Belgian Muslims fear growing anti-Islam backlash in wake of terror attacks


Source: USA Today

BRUSSELS — It’s already been a rough few months for Belgian Muslims in the wake of November’s terrorist attacks in Paris and the search for suspects in Belgium: Lockdowns, increased security and raids on homes.

Now, in the wake of the country’s deadliest terrorist attacks Tuesday, Muslims who live in Belgium fret more fear, suspicion and harassment is on the way.

Recent anti-Muslim rallies in Flemish cities such as Antwerp and Ghent have been relatively small but they may grow in size and become violent, said Nabil Riffi, an attorney of Moroccan descent who lives in Antwerp. “My fear is that they will draw more people to them because the danger is now among us,” he said.

“I think the possibility of the Pegida rallies in Flanders getting violent is real,” he added, referring to an anti-migrant, anti-Muslim movement that started in Germany and has spread to other countries in Europe.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombings at  Brussels Zaventem airport and a central metro station that killed 31 and injured 250. Two suicide bombers died in the attack and a massive manhunt is underway for a third suspect caught on video cameras fleeing the airport. An arrest was made Wednesday but apparently not the man on the video.

The search is focusing on the Schaerbeek neighborhood of Brussels, which has a significant Muslim population.

In one raid Tuesday, investigators found an explosive device containing nails that was similar to the type of bomb used in at least one of the two blasts at the airport. They also found a black Islamic State flag, according to Belgian media, which cited prosecutors.

Some of those suspected of involvement in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, which killed 130 people, reside in Belgium. Abdelhamid Abaaoud, 27, a Belgian national named by French authorities as the likely mastermind of the attacks, was captured last Friday in a raid in Brussels.

Belgium has one of the largest Muslim communities in Europe as a percentage of its population: about 6% of 11 million Belgians. It also is the largest contributor of fighters to Islamic State. More than 500 Belgian nationals have traveled to join the extremist group in Syria and Iraq, according to Belgian intelligence estimates.

Leaders of Belgium’s Muslim community, which condemned Tuesday’s attacks, say the perpetrators’ intention is to create social divisions and a backlash against Muslims that can aid in the recruitment of newly radicalized fighters.

The hashtag #stopIslam was a top trending topic on Twitter on Tuesday.

“These dramatic events in the heart of Europe undermine the efforts of society … and the full Muslim community in Belgium to harmoniously live together,” the Executive of Muslims in Belgium, the main Muslim community organization in the country, said in a statement. “That is why, in the name of all Muslim citizens, the EMB calls for unity and unanimity to together establish a coalition against violence and terrorism.”

Belgian Muslims also say the perpetrators and supporters of terrorist attacks represent a tiny portion of the millions of Muslims across Europe who condemn such violence.

“I hope that people will realize this has nothing to do with the real Islam and that 99% of Muslims very much are distancing themselves from what happened (Tuesday) and they also really are reeling,” attorney Riffi said.

“Muslims are also Belgians,” he said. “They are also really shocked and incredibly sad. I hope that people will realize that and that there won’t be a backlash against people who really have nothing to do with this, and don’t all encourage this or stand behind it.”

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3 replies

  1. Based on this tiny country and high percentage of terrorists and ISIS fighters – the problem is not Belgium – but again the losers who emigrate and refuse to adopt and participate in the new country they seek to live in. I am starting to be convinced that Belgium too needs to clamp down and refuse new immigration. Or choose the countries and faiths of the people moving there. Citizenship is NOT a right to anyone from outside the country. Therefore Belgians should accept people that will contribute to their tiny country, society, and financial systems. Complimenting their beliefs, goals and way of life. Trump might be a lot of things – but he is saying what the middle class and a lot of private citizens have been thinking. Enough of 3rd world immigration and people from war torn countries. They bring their garbage into other countries and contaminate them as well.

    • I’m a Belgian citizen who immigrated from New Zealand and I’m far, far less integrated than any Muslim I know here. I struggle with the language, mostly because I struggle with the coldness and rudeness of the people. Relaxed immigration laws may indeed be a big part of the problem, but so are Belgian attitudes to outsiders. My first year here I attended an ANZAC memorial at the cemetery for the Australian and NZ soldiers who died here fighting for the freedom of Europe and right outside was a large Vlaams Belang billboard declaring “Belgium for Belgians!”. My experiences as a white immigrant have been thoroughly unpleasant here and I can only begin to imagine how it would be to be a more identifiable “other” in this environment. Stop supporting wars in third world countries and maybe then you can complain about people fleeing them, but until then maybe reflect on all the Belgians who have had to flee other wars, or been protected by other nations, or have saved their economy after WWII when Belgium encouraged immigration for cheap labourers. Or maybe consider that while many Belgians were collaborating with the Nazi’s the Albanian Muslims protected their entire Jewish population, as well as thousands from neighboring countries. If you want to call people garbage maybe be sure that term doesn’t apply better to your own nationality first.

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