In the wake of the controversial decision in Switzerland to ban future minaret construction, this report examines the question in Belgium, noting that there are 328 mosques in the country, and approximately 20 minarets, which are mostly located in Flanders, in Limbourg in particular. Generally speaking, there has been little controversy with their presence.
Dutch-language public schools in Belgium will ban the wearing of hijab in classes. The ban will affect 700 schools in the northern region of Flanders, including some in Brussels. School officials argue that the ban was taken to guarantee equal treatment of all pupils within the school grounds.
Most schools in Flanders are Catholic and run by municipalities. Schools in Flanders that are financed by other Belgian communities are not bound by the ban.
The state council has rejected the demand of a pupil from the Royal Athenaeum School in Antwerp looking to suspend the ban on wearing religious symbols, especially the Muslim headscarf. The issue of the legality of the ban has never been defined by the Supreme Court, the student having waited too long to contest the new school rule now. The deadline for appeals has already been reached.
About 250 protesters participated in an anti-mosque protest organized by Vlaams Belang in Sint-Janswijk. The right wing political party protested against the recognition of the Attakwa mosque in the neighborhood.
While the protest was mostly without incident, one person was arrested after trying to throw a jar of white paint on Vlaams Belang leader Filip Dewinter; the politician, who recently introduced his new book “Inshallah,” was not hurt. Dewinter’s book is a plea against what he calls the Islamization of Flanders.
In the next few weeks, Vlaams Belang plans to conduct a campaign to inform Flemish customers about the increasing supply of halal products. The campaign, which is utilizing the slogan Consumers against Islamization says that it does not support a boycott, but emphasized that the growth of a halal market may fit in with radicalist Islamic movements. Vlaams Belang is focusing on halal meat, citing the strict regulations are in line with anti-Western connotations of animal welfare. Halal butchers to not use anesthesia on animals, while Vlaams Belang member Filip Dewinter says that use of anesthesia is part of Western ethical norms regarding the welfare of the animal.
Unions of mosques in Flanders are recognizing that some Belgian mosques have become out of touch with society, and believe that the only way to restore this relationship is to organize for Belgian imam training. Currently, Belgium does not have its own imam training program – mosque administrators have relied on brining in and incorporating imams already trained abroad – often from Turkey or Morocco. At this time, no additional information is available on this proposal.
The Center of Diversity and Learning from Ghent University recently investigated twelve schoolbooks for stereotyping. Among the assumptions include one textbook that uses all Flemish names, except for one story about an unruly student named _Hassan.’ In another instance, a book about fundamentalism brings up articles about the French headscarf ban as an illustration. According to a report, the book unintentionally labels a religious symbol as problematic.
Reactions of Belgian Muslims across Flanders concerning the _Fitna’ film are mixed in the intensity of their criticism and concern. Farid El Machaoud of the League of Muslims in Belgium said: I feel slightly offended by certain scenes and among other things, the fact that certain verses from the Koran were taken out of context. The Federation of Moroccan Organizations, the Union of Turkish Associations, and the Immigrant Youth Work Platform said in a joint statement that the film has everything to do with xenophobia and racism and nothing to do with freedom of speech. Flemish Minister for Integration Marino Keulen supports the right for politicians to make independent films but criticized _Fitna’ as lacking in any kind of nuance.
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.
The number of immigrants among the unemployment numbers has gone up in the past ten years. In 1999, Belgians of immigrant origin and non-EU citizens comprised 11.4% of all registered unemployed job-seekers. In 2007, these numbers have increased to 16.9%, according to data provided by VDAB (Flemish Public Employment Service) and reported by De Tijd. However, De Tijd also reports that unemployment by immigrant youth in 13 major Flemish cities has gone down 38% over the past two years. According to VDAB statistics, unemployment among all immigrants has gone down since 2005, but the drop was less than the overall unemployment drops.
A program to get the young and unemployed to work has produced positive results. The daily _De Standard’ reports that the number of youth under 26 that are looking for work has fallen by 39% since the Youth Unemployment Plan was launched two years ago. The Youth Unemployment plan was brought in two years ago to tackle the problem of youth unemployment in Flanders. Among major cities and towns in Flanders, employment among ethnic minority youth fell by 38%.