Five French-speaking Belgian provinces have changed religious holiday names to secular ones, also recognizing Muslim holidays.
(IP) A group of Belgian lawmakers have proposed a bill that would deem Islamophobia a crime punishable by fines and/or imprisonment. Six senators of the Belgian Parliament drafted the resolution that would categorize a person who “ considers Islam to be violent, threatening or supportive of terrorism”or “considers Islam to be a political ideology used for political and military purposes to establish its hegemony” as an islamophobe, and liable for prosecution under this law, if passed. Opponents of the bill say it would be a ‘devastating blow to free speech’ in Belgium.
The French-speaking region of southern Belgium known as Wallonia has officially assigned the four major Christian holidays (Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and All Saints Day – known as Halloween in the US) secular names in a move that critics claim is catering to the atheistic views of the Socialists and the influence of the Muslim elements of its population. Removal of religious paraphernalia and reference to religious holidays and practices by government and within government buildings and proceedings has rapidly proliferated globally, with pointed reforms taking place in the United States. Prayers are no longer said at the start of the school day in most public schools and events in efforts to avoid offending those who profess no religious persuasion.
The French Community of Belgium has jurisdiction over five provinces, including the Francophone population of Brussels, the Belgian capital and has adopted ‘a framework decree that formally establishes the new secularized names on the public school calendar in the interests of “administrative simplification”, according to a report by Soeren Kern on the RightSidenews.com website. The Belgian French-language newspaper La Libre stated: “…school calendars within Belgium's French speaking community will permanently use the following terminology: the Christian holiday previously known as All Saints Day (Congés de Toussaint) will now be referred to as Autumn Leave (Congé d'automne); Christmas Vacation (Vacances de Noël) is now Winter Vacation (Vacances d'hiver); Lenten Vacation (Congés de Carnaval) is now Rest and Relaxation Leave (Congé de détente); and Easter (Vacances de Pâques) is now Spring Vacation (Vacances de Printemps).”
Right-wing groups who are opposed to the proliferating multiculturalism in Belgium are criticizing the permanent holiday name changes, some accusing the government of attempting to ‘de-Christianize’ the traditional Christian holidays, the most vocal of which is the Reformist Movement (Mouvement Réformateur, MR), an alliance of four center-right parties that together comprise the largest classical liberal political formation in French-speaking Belgium. The MR fears that reforming the holiday names will facilitate the eventual introduction of Muslim holidays into the school and public calendars and cultural expression; the holiday name-change decree already provides Muslims with a waiver by which Islamic holidays will be recognized legally.
The mayor of Brussels, Freddy Thielemans, is a Socialist and more than half of the eleven council members are either Socialists or Muslims – or both. The Council has moved to refrain from the display of any religious holiday décor in the city, and replaced some with modern art works to give the metropolis a more ‘avant – garde character’; although, according to the Brussels Nieuws, one Council member from the Christian Democratic and Flemish Party, Bianca Debaets, argued that it was the ‘religious sensitivities of the Muslims’ that prompted the display of the cubical ‘light’ sculpture in place of a religious-toned display – a Christmas tree.
The efforts of making Belgium more ‘Islam-friendly’, however, leaves many Muslims still feeling alienated from the greater Belgian society. The article by Soeren Kern states: “According to a new survey of Muslim youth in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern half of Belgium, only 30% of Muslim males between the ages of 15 and 25 feel as though they are accepted by Flemish society. This figure drops to 25% for Muslim females in the same age group.”
“The survey, which was published by the daily newspaper Gazet van Antwerpen on April 19, shows that 60% of Muslim youth believe that they will never be integrated into Belgian society. One in three of those surveyed say that he or she has been discriminated against at school, and one in five say they have been discriminated against at work. More than 50% say they have been victims of racism. Although 93% of those surveyed have Belgian citizenship, 42% of them say they consider themselves to be foreigners.”
“The results are virtually unchanged from a similar survey conducted in 2005, and imply that years of government efforts to make Belgium more multicultural have done nothing to change the minds of Muslim youth. According to the Flemish Minister for Integration, Geert Bourgeois, Muslim youth should work harder and complain less. "That so many young people feel discriminated against and do not feel accepted means that our society still has a lot of work to do. It's actually an 'us-them' story. We as a society can and should still make an extra effort, but conversely, Muslim youth should do more as well. Perhaps an inverted research shows that we just think that young Muslims do not belong because they do not want to belong," Bourgeois said.
According to the authors of the resolution, a person would be guilty of Islamophobia if he or she:
Considers Islam to be a single monolithic bloc, closed and static, incapable of adapting to new situations;
Considers Islam to be separate and "different," devoid of having any aims or shared values with other cultures, not influenced by other cultures and not influencing other cultures;
Considers Islam to be inferior to the West, to be barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist;
Considers Islam to be violent, threatening and supportive of terrorism, actively engaged in a 'clash of civilizations';
Considers Islam to be a political ideology, used for political and military purposes to establish its hegemony;
Rejects out of hand criticisms made by Islam of 'the West';
Shows hostility towards Islam to justify discrimination and social exclusion of Muslims;
Accepts hostility toward Muslims as natural and normal.
Mr. Kern states further: “This definition of Islamophobia, which is based on a 1997 report published by the London-based Runnymede Trust, would effectively outlaw any critical discussion of Islam in Belgium [and label it as] ‘combating racism’.
The draft resolution has outraged free speech activists, who are demanding more public scrutiny of what they say is a "draconian" measure that is contrary to liberal democratic values. But the sponsors of the text remain unapologetic.In an interview with the daily newspaper Le Soir, Senator Richard Miller from Wallonia accuses critics of the resolution of trying to make the draft text say things it does not say.”
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.