In May, Benjamin Herman, a criminal who converted to Islam in prison, murdered three people (including two police officers) in Liège, Belgium while out on a 48-hour leave. He then shot and wounded four more police officers while shouting "Allahu Akbar." Pictured: The city center of Liège. (Image source: iStock)
Belgium, in its well-intended welcome of newcomers from the Middle East, is now facing a persistent terrorist threat and a "wave of jihadism", according to a new report published by the Belgian State Security Service (VSSE) on November 30. The main reason for these recent acquisitions, notes the report, is the ongoing Islamic radicalization of inmates in Belgian prisons and the risk of terrorist convicts engaging in terrorist acts once they have served their sentences and are back out on the street.
"In the coming years," states the report, "the VSSE will be brought to pay particular attention to monitoring detainees convicted of acts of terrorism [after they are] released into freedom". The authors of the report do not reveal how many radicalized prisoners there are in Belgium; only that in September 2018, there were 130 inmates sentenced for terrorism or "in preventive detention in the context of a terrorism record".
"Taking into account the persistent recidivist tendency among former terrorism detainees, never mind radicalized common criminals, Belgium will continue to face a latent terror threat for some time to come," the report lets drop.
The Belgian intelligence services do not appear to consider Islam a factor in generating Islamic terrorism. Instead, the report offers up other explanations why Islamic terrorism is committed internationally: "... Real or perceived discrimination, political instability, poor economic conditions, unemployment, level of development."
Benjamin Herman, for example, was a criminal who converted to Islam in prison; then -- despite being on a state security list as a suspected radical -- last May, while out on a 48-hour leave from prison in the Belgian city of Liège, he murdered three people, including two police officers. He spared one woman, apparently because she was Muslim. Herman then shot and wounded four more police officers while shouting "Allahu Akbar." Interior Minister Jan Jambon said at the time of Herman's possible motives:
"There are signs that allow us to speak of radicalization in prison. But it can also be because he had no prospects anymore in our society, as he also committed a murder the night before."
In 2017, a leaked confidential report remarked that there were 51 organizations in Molenbeek -- an area in Brussels that has been called the "Jihadi capital of Europe", and that has fostered or harbored various jihadists, including several who were behind the 2015 Paris attacks.
Brussels itself was the site of an attack in March 2016, when Muslim terrorists killed 31 people and wounded around 300 people in the bombings of Brussels Airport and the Maalbeek metro station.
There also seems to be an ongoing process of Islamization currently taking place in Belgium.
Another area in which radicalization has been increasing, according to a separate confidential intelligence report leaked in May to the media, is apparently from mosques where jihad is preached. A number of them, including the Saudi-financed Great Mosque in Brussels, seem to have been training imams to promote armed jihad, Jew-hatred, and persecuting members of the LGBT community. The report notes that the texts used call for gays to be stoned to death or thrown off buildings, and described Jews as "corrupt, evil and treacherous people". The writings, the report continued, were "inspired mainly by classical Islamic law from the Middle Ages", and called for "war" on all people who do not follow Sunni Islam. "The most important principle of jihad," one teaching manual said, "is to fight unbelievers and aggressors... Armed jihad becomes an individual duty for every Muslim."
Such manuals, noted the report, are widely available "thanks to the unlimited financial and technological means of the proselytizing apparatus of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states." The manuals, the report added, were found not only in Belgium but also in neighboring countries, both in hard copy and online.
Another way that Islamization is spreading in Belgium is the removal of Christian traditions, for fear of "causing offense". In Bruges, the organizers of the Christmas market changed its name to "Winter Market" in order "not to offend other beliefs", the Belgian news outlet HLN disclosed.
Christmas lights will now be replaced by "winter lights". According to Pieter Vanderyse, the organizer of Bruges' Winter Market, "If we use the word Christmas, it will be associated with a religion, but we want to be more neutral. We have no idea where the commotion comes from, this is the second year the name has changed".
Also according to HLN, other Belgian cities, such as Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent and Hasselt, have also changed their Christmas Markets to "Winter Markets", "Winter Lands" or "Winter Fun".
One might speculate, however, that, in addition to being afraid of "causing offense", the organizers were also afraid of jihad. Christmas markets in Europe have become repeated targets of jihad. In 2016, a terrorist, Anis Amri, killed 12 people at a Christmas market in Berlin after pledging allegiance to ISIS. More recently, on December 2, 2018, a man wielding a hatchet and shouting "Allahu Akbar" ["Allah is the greatest"] visited a Christmas market in the German city of Witzenhausen, where he threatened several Christmas shoppers .
The growing desire to appease newcomers from the Middle East is not limited to commercial establishments, such as Christmas markets. The Catholic Church has also weighed in. At the funeral service in Liège for the two police officers that Benjamin Herman murdered, the Bishop of Liège, Jean-Pierre Delville, apparently innocent of Islam's tenets, said:
"We know that, if Islam has been invoked as the reason to kill, it is because it has been manipulated and held hostage by terrorists and violent people. So, we must help Islam get rid of such manipulative and perverted interpretations, by promoting dialogue and friendship all the time."
Belgium has its own Islamic party, named ISLAM ("Integrité, Solidarité, Liberté, Authenticité, Moralité"), which has, as its goal, creating an Islamic State, including the separation of men and women in buses. In the 2012 municipal elections, the party won two seats, one of them in Molenbeek. In the 2018 municipal elections, the party lost its seat in Molenbeek, winning less than 2% of the vote, so perhaps its appeal may be declining.
Belgium has also seen the growth of a possibly largely imported anti-Semitism. The Chief Rabbi of Brussels has not worn a skullcap in public since 2001, when he was attacked by a group of young Arab men. When a Belgian public broadcaster asked to film the Chief Rabbi and other members of the Jewish community walking on the street while wearing their skullcaps, they declined, saying that they feared for their safety. In 2014, a Muslim terrorist killed four people at the Brussels Jewish museum.
Half of all Muslim teens in Belgium hold anti-Semitic views, according to a 2013 study conducted for the Flemish government among almost 4,000 high school students in Antwerp and Ghent. Among Muslims, 50.9% of respondents agreed with the statement "Jews foment war and blame others for it," compared to 7.1% among non-Muslims. The statement "Jews seek to control everything" received a 45.1% approval rating among Muslims, compared to a 10.8% approval among non-Muslims. Approximately 35% of Muslims agreed with the statement that "Jews have too much clout in Belgium," compared to 11.8% of non-Muslims
According to the main Belgian anti-Semitism watchdog, the Belgian League Against Antisemitism, Belgian Jews live "in a permanent stage of siege".
"The presence of military on the street in front of Jewish sites is somewhat reassuring," said the president of the Belgian League Against Antisemitism, Joël Rubinfeld, last May. Over "the last two or three years," he said, his organization had dealt with a dozen cases of Jewish school students subjected to anti-Semitic bullying, as well as a broader trend of Jewish parents unwilling to risk sending their children to public schools.
"This is what they call a double punishment: on the one hand, they are victims of these antisemitic acts, of bullying, or even sometimes of physical violence, and on the other hand, it is they, and not the aggressors, who have to leave their school."
Rubinfeld also said that it has been difficult to convince Belgian politicians that the country has a serious problem with antisemitism. "Already in 2008-2009, I told them: 'If you do not do it for my children, do it for your children.'" He added that it has been difficult to convince Belgian politicians that the country has a serious problem.
Is it possible that Belgium has a few of them?
John Richardson is a researcher based in the United States.