Two Muslim politicians, who just won municipal elections in Belgium's capital, Brussels, on October 14, have vowed to implement Islamic Sharia law in Belgium.
The two candidates, Lhoucine Aït Jeddig and Redouane Ahrouch, both from the fledgling Islam Party, won seats in two heavily Islamized municipalities of Brussels, Molenbeek-Saint-Jean and Anderlecht, respectively.
During a post-election press conference in Brussels on October 25, the two future councilors, who will be officially sworn in on December 3, said they regard their election as key to the assertion of the Muslim community in Belgium.
"We are elected Islamists but above all we are Muslims," Ahrouch said. "Islam is compatible with the laws of the Belgian people. As elected Muslims, we embrace the Koran and the tradition of the Prophet Mohammed. We believe Islam is a universal religion. Our presence on the town council will give us the opportunity to express ourselves," said Ahrouch, who refuses to shake hands or make eye contact with females in public.
A one-hour video of the press conference in French has been posted on YouTube. At one point in the video (0:07:40) Ahrouch, 42, says he will strive to make sure that the town council's "motions and solutions are durable and definitive and will emanate from Islam."
Ahrouch, who was sentenced to six months in prison in 2003 for the assault and battery of his disabled wife, also spends considerable time talking about ethics in politics and "respect for the other."
Elsewhere in the video (0:25:40), Aït Jeddig, 50, commends Islam as having paved the way for "the emergence of European civilization." (He makes no mention of Europe's Judeo-Christian or Greek-Roman roots.) He also insists that Islam is compatible with freedom and democracy.
The video ends with an interview of a third Islam Party candidate, Abdelhay Bakkali Tahar, 51, who did not garner enough votes to secure a seat in the district of Bruxelles Ville.
The Islam Party, which plans to field candidates in European-level elections in 2014, campaigned on three core issues: ensuring that halal meals are served in public school cafeterias, securing the official recognition of Muslim religious holidays, and pushing for a law that would legalize the wearing of Islamic headscarves in public spaces.
Fouad Belkacem (alias Abu Imran), the leader of Belgian Salafist group Sharia4Belgium. (Image source: MEMRI TV)
Ahrouch has run for political office before. In 1999, he founded a political party called "Noor: Le Parti Islamique," which promotes a 40-point program based on Islamic Sharia law. These points include, among other items: 7) abolishing interest payments [riba] in the Belgian banking sector; 10) redesigning the Belgian judiciary to comply with Islamic law; 11) restoring capital punishment; 12) prohibiting alcohol and cigarettes; 15) promoting teenage marriage; 16) segregating males and females in public spaces; 20) outlaw gambling and the lottery; and 39) creating an official Islamic alms fund [Zakat].
Ahrouch says that his ultimate goal, creating an Islamic state in Belgium based on Islamic Sharia law, has not changed.
Speaking to a reporter from Radio Télévision Belge Francophone (RTBF), the public broadcasting service of the French-speaking part of Belgium, Ahrouch said: "The agenda is still the same, but our approach is different now. I think we have to sensitize people, make them understand the advantages to having Islamic people and Islamic laws. And then it will be completely natural to have Islamic laws and we will become an Islamic state."
The reporter interjected: "An Islamic State in Belgium?" Ahrouch replied: "In Belgium, of course! I am for the Sharia. Islamic law, I am for it. It is a long-term struggle that will take decades or a century, but the movement has been launched."
The rise of the Islam Party comes amid a burgeoning Muslim population in the Belgian capital. Muslims now make up one-quarter of the population of Brussels, according to a book recently published by the Catholic University of Leuven, the top Dutch-language university in Belgium.
In real terms, the number of Muslims in Brussels -- where half of the number of Muslims in Belgium currently live --- has reached 300,000, which means that the self-styled "Capital of Europe" is now the most Islamic city in Europe.
In practical terms, Islam mobilizes more people in Brussels than do the Roman Catholic Church, political parties or even trade unions, according to "The Iris and the Crescent," a book that is the product of more than a year of field research.
The book's author, the sociologist Felice Dassetto, predicts that Muslims will comprise the majority of the population of Brussels by 2030. In Belgium as a whole, Muslims now comprise roughly 6% of the total population, one of the highest rates in Europe. This number is expected to rise to more than 10% by 2020.
Most of the Muslims in Brussels are from Morocco (70%) and Turkey (20%), with the other 10% from Albania, Egypt, Pakistan and North Africa. They began arriving in Belgium in the 1960s as guest workers. Although the guest-worker program was cancelled in 1974, many immigrants stayed and, using family-reunification laws, brought over their families.
Today the Muslim community continues to grow through both high birth rates and marriage migration. More than 60% of Moroccan and Turkish youths marry partners from their home countries.
As in the other European countries, the Muslim population in Belgium is young. Nearly 35% of the Moroccans and Turks in the country are below 18 years of age, compared to 18% of the native Belgians.
Since 2008, the most popular name in Brussels for baby boys has been Mohammed. It is also the most popular name for baby boys in Belgium's second-largest city, Antwerp, where an estimated 40% of elementary school children are Muslim.
The growth of the Muslim population has been accompanied by an increase in violent crime, which has made Brussels one of the most dangerous cities in Europe, according to an exposé produced by the ZDF German television in April 2012.
Much of the crime is being attributed to shiftless Muslim youth, especially in the Anderlecht and Molenbeek districts, where "the police have lost control."
In Molenbeek, where an estimated 25% of the population is Muslim, the growing insecurity has forced multinational companies to leave the municipality. In June 2011, for example, the American advertising agency BBDO abandoned Molenbeek after citing over 150 assaults on its staff by local youth.
In an open letter addressed to the then-mayor Philippe Moureaux, BBDO reported that each one of its employees had been the victim of crimes in Molenbeek. The letter states: "Youngsters who forcibly rob our bags. Youngsters who smash car windows. Youngsters who verbally corner us so that we become paralyzed with fear. Young people who are not afraid to even point a gun at one of our male colleagues." BBDO criticized Moureaux, a Socialist, of inaction due to his multicultural notions of political correctness.
On November 5, the Belgian Interior Ministry reported that gang rapes in the country have reached epidemic levels. It reported an average of five new cases of rapes each week involving two or more offenders, in addition to an average of 57 rapes per week involving single violators.
The rise in Muslim immigration has also contributed to an increase in anti-Semitism. Fully one-half of the Muslim students in Brussels are anti-Semitic, according to a 426-page study entitled, "Jong in Brussel" [Young in Brussels], produced by the Youth Research Platform.
In an interview with the Belgian newspaper De Morgan, Mark Elchardus, one of the authors of the report, said: "What is alarming is that you can describe half of the Muslim students as anti-Semitic, which is very high. What is worse is that those anti-Jewish feelings have nothing to do with a low educational level or social disadvantage, which is the case with racist Belgians. The anti-Semitism is theologically inspired and there is a direct link between being Muslim and having anti-Semitic feelings."
Elchardus's linking Islam of anti-Semitism earned him a lawsuit filed by Vigilance Musulmane [Muslim Vigilance], a Muslim activist group. Vigilance Musulmane said Elchardus' comments violated Belgium's anti-discrimination law of 2007, which forbids discrimination on the basis of "religious convictions." They also said his statements violated Article 444 of the Belgian penal code because they appeared in a newspaper and therefore were repeated extensively in print.
Belgian law, however, apparently did not prevent Muslims from resorting to anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism during the municipal elections in October. Yves Goldstein, a Jewish candidate for the Socialist Party in the Brussels district of Schaerbeek was singled out by Turkish political activists as "an active Zionist and enemy of Islam." This smear was echoed by a Moroccan political party called the "Equality Party," which distributed an e-mail telling voters that casting their ballots for Goldstein would be like "stabbing Palestinians in the back." The Equality Party's platform includes removing Hamas from the Belgian government's list of terrorist groups.
"The Iris and the Crescent" matter-of-factly sums it all up: "Islam is definitely part of the reality of Brussels."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.