Yesterday evening youths in Kuregem, an immigrant neighbourhood of Brussels, threw stones at buses of the Flemish public transport company De Lijn. No passengers got hurt though the buses, heading for Flanders, the Dutch-speaking area surrounding Brussels, were damaged and windows were shattered. The youths were said to be angry because earlier in the day Flemish politicians had tried to hold a vigil for the victims of the 2001 9/11 attacks in Manhattan.
Yesterday morning about 100 people gathered at the WTC buildings in Brussels to each lay down flowers in remembrance of the 9/11 victims. The participants were members of the Vlaams Belang party, which strives for the independence of Flanders from Belgium and also wants to halt Muslim immigration. After Filip Dewinter, a VB leader, laid down his flowers, the Brussels police intervened and stopped the ceremony.
Last week Freddy Thielemans, the Socialist Mayor of Brussels, had prohibited the 9/11 demonstration near the Brussels WTC towers. Mr Thielemans banned the demo arguing that the Brussels WTC towers are situated near an immigrant neighbourhood and that it is inappropriate to hold such a demonstration during Ramadan. An appeal against the Mayor’s ban was rejected by the Council of State, Belgium’s highest administrative court. Last year, Mr Thielemans also banned a demonstration in remembrance of the 9/11 atrocities. When the demonstration went ahead anyway, the police savagely beat up the demonstrators and arrested most of them, including Mario Borghezio, an Italian MEP (member of the European Parliament) for the Lega Nord. Mr Borghezio’s arrest led to an official complaint from the Italian government and to Belgium formally apologizing and assuring that in future it will do “everything possible to guarantee the immunity of MEPs.”
During yesterday’s demonstration two female VB secretaries and one VB member who tried to follow Dewinter’s example and lay down flowers were arrested and had to spend the remainder of the day in a police cell. The secretaries later lodged a complaint against the police for sexual harassment. MEP Mario Borghezio was not arrested, though he heckled the Brussels police and shouted, according to the Belgian press, “Islamists are parasites.”
Filip Dewinter said that the arguments of the Mayor to ban the vigil are “the clearest proof of the growing Islamization of Brussels and other major European cities.” He also criticized the decision to ban the public remembrance of the 9/11 victims while the Mayor had earlier allowed a demonstration of so-called “truth activists” who claim that the American government was behind the 9/11 terror attacks. Last Sunday some 400 “truth activists,” many of them members of the anti-American organisation ATTAC, marched from the European Union headquarters to the American embassy in Brussels.
In the coming weeks Vlaams Belang intends to distribute 100,000 leaflets in Brussels protesting the islamization of the city. “Many Muslims do not want to assimilate and are unwilling to accept Western democratic values,” it says. “Brussels is a hub of extremist Islamic groups. We have to break the taboo on Islamic extremism, imposed by the multicultural society.” By 2020 three quarters of the inhabitants of Brussels are expected to be of non-Belgian origin. According to recent estimates Belgium (pop. 10.5 million) has almost 630,000 Muslim inhabitants, which is 6% of the population. In Flanders the Muslims constitute 3.9%, in Wallonia (the French-speaking part of Belgium) 4%, and in Brussels 25.5%.
Meanwhile, the Belgian authorities are continuing their efforts to thwart Vlaams Belang by stripping Frank Vanhecke, the leader of the VB in the European Parliament, of his political rights so that the popular Mr Vanhecke will not be able to stand for election during the European elections in June 2009. Jo Vandeurzen, the Belgian minister of Justice, has asked the European Parliament to lift the parliamentary immunity of Mr Vanhecke to allow Belgium to prosecute and sentence the politician.
Mr Vandeurzen, a Christian-Democrat, wants to bring Mr Vanhecke to court on charges of racism. The Belgian authorities hold Mr Vanhecke responsible for the publication of a text in a local party publication in the town of Sint-Niklaas. The author had blamed a wave of vandalism at a Christian cemetery on immigrant youths. As the culprits were minors, Belgian law prohibits disclosing their identity, thereby preventing the VB to prove beyond doubt whether or not the youthful vandals were, indeed, Muslim immigrants. Though the author of the text is known and is NOT being prosecuted, Mr Vanhecke is, even though he had not written the article, nor seen it before it was published. The authorities hold him responsible for the article since he was the national VB leader at the time of publication.
The European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs is currently discussing whether or not to lift Mr Vanhecke parliamentary immunity. On Monday Guido Naets, the former spokesman of the European Parliament, asked the Committee to turn down the Belgian request. Mr Naets pointed out that Vlaams Belang is a Flemish-secessionist party which aims for the independence of Flanders from Belgium. He declared that this, and not racism, is the real reason why the Belgian authorities want to thwart the party by banning Mr Vanhecke from standing in the coming European elections. “In the almost 30 years that I have known Frank Vanhecke [...] I have never been able to catch him out on any form of racism whatsoever,” Mr Naets said. “Vanhecke will be prosecuted because he is a symbol for a party that wants to abolish Belgium. For all these reasons I beg the European Parliament, beginning with this Commission not to become an accessory to a political lynching and an attempted smear attack of a radical Flemish party, in which racism is being used as a cheap excuse.”