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26 I SPECIAL FEATURE Passion Islam I September 2008
Muslims in
In the second half of this century, post- just like once the Moriscos in Spain, at the order to destabilize democracy and to win
war decolonization and most of all the beginning of the 17th century? popular votes.
massive immigration of labourers from the There is no denying that there are indeed Nevertheless, there are also more
Mediterranean countries once again turned signs that would superficially seem to positive signs that could point into another
Islam into a Western European reality. In confirm such a bellicose reading. E.g. the direction, viz. that of a democratic society
these closing years of the century Islam in riots and confrontations between Muslim willing to really assume its cultural and
South-Eastern Europe is more than ever youngsters and the police which on a ethnic pluralism. This implies of course that
cornered into a defensive position. In the more or less regular base break out in our there be put an end to all discrimination
core countries, however, of the European towns. Just a few days ago, for example, against Muslims, and also that Muslim
Union Muslims are counted in the millions this was the case in the (small) Flemish inhabitants, especially youngsters, get
(actually, they are estimated at nine or ten town of Lokeren; it made the Catholic the chance to contribute to the social
million, i.e. roughly the same number as Mayor of Lokeren declare a regime of developments of their country.
in Eastern Europe), and Islam is engaged “zero tolerance”. Or, taking a still more The number of Muslim inhabitants in
in a process of institutionalization in the conspicuous example: the “iron wall” that Belgium - i.e. of people either having an
midst of secularized societies. Christianity, was built in Anderlecht (Brussels), dividing immigrant Muslim background and/or
actually, in Western societies is more (i.e. protecting) the “white” part of the town considering themselves Muslim (converts
and more receding to the countryside, from its poorer, “Muslim” part (the so- included) - is fast growing. Of course, actual
whereas Islam is manifesting itself as called Kuregem district). figures are necessarily inaccurate, for (a)
an urban phenomenon: Muslims as well Already, a new racism is legitimizing the criterion of nationality is becoming less
as their mosques are concentrated in this progressive polarization between and less relevant as people originating
the towns and the symbolic attributes of the so-called autochthonous population from Muslim countries progressively
Islamic faith and culture are becoming and the so-called immigrants, not only in acquire Belgian nationality; the definition
more and more conspicuous in this urban Belgium but in other European countries of Muslim identity has inevitably many
environment. As a consequence, more as well. This new racism, which is actually nuances, going from strictly practising
than ever before Europe is becoming a accompanying the construction of the believers to laics and agnostics. In
space were Islamic, Christian, Jewish and European unity, can be identified as anti- the early Nineties, the total number of
secular traditions come together “to fight, Muslimism. While it is being constructed people in Belgium with a Muslim cultural
support and fertilize each other”. along the selfsame lines as the anti- background was estimated at 285.000 - i.e.
When we would accept the thesis of Semitism in the Thirties, this new European more than 2,5% of the total population. At
Huntington, this would mean that the racism is based on the ethnicization of this moment, the number is going beyond
“battle line” between the West and Islam is cultural, i.e. religious differences between the 350.000. Approximately a third of the
no longer located between the continents “Europeans” and “Muslims”. It operates by total number is of Turkish origin. Roughly
or between different parts of the European identifying “Turk” and “Muslim”, “Moroccan” 50% of this Turkish population is living in
continent, but is actually running through and “Muslim”, and generally “immigrant” Flanders, 25% is living in Brussels and
our very towns and societies in Western and “Muslim”. As Fred Halliday formulates another 25% in Wallony.
Europe itself. Are we heading then, after it,”it involves not so much hostility to Islam Concurrently with this demographic
a phase of international “clashes” (Iran, as a religion (...) but hostility to Muslims, growth, there has been a proliferation
the Gulf War…), for a kind of “civil war” in to communities of peoples whose sole or of mosques and Islamic prayer-halls.
Western society itself? And the “Muslims” main religion is Islam and whose Islamic Most of them have been founded on
in our societies: i.e. the Turks, the character, real or invented, forms one mono-ethnical, i.e. national, and mono-
Moroccans and the others, naturalized or of the objects of prejudice”. Feeding on denominational grounds, and almost all
not, are they correctly imagined, as right- this anti-Muslimism and fuelling it at the of them are expressive of a “masculine
wing extremist parties would have it, as same time, right-wing extremist parties Islam”. In these final years of the 20th
“the enemies from within”? And are they, are exploiting the situation, in Belgium as century, Belgium counts some 290 places
thus, eventually to be driven out again - well as in other countries of the E.U., in of Islamic worship: slightly more than
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