From 2003 to 2006 I worked as a civil servant in the Berchem borough of Antwerp, Flanders. Berchem is a multicultural neighbourhood with many immigrants of Turkish and Moroccan origin. My job was to promote the integration of these people and foster good relations between the different ethnic groups living in Berchem. Prior to 2003 I worked in Antwerp North, another neighbourhood with many immigrants.
During the past years I noted how radical Islamists groups began to take over the immigrant neighbourhoods. I warned for this danger in my reports to the city authorities. The latter made it clear to me that they did not like my reports. They said my reports read like “Vlaams Belang tracts.” The VB is the local anti-immigration party. When I kept reporting about what I saw happening around me I was fired.
After my dismissal I wrote to the Antwerp city council:
“You employ workers to improve social cohesion in the city’s neighborhoods. But if you do not want to know what is damaging social cohesion, then you need not bother sending those workers!
“It is alarming that not a single politician in Antwerp is interested in the structural radicalization, the absence of women’s rights, the prevalence of domestic violence, the real reasons why Antwerp citizens of Turkish and Moroccan descent lag behind in education and employment.
“The notion that there could be a connection between religion and the social and economic situation of your ‘difficult to reach target groups’ is a complete taboo!
“You have no interest whatever in ascertaining the causes of street crime, which constitutes an environment where radical Islamist groups recruit followers. Worse, employees who are confronted with this problem and investigate are silently removed, losing their income and their reputation. That is censorship in the fashion of political dictatorships. As a former member of your services I am shocked to find myself in this position and to discover after years of service that you have no policy whatever, either political or with regard to your personnel.”
Recently I began to post articles about my experiences on the Dutch-language section of The Brussels Journal. Since then I have received threats from Islamists, warning me to stop. I will not stop because it is important that people know what is going on. I have many Muslims friends who are also opposed to the radicals. They keep me informed about what is going on, but cannot say this in public for fear of reprisals. As Theodore Dalrymple said: “On a micro-level people are now living in a totalitarian climate. In our Western societies. Within our Western societies there is a micro-totalitarian climate.” This is something we should not tolerate. If we do, we, too, will soon be living in a totalitarian society.
Europe is being confronted with a new challenge: Islam and its influence on political, social and economic policy. Muslims give different interpretations of what Islam means. Islam as a fixed doctrine does not exist. This makes dialogue with the Islamic community extremely difficult. To be sure, there are a certain number of tendencies which – depending on schools and traditions – claim to be interpretations of an Islamitic doctrine. But the very absence of a well defined doctrine makes Islam a Trojan horse. You have to wait to see what is inside, and the latter could be a big surprise. Unfortunately, a radical version of Islam is becoming dominant in Europe. It is the so-called “European Islam,” promoted by modern Islamic philosophers like Tariq Ramadan.
Extremist Muslim groups, such as the Salafists, find in Ramadan a defender of their range of thought. Considering the man’s background this is hardly strange. Ramadan’s maternal grandfather is Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and a source of inspiration for the distribution of Islam as a strict teaching. The Muslim Brotherhood is a worldwide organisation that puts the Quran above the law, with violence if need be. The organisation is forbidden in Egypt – all the more reason for a critical look at Ramadan’s message.
Ramadan describes his vision in a book called “Western Muslims and the Future of Islam”. The first sentence in this book is: “One day we shall go back to the source!” That sounds promising, but who are “we”? All Muslims or all humanity? This question is fascinating, because certain Muslims are convinced that this return to the “source,” obviously meaning the Islam, most certainly applies to all humanity and – depending on interpretation – must be achieved with gentle coercion or with straightforward violence.
An opinion that is alive worldwide among Muslims says that first there was Judaism, then Christianity and finally Islam. They claim that religion means evolution and that, hence, Islam is the final point, past Judaism and Christianity. Is this the return to the “source” to which Mr Ramadan refers? Like the Salafists, Ramadan sees a link between tradition and science. He claims to start from the Quran and Sunnah to arrive via the methodology of Islamic scientists at an enlightened version of Islam, based on a strict adherence to the sources and values of interpretation.
The Quran, however, is not a harmless book for people who are not Muslims. It says that people who do not convert to Islam deserve death and oppression. Does Ramadan’s allegiance to the sources extend to these verses as well? In his book Ramadan explains what Islam will mean for Europe socially, politically and economically. He dissects how Europe can adjust itself to Islam. Indeed, Islam is essentially a doctrine consisting of political, economic and social structures. Europeans think it is a religion, but it claims to be more. I agree with Ramadan that inside Europe we are witnessing to a revolution of youngsters and intellectuals who are looking for the means to live in harmony with their faith, while they also live in our society.
In 2004 a new organisation, called Youth for Islam (YfI), established itself in Berchem, the neighbourhood where I worked. YfI is a Salafist organisation. This means that they put Salaf, or the following of the road of Muhammed’s companions, at the centre of their lives. In other words, they return to the source, by letting their lives as much as possible be a reflection of the life of the prophet. In this the literal interpretation of the Quran is essential. Through attending summer camps, where they are instructed in fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and Sharia (Islamic law), youngsters are encouraged not to accept the laws of the Western country where they live, but the Quran.
What the Salafists teach cannot be reconciled with European values: the stoning of women, flogging, the repudiation of children whose fathers are not Muslims, etc., is in contradiction with European law. Those who ask young people living in Europe to follow the rules laid down in a 7th century manual are asking for problems and promote conflict. European law or culture is not compatible with Tariq Ramadan’s doctrine about Islam’s future in Europe.
Organisations like YfI in Antwerp, and similar groups in other European cities – and they are in the process of being established everywhere – have plenty of money. They are sponsored by billionaires in Jordan and Saudi-Arabia. Because they do not get – nor ask – subsidies from European authorities there is no control on their activities. As the YfI chairman told me, his organization does not ask for subsidies because it does not want to be controlled.
In Ramadan’s orthodox Salafist opinion, Europe’s Muslim youths must refuse to come into contact with non-Islamic environments. They have to isolate themselves from Western influences. This is exactly what YfI does. Once they had rented the Berchem conference hall for a lecture and there happened to be a simultaneous exhibition of photography in the entrance hall. I saw how they turned all the “indecent” pictures round and how the great hall where the lecture was held was divided into two sections by curtains: the women had to sit behind the curtains, not visible for the men.
Mr. Ramadan will say that this is exactly how it should be because of Quran regulations. Such conduct however, is not correct according to our European principles. Ramadan’s “European Islam” has not in the least been influenced by European values. I am not a philosopher nor a scientist, as Ramadan, who currently lectures at Rotterdam University, pretends to be. I wonder, however, whether the West should allow Islamists the right to undermine our legal system by advocating the primacy of Islamic law and the imposition of the Sharia in Europe. Why do we have to allow separate swimming hours for Muslim women in public swimming pools? Why do we allow it? Why has Ramadan been given a lectureship at Rotterdam university?
I know many of the Berchem youths who have been hooked by YfI. I know their parents, their families. Like other youths, these youths are searching for an identity. Caught between the traditions and beliefs of their culture and the expectations of Western society, they have problems integrating and do badly economically as well as socially. Can Mr Ramadan’s vision ameliorate their situation? Or is he isolating them even more?
According to the Salafists non-Muslims are lesser people. By saying this they justify the behaviour of young Muslim criminals who target the non-Muslims whilst they never touch fellow Muslims. They told me that drug trafficking is perfectly acceptable as long as one only sells to non-Muslims. They told me that stealing from non-Muslims is allowed as long as one does not harm fellow Muslims. One day our office was burgled and our computers were stolen. All except the two computers belonging to our two Muslim colleagues. You don’t steal from brothers or sisters! The culprits were YfI-members.
Many victims of burglaries in houses and cars, of steaming and other forms of violence, can testify that aggression by Muslims is not directed against brothers and sisters, but against whoever is a kafir, a non-believer. Young Muslims justify their behaviour towards women who do not wear the headscarf, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, by referring to the Salafist teaching which says that these women are whores and should be treated as such. They told me this. I wrote it down in my reports, but the authorities refuse to hear it.
Of course Mr Ramadan disapproves of the young criminals’ behaviour. Of course the YfI leadership disapproves too. But I am convinced they are double-faced. In public, when talking to Westerners, such as the media and the authorities, they condemn the criminals, but they continue to spread the ideas which the criminals use to justify their acts.
Ramadan and the Salafists promote segregation. They tell Muslim women to turn down jobs where they are not allowed to wear the headscarf. They tell young men and women not to go and work in banks, restaurants, hospitals, because the Quran prohibits lending money against interest, forbids alcohol, and instructs people not to touch human beings of the opposite sex. Increasingly the Shariah dictates how a growing number of European citizens lives. It is also beginning to dictate how we have to behave, what cartoons we are allowed to draw, what food we are allowed to eat, what operas we are allowed to see.
Muslims radicals object to a play because the head of a Muhammed puppet is cut off, but at the same time they approve the beheading of journalists in Iraq. Organisations like YfI claim the former is a Western provocation, while the latter is in accordance with the divine right of Dar al harb, the “house of war.” Ramadan and the Salafists teach the Muslim youths that they have the right to demand that our society will adjust to them, but they are unwilling to respect us.
In my opinion Muslims are welcome to live in Europe, but only if they show respect for our culture and history. Mr Ramadan’s philosophy does not offer us anything of value. Just look at the sorrowful conditions of many Muslims in Islamic states. These people flee their own countries and come to the West, where they demand that their way of life be introduced here. Indeed, Tariq Ramadan’s book “Western Muslims and the future of Islam” would never have been written if Muslims had not en masse left their own countries searching for a better life in Europe than in the countries where Islam dictates the political, economic and social structures. We must be aware that Ramadan’s “European Islam” is a Trojan horse in our midst. If Western authorities remain blind to this, it may soon be too late.