After members of the newly established Islam Party vowed to implement Islamic Sharia law in Belgium, Members of Parliament introduced a bill that would limit the power of Muslim extremists who win elected office at the local or national levels and isolate themselves from the political mainstream.
Addressing the Belgian Parliament on February 28, Alain Destexhe, an MP with the Reformist Movement [Mouvement Réformateur], the largest French-speaking classical liberal party in Belgium, and Philippe Pivin, a liberal MP who is also the deputy mayor of Koekelberg, a suburb of Brussels, said it is imperative to curb the power of elected Muslims whose beliefs are inconsistent with the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights ruled in February 2003 that Islamic Sharia law is "incompatible with the fundamental principles of democracy." The court said that a legal system based on Sharia law "would diverge from the European Convention on Human Rights, particularly with regard to the rules on the status of women, and its intervention in all spheres of private and public life in accordance with religious precepts."
The legislative proposal, which is currently open for signatures by other Members of the Belgian Parliament, argues that ultra-conservative Muslims who are elected to public office are unsuitable to run local governments or community bodies and should be impeached.
Destexhe said that as Muslim politicians in Belgium are creating isolated communities and parallel societies, the measure is necessary. He said: "The people of the Islam Party refuse to shake hands with women. They do not want to mix with others in public transport and other communal places. They advocate getting married and wearing a veil at 12 years old, based on Islamic law."
Destexhe continued: "Members of the Islam Party have refused to shake hands with Françoise Schepmans, the mayor of Molenbeek [a primarily Muslim neighborhood in Brussels]. I feel that some people do not understand how similar this is to the behavior of the extreme right, and how they are creating their own isolated community."
Philip Claeys, a Member of the European Parliament for Flanders with the Vlaams Belang, a Flemish nationalist party that is opposed to multiculturalism and further Muslim immigration, said: "It is very worrying to see what is happening. We see people with an Islamic background forming their own political party and demanding the introduction of Sharia law and an Islamic state in Belgium. Until now Muslim people mainly supported Socialist parties and other leftist parties. But now they feel confident enough to establish their own party."
Claeys said he believes it is a "big problem" when people who move to Belgium do not respect the separation of Mosque and State, or the equality of men and women and the rule of law. He said: "We should put a stop to this mass immigration of people coming from outside Europe, mainly Islamic countries, of people who cannot and will not adapt to our way of living in Western Europe."
The parliamentary initiative is in response to Lhoucine Aït Jeddig and Redouane Ahrouch, both from the fledgling Islam Party, who in October 2012 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 councilors, who were officially sworn in on December 3, said they regard their election as key to the assertion of the Muslim community in Belgium.
Ahrouch said: "We are elected Islamists but above all we are Muslims. 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.
The Islam Party, which plans to field candidates in European-level elections in 2014, campaigned on three core issues: ensuring that halal [religiously permissible] 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.
Ahrouch previously founded a political party called "Noor: Le Parti Islamique," which promotes a 40-point program based on 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."
Recognizing the danger posed by Islamic extremists, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders recently called for enhanced monitoring of the sermons that Muslim imams are preaching. "Instead of building a moderate Islam in our country," he said, "we are seeing imams and other preachers who adhere to more fundamentalist or Salafist views, or who support radical movements."
Reynders proposed linking the awarding of subsidies for Islam in Belgium to improved oversight on what is being preached in mosques. He also called on the government to enhance its supervision of the training of imams, who are believed to number around 300. Mosques that have been officially recognized in Belgium receive state subsidies, but if Reynders has his way, radical imams could, in future, lose their subsidies.
"We do not judge their religious content," he said. "But when their sermons contain public calls for violence or human rights violations, there is no reason why we should let them grow."
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 by 2030, Muslims will make up the majority of the population of Brussels. 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.
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, for inaction due to his multicultural notions of political correctness.
In November 2012, the Belgian Interior Ministry reported that gang rapes in the country had 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 and anti-Semitism earned him a lawsuit filed by Vigilance Musulmane [Muslim Vigilance], a Muslim activist group. Vigilance Musulmane said Elchardus's 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.