Muslims in Belgium

Leuven Travel Blog

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I just read an interesting article about the Islamisation myth. Islam in Europe has obviously stirred up a lot of fears among Belgium's neighbours, the Netherlands, Germany and France. I could be wrong, but it doesn't really seem like a huge deal in Belgium. Perhaps the (mostly) friendly rivalry between Dutch and French speakers redirects the fears of those concerned with "cultural pollution". Or perhaps it is because most Muslims in Belgium are Moroccan and Turkish immigrants living in Brussels, which both the French and Flemish appear to have disdainful views of anyway. If anything, the big issues appears to be immigrant populations trying to get public attention over the legal catch-22 that "paperless" immigrants end up in, while the government pretty much ignores it and bickers about more important issues.

Interestingly, I think the fear of Islam in Europe comes from two different sources. Firstly, there are the fundamentalist Christians (yes, Europe has them, just not that many) who see Christianity and Islam in a supernatural conflict. This group wants to use the "threat" of Islam to whip secular Europe back into the fold of the Church, and probably also has genuine (and unfounded) bed-wetting fears about forced conversion to Islam. More importantly though, because it is more common, I think there is a vague unease about Islam among secular Europe, simply because they appear more religious and more conservative. It isn't that this group wants to protect Christianity, far from it, but rather that they worry that a fresh infusion of religion will bring back the bad old days and unravel European secular tolerance.

I think there is a grain of truth to this big, in a big sloppy serving of fear. First the truth - on average European Muslims are more religious and more conservative than European Christians, more likely to go to church and less likely to support religious freedoms like same-sex marriage or reproductive rights. However, I think this fear has been radically overblown. The proportion of Europeans Muslims who think Europeans are anti-Muslim is much higher than the proportion of European Muslims who have had any personal experience of anti-Muslim behaviour. Likewise the perceptions of non-Muslim Europeans are inaccurate - the proportion of European Muslims who are moderate and are concerned about Islamic extremism is much higher than the proportion who are fundamentalists and support extremism, and European Muslims are less religious and less conservative than is generally realised. On questions such as homosexuality, having affairs, abortion, pre-marital sex and suicide, European Muslims are more conservative than the general European public, but they are about on par with American Christians - far less conservative than their country of origin. Most European Muslims also think that life for women is better in the West than in Islamic countries. Second and third generation European Muslims are even less religious and more progressive, approaching the consensus view in the general public of the country they are integrated in. The issues that European Muslims are most concerned about is not the decline in religion or the encroachment of Western lifestyles, but rather more practical concerns such as unemployment and housing.

So to secular Europe I say: keep an eye on religious extremism, but don't become paranoid about Islam in particular. If European secular tolerance could dethrone the allmighty Catholic Church, it'll win over a few immigrants who wear headscarves instead of crosses. Given time and freedom, most people, regardless of ethnicity or religion, ultimately care more about having a job and getting their kids into good education than about who is having sex with who next door. Perhaps this is why Belgium doesn't seem to have the same Islamophobia as other parts of Europe - Belgian Muslims are already less religious than Belgian Catholics. In my neighbourhood (the Marollen, the most diverse immigrant neighbourhood in Belgium), Belgian Congolese, North African immigrants, Walloons and Flemings all seem to be far more concerned with good food than churches or mosques.
Adrian_Liston says:
The fear of immigration always seems especially odd when I heard it in Australia, America and the UK - three countries that are just a mix of wave after wave of non-stop immigration.
Posted on: Jul 30, 2009
ik-ben-10eke says:
Over the centuries different people came to the Netherlands from everywhere to built up a living here.

Only the last years some dutch people (really dutch?? you can have your doubts about that) seems to be scared by this "new" immigration...
Posted on: Jul 29, 2009
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