The International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) is holding its Annual International Conference in Brussels from 29 June to 1 July. ICSA is “concerned about psychological manipulation and abusive relationships, especially as they manifest in the interaction of individuals with cults, new religious movements, and related groups.”
Preceding its conference, ICSA was planning a special day on Islamic radicalism. They proposed me as one of the speakers but Henri de Cordes, president of a Belgian government organization, the Information and Advice Center on Harmful Sectarian Organizations (CIAOSN in French, IACHSO in English), vetoed me.
Cordes wrote ICSA the following e-mail:
This guy [Paul Belien] is definitely a right flemish nationalist extremist. His party – or at least his wife’s party, she is a member of the Chamber [of Representatives] – is the Vlaams Belang (Flemish interest), formerly Vlaams Blok (do I need to translate?) which is the second flemish party; most democratic party are doing their best to avoid VB member in their majority. Beside their nationalist views VB has a racist (or rather white suprematist) speech.
Personaly, if I were invited to a meeting with this guy on the panel, I would refuse the invitation.
Cordes’ CIAOSN does not consider Islamic fundamentalism to be problematic. Its list of sects, however, includes several Christian groups.
While Islam is officially recognized as a religion in Belgium, the Scientology Church was refused official recognition by the Belgian authorities. A Mormon girl was prohibited from attending meetings of her church because according to the Belgian authorities the Mormons are a cult.
Other groups of “cultic” organizations on the CIAOSN list are the Venerable Chapel of Our Lady of Antwerp Cathedral (!) [too loyal to the Pope apparently], Opus Dei, Anthroposophy, Jehovah’s Witnesses, various Catholic and Protestant evangelical and pentecostal groups.
In divorce cases Belgian courts often refuse to place children under the care of a parent belonging to an organization which CIAOSN considers to be a sectarian group. According to CIAOSN homeschooling is an indication of belonging to a sect, which makes all Belgian homeschoolers suspect.
In 2003, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights criticized Belgium because of its lack of religious freedom and tolerance. The IHFHR wrote on page 17 of its report [pdf]:
[G]roups and members of groups included on the [CIAOSN] list have reportedly been subject to harassment and discrimination both by authorities and by private actors. Victims include, inter alia, members of Adventist, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Jehovah’s Witness, Sahaja Yoga, Spiritual Human Yoga, Raelian and Church of Scientology communities.
• Some Belgian municipalities have made it a requirement for civil service positions not to belong to any “harmful sect.” [while civil servants are allowed to belong to radical Islamist groups]
• Religious associations mentioned on the official list of groups suspected of being “harmful sects” are often denied the right to rent public meeting venues.
• In divorce cases, courts sometimes deny child custody to a parent on grounds that he or she is affiliated with a “harmful sect.” In some cases, courts also grant a parent who is a member of a “sect” visitation rights on condition that he or she does not “expose” his or her child/children to the teachings or lifestyle of the religious group in question.
• The tax department has denied the Japanese religious group Sukyo Malikari the right to exemption from property tax for its place of worship because it is included on the list of groups suspected of being “harmful sects.”
In 2004, I wrote a column in a magazine criticizing CIAOSN for its religious intolerance – something which they apparently have not forgiven me and which may explain why this government organisation depicts me as a “white suprematist.”