For the first time a Muslim organisation condemned the instrumentalisation of Islam to recruit voluntary fighters from Belgium for the civil-war in Syria. Forum Musulmans et Société (FMS) has expressed its disagreement with attempts to religify the war in Syria, which the organisation considers to be a war between Syrians and not religious fractions. According to them, both state and revolutionaries are Muslims who fight to defend their land and not their religion. The condemnation follows the revelation of a number of cases of Belgian Muslims who have departed to join the revolutionary forces in Syria.
FMS appeals to imams and Muslims in Belgium to denounce the departure of young Belgian Muslims to fight in Syria.
A new report published by the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) details how racism in Belgium increasingly manifests itself through Islamophobia. The country’s 600.000-strong Muslim community faces, according to the report, an increasing amount of structural discrimination in the employment and educational sector as well as in questions of access to public and private services. Of the racism classified as religiously based, 80% is aimed at Muslims in Belgium. What’s more important however is the role of the Belgian media, which is presented as highly Islamophobic with 51% of the annul media complaints received to be connected to Islamophobia. Additionally, 19% of employment complaints and 11% of educational complaints were related to anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic sentiments and actions.
The ENAR also points out to the exclusion of students who choose to wear the hijab from the education system, even if no legal degree endorses these regulations. The organisation requests the Belgian government to implement and ensure the freedom of religion of Muslims by repealing all provisions on the prohibition of the hijab and other signs of convictional practices at school
Islamophobia on the rise in Belgium
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said in an interview to Sud Presse that the recognition of the Muslim faith in Belgium needs to be linked to certain conditions, such as the surveillance of imams. Reynders wants to better control the training of imams and their teachings in mosques in order to prevent radicalisation. State financial aid towards the faith needs to be met with state scrutiny and influence upon the organisation of the faith, according to him. He wants to collaborate with Muslim communities in his efforts to clamp down on the radicalisation of Muslims in the country.
The executive of the group Muslims in Belgium, Semsettin Ugurlu, stated that ‘10% of the population of Belgium are Muslims and thus citizens with a right to practice their cult (…) the subsidies must not be used as a means to pressure” the community.
In a follow up to the story, Ugurlu proposed an imam school in Belgium in order to avoid recruiting imams taught elsewhere than in Belgium.
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”.
This report examines the salaries of imams in Belgium. A 1974 law (Article 29) fixed the salaries of these men who are paid by the State. For instance, the secretary general of the executive of Muslims in Belgium has an annual salary of 43,228 Euros. An imam in the first level of ranking earns 18,653 Euros. These salaries are quite low in comparison with religious men in the Catholic church where an archbishop earns 68,371 Euros per year.
“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.
This article in Le Devoir examines similarities between anti-niqab legislation in Quebec, France and Belgium. These countries articulate their positions differently: thus far, Belgium has proposed a more radical approach proposing a full ban for niqabs in all public spaces, while the proposed law 94 in Quebec suggests restrictions to public services. France has yet to fully articulate its legal position.
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.
An op-ed by Asma Hanif in the Khaleej Times examines some of the challenges faced by Muslims in Belgium, particularly youth, who feel that a wide gap exists between their world at home and their daily life at school. Hanif suggests that this challenge stems from a conflict between preservation of cultural and religious identities on one end, and a call for integration on the other – creating a polarized tug of war, that is experienced as real. Hanif stresses that the situation of Muslims in Belgium is directly connected to the not so distant past, with immigrants coming to work in the country answering labor calls. As ethnic minorities resided in economically low-end neighborhoods, the living patterns of their forefathers are evident today – but as neighborhood resources and institutions like banks and post offices left, economically lagging ghettos remain. More from Asma Hanif can be found at the link below.
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.