Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Islamic Republic of Belgium?

Belgian Muslim women protesting a head-scarf ban
If you thought the ascendancy of Flemish secessionists in Antwerp’s municipal election on October 14th (reported at the time in this blog) was a worrying challenge to Belgium’s identity, you may be even more alarmed by the statements being made by two Belgian Muslims who won local town-council seats in Brussels.

Redouane Ahrouch (left) and Lhoucine Aït Jeddig (right)
The two, Lhoucine Aït Jeddig and Redouane Ahrouch, now hold seats representing districts in Brussels, Belgium’s cosmopolitan, multicultural capital, and say that they seek, in the long run, to establish a Belgian Islamic state ruled by shari’a (Islamic law).  Members of the tiny Islam Party, the two told a press conference on October 25th, “Islam is compatible with the laws of the Belgian people.  As elected Muslims, we embrace the Qur’an.  We consider Islam a universal religion.”  They pointed out that Islamic culture made European civilization possible (an arguable point, since Europe was lifted out of the Dark Ages partly by returning Crusaders importing products of Arab civilization such as mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, and the university system), and they say their short-term goals are limited to bringing halal meals to cafeterias, recognizing Muslim holidays, and allowing the hijab to be worn in public.

Map showing density of Muslim population in different European countries.
If Catalonia were independent, it would be colored dark green, like France and Belgium.
Wait a minute—yes, American readers, you read correctly: Belgium has laws dictating which religious clothing people are allowed to wear?  Yeeup: as in other “civilized” countries, such as the NetherlandsGermanyFranceSwitzerland, etc., Belgium has laws restricting all sorts of peaceful forms of religious expression, dictating how religious minorities are allowed to dress or what their houses of worship are allowed to look like.  If Catholic-dominated governments in Europe imposed restrictions like that on Protestants or vice versa, there would be civil war.  But anti-Muslim legislation is socially acceptable in modern Europe.  And Islamophobia is largely responsible for radical fascist political movements like France’s National Front surging into mainstream politics for the first time since the Second World War.  (Some of that has been discussed in this blog, such as new legal restrictions on infant circumcision in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria—an initiative which also tucks anti-Semitist agendas inside a more-acceptable Islamophobia.)  It is mainly because of the National Front, for example, that France’s former president, Nicolas Sarkozy, was elected on campaign promises to “powerhose the scum out of the ghettoes”—and why he led an intolerant campaign against halal butcheries (halal is the Muslim equivalent of Jewish kosher dietary rules) when his popularity faltered earlier this year (as discussed in this blog at the time).  Maybe, after all, Europe is still in need of a bit of enlightenment from the Muslim world.  One wonders how western Europeans that favor such persecution of religious minorities think themselves superior to societies where, say, people are required to dress modestly, rather than, as in much of Europe, being forbidden to.  (And, mind you, European laws, like laws everywhere, also require women, and men, to dress modestly; they just define that differently.)

Members of the far-right Flemish-separatist political party Vlaams Belang holding an anti-Mulsim rally
Let’s not take these points too far, though: Ahrouch’s other envisioned improvements to Belgian society have included executions, child marriage, restrictions on divorce, and the segregation of the sexes in all public places.  Medieval Arabs may have (by being invaded) delivered some forms of civilization to Europe, but some (not all) Muslim immigrants in Europe are bringing poisonous ideas and customs with them.  (Do I need to mention female circumcision?)

A Belgian cartoonist’s paranoid view of history.
(By the way, shouldn’t it show an American kicking the Nazi out of Belgium?)
Brussels’ two new councilmen have not a shred of hope of introducing any aspects of shari’a in Belgium, a country which has, you know, a constitution and stuff like that.  Muslims—most of them with ancestry in Morocco, Algeria, or Turkey—make up 30-35% of Brussels’ population, but only 6-9% of Belgium as a whole.

Maybe, however, their illiberal proposals can provoke a discussion that will bring both cultures toward a more moderate middle ground.

Probably not, actually, but it’s a nice thought.

[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  (That is shorter than the previous working title.)  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), will be on shelves and available on Amazon on March 1, 2015.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even though you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this special announcement for more information on the book.]

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