of Islam’s transforming presence is so strong that even many members of Antwerp’s sizable Jewish community now support Mr. Dewinter’s party, even though its founders included men who sympathized and collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. Many of those supporters are Jews who feel threatened by a new wave of anti-Semitism emanating from Europe’s growing Muslim communities. The friction is acutely felt in central Antwerp, where the Jewish quarter abuts the newer Muslim neighborhood of Borgerhout. There, Hasidic diamond traders cross paths daily with Muslim youths, for many of whom conservative Islam has become an ideology of rebellion against perceived oppression. Israeli-Palestinian violence produces a dangerous echo here: anti-Israel marches have featured the burning in effigy of Hasidic Jews, and last June a Jewish teenager was critically wounded in a knife attack by a group of Muslim youths. “Their values are not the right values,” said Henri Rosenberg, a Talmudic scholar and lawyer who is an Orthodox Jew, speaking of the Muslim community. Though he is the son of concentration camp survivors and his grandparents died in camps, he campaigned on behalf of Vlaams Belang, then named Vlaams Blok, in regional elections last year. As the right rallies beneath an anti-Muslim banner, European Muslims themselves have become increasingly politically engaged. The community is far too divided along religious, racial and national lines to present a unified political force, so most of Europe’s Muslim politicians have allied themselves with socialists or other left-leaning parties. But radical Muslims are also getting involved, and in many ways they are helping to validate the fears that keep parties like Vlaams Belang alive. Behind the wooden door of a brick Brussels town house, Jean-Fran_ois Bastin, 61, a Belgian convert to Islam, holds court before a steady stream of Islamic activists. His fledgling Young Muslims Party is one of the new groups aggressively pursuing pro-Muslim agendas in Europe. He calls Osama bin Laden “a modern Robin Hood,” and the World Trade Center attacks “a poetic act,” “a pure abstraction.” His 23-year-old son is in jail in Turkey on charges that he was involved in the bombings there that killed 61 people in November 2003. But Mr. Bastin argues that his son’s troubles are evidence that Muslim youths feel politically excluded in Europe. He says political engagement is an antidote to militancy. “There is deviance because people don’t find their place here,” he said, a long, hennaed beard falling over the front of his Arab-style tunic, his graying hair tucked beneath a turban fashioned from a multicolored head scarf. “If we deny that political voice that can judge and determine what is good for Muslims, from the point of view of their religion and their citizenship, their children are going to look for adventures elsewhere.” Mr. Bastin, who converted to Islam in 1972 after a spiritual quest led him to Morocco, dismisses the far right’s fears of an Islamization of Europe, even if he does dream of an Islamic theocracy governing the Continent someday. “Were not talking about Shariah now,” he said, referring to the Islamic legal code that fundamentalist Muslims believe should be the foundation of society. “Were talking about Belgian Muslims being recognized on the same footing as other confessions and ideologies.” In many ways radical Islamists like Mr. Bastin are holding Europe’s broader, moderate Muslim population hostage, attracting attention disproportionate to their numbers. “You have, in the current context, people who feel legitimized being anti-Muslim,” said Mr. Martiniello, the political scientist. He cited the case of a Belgian man who had received death threats for employing a woman who wore a Muslim head scarf. Many of the extreme right’s supporters see Islam’s growing European presence as the latest, most powerful surge of a Muslim tide that has ebbed and flowed since the religion spread to the Continent in the eighth century. They warn that lax immigration policies, demographic trends and a strong Muslim agenda will forever alter Europe. The Continent’s Muslim population, now 20 million, grew from a postwar labor shortage that was filled with workers from North Africa and Turkey. By the 1980’s economic malaise and rising unemployment had created tension between the largely Muslim immigrants and the surrounding societies. But family reunion policies, which granted visas to family members of immigrants already in Europe, fueled another, more sustained wave of immigration that continues today. “We were very na_ve,” Mr. Dewinter said of the liberal policies. He called tolerance Europe’s Achilles’ heel and immigration Islam’s Trojan horse. The trend is even more distressing to the far right when considering the low birthrate of Europe’s traditional populations and the likelihood that more workers will need to be imported in the coming decades to broaden the tax bases of the Continent’s aging societies. Already about 4,000 to 5,000 Flemish residents are leaving Antwerp every year, while 5,000 to 6,000 non-European immigrants arrive annually in the city, Mr. Dewinter said. Within 10 years, he predicts, people of non-European backgrounds will account for more than a third of Antwerp’s population. “It’s growing very, very fast,” Mr. Dewinter said. “Maybe that will be the end of Europe.”

Belgium’s Jews Demand ‘Zero Tolerance’ After Stabbing

Up to a thousand people demanding zero tolerance of anti-Semitism in Belgium gathered in Antwerp on Monday to protest about last week’s stabbing of a young Jewish boy by a gang of Muslim youths in the city. Members of Belgium’s Jewish community want the government to do more to deal with what they see as a rising tide of anti-Semitic attacks by a minority of Muslims living in the country. “We want the authorities to adopt a zero tolerance policy,” a spokesman for the Jewish Community of Antwerp, who asked not to be named, told Expatica. “We should not bring the war between Israel and the Palestinians here to Belgium. If they want to fight, they should go over there,” he added. According to the spokesman at least 1000 people turned up to Monday’s demonstration, which was held in front of Antwerp’s Portuguese synagogue. Police put the number of protestors at between 800 and 900. The young boy at the centre of the furore was stabbed shortly after he and three friends left a Jewish school in the Antwerp suburb of Wilrijk on Thursday night. The four boys were chased by a gang of 10 to 15 North African youths armed with knives and other blunt instruments. Three escaped but the fourth was trapped by the gang and stabbed in the back. He was taken to hospital in a critical condition but is now out of danger. According to the Jewish community spokesman, the boy, who has not been named, is lucky to be alive. “They were clearly trying to kill him. His lung was damaged by the knife. We are lucky today’s demonstration was not a funeral,” he said. The Antwerp protest followed a similar show of anger in Brussels on Sunday, which was attended by some of Belgium’s leading politicians. Justice Minister Laurette Onkelinkx told demonstrators on Sunday that the government would do everything it could to catch the youths responsible for the Antwerp stabbing. Jewish community leaders recognised on Monday that the Muslim community as a whole in Belgium was not anti-Semitic. “The Muslim community is not attacking the Jewish community. Relations between us are actually very good. But it is a minority of young Muslims who are attacking Jews,” the spokesman for the Jewish Community of Antwerp told Expatica.

Terror Suspects Seized In Antwerp And Brussels

Belgian police raided 20 houses in Antwerp, Brussels and Tongres and arrested a number of men suspected of links with Islamic extremist terror groups, the federal prosecutor’s office has confirmed. The men are all suspected of having links with an organisation called the Moroccan Islamic Combatants’ Group (MICG) In a statement, the prosecutor’s office said there was “serious evidence” that north Africans linked to the MICG had received paramilitary training in camps in Afghanistan and were now living in Belgium, several of them with no official residence papers.