A recent study conducted by the Flemish daily De Morgan in Antwerp and Ghent revealed a high level of Islamophobia and xenophobia amongst young Flames. Accordingly, one in three Flames has a completely negative view on Muslims and almost every fifth participant is correspondingly convinced that many Muslims are criminals. Almost one quarter of the respondents (20%) think Muslims should be prohibited from practicing their religion in Belgium whereas 1/3 hesitated in face of the question.
The study equally reveals a disturbing level of homophobia amongst young Muslims in Belgium: almost half of them reject gay marriage and one quarter considers violence against homosexuals to be well justified. 21% of young Muslim participants approve of the dead penalty for homosexuality in countries where it is still practiced. What the study however also shows is that homophobia is not just widespread amongst Muslims, but also amongst young Flames of whom 1/3 say to be disturbed by the sight of two men kissing.
Young Muslims on the other hand show a higher level of anti-Semitic views: 45% of them agree with the prejudice of “Jews being a dominant social group” or “Jews to incite wars”.
“There is all-party public support for this,” says Leen Dierick, a conservative member of the Belgian parliament’s Interior Affairs committee that unanimously backed the proposed ban March 31. The initiative is expected become law in July and would apply to all public places, including streets.
Until now, it has been up to city governments in Belgium to crack down on burqa-style outfits. “Enforcement by local governments has been patchy,” says Mr. Dierick. “The point is public security, the need to show one’s face in public. Not religious freedom.” The proposed Belgian ban partly underscores how populist politicians across Europe are making a big imprint on attitudes and policies toward immigrants and minorities, especially Muslims.
Belgian lawmaker Filip Dewinter says mainstream politicians back a ban on burqa-type attire for fear of losing more ground to his far-right Flemish Interest party — a fringe factor 15 years but who today hold 17 of the 150 parliamentary seats.
The Flemish school board introduced a ban in September 2009 in the region’s Dutch-language public schools, along with a prohibition on the wearing of all religious symbols for pupils and teachers. Responding to a complaint by a Muslim student at a school in the northern town of Antwerp, Belgium’s state council — the highest authority on administrative matters — ordered “the suspension of the execution of this decision,” according to a statement.
Schools in Flanders that are financed by other Belgian communities — mostly Catholic schools run by municipalities — are not bound by the order. The veil in schools debate is also underway in Belgium’s other main communities, French-speaking Wallonia and the Brussels capital region.
Last week a Muslim mathematics teacher in a municipal school in the French-speaking industrial city of Charleroi won a legal battle to wear a veil in class, when an appeals court overturned a lower court decision. Meanwhile the Belgian federal government will begin debating a proposal to ban women from wearing the full-face niqab and burqa in public.
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.
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.
The numbers of immigrant women between the ages of 50-69 getting checked for breast cancer are not meeting the ideal numbers of check-ups. Since 2001, the Flemish government has been encouraging women in this age bracket to get a bi-annual mammography for free, but the agency for Care and Health shows that only about 35% of women between 50-69 have screened themselves after the campaign was launched. According to Moroccan-Belgian family doctor Zouhair Elarbi, there are several reasons that immigrant women are particularly not meeting the recommended checks; for many immigrants, cancer is synonymous with death and being incurable. In addition, baring a breast in front of male caretakers is uncomfortable, even in issues of health. Elarbi suggests that since both men and women frequent mosques in Belgium, that the mosque may be a forum for making sure that women are reminded, encouraged to be screened, and that the imam should play a role in reinforcing that this an important issue for women.
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.
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.
Six mosques have been officially recognized in northern Belgium; the mosques will receive state subsidies and get their wages from state funds. In Belgium imams only qualify if they can show that they are integrated and can speak Dutch fluently, and are familiar with Flemish society. Starting in 2008, authorities in Flanders will pay 30% of the mosques’ building costs.