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.”
By Marlise Simons SEVILLE, Spain La Giralda, this city’s grand tower standing 90 meters tall, with its warm terra cotta colors and delicate brick patterns, was once called Spain’s most perfect minaret. Its twin stands in Marrakesh, Morocco, a reminder of the centuries-old ties between the countries. .Seville’s minaret has been the bell tower of the city’s Roman Catholic cathedral for the last 500 years. Today, however, many of those who walk by it daily are again Moroccans, part of the growing number of Muslim immigrants to Spain. While they have not talked about reclaiming the minaret, they are seeking permission to build a large mosque in Seville, as Islamic immigrants have in six other Spanish cities. .At the moment, Seville’s Muslims, many of them clandestine workers, meet in small buildings or discrete prayer rooms. But every demand for a proper house of worship awakens nervousness here.
Liberal Democrats will have for the first time a Muslim, and that a woman, in the Parliament, reports The Muslim News. Mrs Kishwer Falkner, 49, was selected among 46 new working peers appointed today to the House of Lords. The list, approved by Prime Minister, Tony Blair, included no Muslims selected for peerages by either the Labour Party or the Conservatives. None of the seven new independents are Muslim. Falkner said that she was “honoured and delighted to take up this new role”. “I see this as a recognition of the contribution that so many immigrants make to life in Britain. I look forward to be a voice for diversity in the House of Lords,” she told The Muslim News.
AMSTERDAM — Immigration and Integration Minister Rita Verdonk promised the Dutch Parliament Thursday the government would raise the issue of anti-Semitic broadcasts with Arab countries. A majority of parliamentarians voiced concerns that the Netherlands is being flooded with anti-Semitic propaganda by Arab television stations popular with Middle Eastern immigrants.
By Dominic Bailey Muslims in Spain are worried. Exactly who was behind the Madrid train bombings is still not certain but three of the five being questioned are Moroccan, one of whom is reported to be linked to attacks in Casablanca last year. There is a large Moroccan immigrant community in Spain and many fear reprisals against their families, businesses and places of worship. Islamic leaders in Spain were quick to denounce the 11 March Madrid attacks, even though the finger of blame was initially pointed at Basque separatists Eta. At least eight Muslims were among the 200 people killed and more than 40 among the hundreds of injured. But talk of al-Qaeda links has again muddied the perception of Islam and made ordinary Muslims feel insecure in the land they have happily made their home. Rumours of repercussions The white stone and marble Cultural Islamic Centre and mosque stands out against the backdrop of high-rise flats along the M-30 motorway out of Madrid. For a Muslim to kill a person unjustly is to kill everyone. There is no justification to kill Inside it is a cool oasis of serenity that echoes with the imam’s call to prayer. But the number of prayer times has been reduced and entrance to regular visitors is restricted. The centre’s secretary, Mohamad Saleh, says the safety precautions are necessary. “We are worried about the repercussions that there may be against Muslims,” he said. After 11 September eggs were thrown at the mosque and some Muslims were sacked from their jobs simply because of their religion. There are already reports of abuse on the street, Arab businesses having windows broken and rumours of demonstrations outside the mosque being planned. Moorish memories “We felt for the victims, the same as everyone, this sort of desperate terrorism affects all areas,” said Mr Saleh. “But people shouldn’t punish a religion or country because of who commits a crime. If a Christian kills, are all Christians blamed? Are the Basques blamed if ETA attack? Moroccans in Spain Moroccans are the largest immigrant group in Spain In 2003 there were 333,000, 20% of all legal immigrants The number of illegal immigrants is unknown Thousands cross the eight-mile Straits of Gibraltar every year on rafts or small boats In 2003 24,146 people were repatriated to Morocco Many work as cleaners, farm labourers or building workers Polls show that Moroccans are Spain’s least-liked immigrants “These people are terrorists and terrorists are criminals wherever they are from. “They cannot have real faith or know God. For a Muslim to kill a person unjustly is to kill everyone. There is no justification to kill.” A banner reading “No to terrorism. Solidarity and condolences to the victims and their families” hangs under the arch of the centre’s entrance. There are about 500,000 Muslims in Madrid and on Fridays between 1,500 and 2,000 faithful pray at the mosque. Most are from Morocco, Algeria and other Arab states. Spain has a long, if bloody, history with its Arab neighbours to the south. Many Arabic dishes, words and architecture survive in modern Spain, remnants from the Moorish conquest of the peninsula which ended in 1492. ‘Good people’ But now, many immigrants who have made the country their second home don’t feel safe. A 46-year-old Algerian, who would not give his name, said there had been threats and people were afraid. “Here in Madrid there is a mix of everyone, Jews, Muslims, Christians – it is like a big family and we all have our way of life.” “I feel one of the people here and feel for them but I don’t like the way they now look at us in the street,” he said. “A friend of my wife’s came home pale and frightened the other day after a group of kids threatened her, shouting ‘Dirty disgusting Moors’.” But he said the Spanish were genuinely good people and hopefully would move on with their lives. Moroccan immigrant Rabii, 26, playing draughts with bits of cardboard outside the mosque, said it still had to be proved that al-Qaeda was to blame. “The people coming over here are not here for jihad, they are coming here to find a better future. But now we can’t go to the mosque and they are stopping us praying.” A greater concern for him was that the difficult task of finding a job would be made harder after the attacks. After the pain, peace Businessman Ahmed Jbari, 53, from Tangiers, says the adverse reactions are down to ignorance. “Here in Madrid there is a mix of everyone, Jews, Muslims, Christians – it is like a big family and we all have our way of life. “But people who break the windows should be blamed, not others. Here 29 pay for what one has done.” Moroccan street-seller Abdellate Fechaaui, 30, was among the hundreds of Muslims who joined the march of millions against terrorism after the Madrid attacks. Abdellate and his colleagues had one message for the Spanish people and the bombers: “We are with the Spanish people and are feeling the same pain as everyone. We want peace.”
Spanish police are reported to have identified six Moroccans who they believe carried out the Madrid bomb attacks that have killed 201 people. Five of the suspects are still at large but one is in custody, the Spanish newspaper El Pais quotes security sources as saying. The man, named as Jamal Zougam, is reported to have been identified by people who survived Thursday’s blasts. Mr Zougam was arrested on Saturday with two other Moroccans and two Indians. The number killed in the attacks has risen with the death of a 45-year woman. The figure is one short of the 202 people killed in Bali in October 2002 when a nightclub was bombed. Moroccans in Spain Moroccans are the largest immigrant group in Spain In 2003 there were 333,000, 20% of all legal immigrants The number of illegal immigrants is unknown Thousands cross the 13km (8 miles) Straits of Gibraltar every year on rafts or small boats In 2003 24,146 people were repatriated to Morocco Many work as cleaners, farm labourers or building workers Polls show that Moroccans are Spain’s least-liked immigrants Security sources told El Pais that the six Moroccans might have formed only part of the group behind the attacks and that militants from other countries might also have been involved. An interior ministry spokesman Juan de Dios Colmenero told the Associated Press that he could not confirm the reports in El Pais. The BBC’s Chris Morris in Madrid says the investigation is still in its infancy but there are already suspicions that the blasts could be linked to the leading Islamic militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is wanted by the United States for a series of attacks in Iraq and elsewhere. Meanwhile, police in the Basque city of San Sebastian have arrested an Algerian man who in January allegedly threatened to massacre people in Madrid, but initial reports suggest he is not a prime suspect. Solidarity The focus is falling increasingly on Morocco; Moroccan security officials are helping Spanish police. The BBC’s Pascale Harter in Tangier says there is great anger among Moroccans as the Spanish investigation seems to be leading back to their country. A state-organised demonstration is due to take place in Tangier later on Tuesday, which is expected to be well attended. People want a chance to express their solidarity with Spain, our correspondent says, especially after the funerals of a 13-year-old girl and a 24-year-old man from Tangier who were killed by the blasts. As Spaniards also continue to bury their dead, a memorial service is to take place in Madrid’s cathedral on Tuesday evening at 1900 GMT. Officials have also announced that a state funeral for the victims will be held in Mardrid on 24 March. The Spanish people are also continuing to digest Sunday’s shock election result that saw the Popular Party turfed out of office. The Socialists, who won the biggest bloc of seats, are now trying to form a coalition with smaller parties to form a government. ‘Al-Qaeda links’ Survivors of the attacks are reported to have identified Mr Zougam from photographs but police sources have said they are treating the witnesses’ statements with caution. One of the allegations against 30-year-old Mr Zougam is that he has links with the Salafia Jihadia group, held responsible for attacks in the Moroccan city of Casablanca last May that killed 45 people. He is also said to have connections with Imad Yarkas, alias Abu Dahdah, the alleged leader of an al-Qaeda cell in Madrid, who is awaiting trial in Spain on charges of taking part in the 11 September plot. Mr Zougam was detained with Mohamed Bekkali, 31, and Mohamed Chaoui, 34, all from Morocco. Two Indians, named as Vinay Kohly and Suresh Kumar, were also arrested. These five men were arrested in connection with a mobile phone which was found inside a bag containing explosives that failed to go off. Investigators believe mobile phones were used to detonate 10 bombs hidden in backpacks on the four trains which were targeted. Formal charges have not yet been presented.
While immigrants live largely apart from mainstream Italian society – doing manual or factory work or scraping a living peddling trinkets or vegetables on the streets – the influx of foreigners in recent years, many of them Muslim, is rapidly changing the cultural makeup of this Roman Catholic country.