It is hot in Brussels. Ramadan has begun. The faithful in the predominantly Muslim borough of Molenbeek are not allowed to eat or drink from sunrise until sunset. Non-Muslim policemen, patrolling the streets of Molenbeek in their sweltering cars, are not allowed to eat or drink either. As every year during Ramadan, they have been told by their superior, Philippe Moureaux, the Socialist mayor of Molenbeek, that they have to respect Muslim sensitivities and not to “provoke” Muslims by violating Islamic Ramadan restrictions in public. In effect, Islamic or Sharia law is already applied – for everyone – in the Muslim areas of Brussels.
Barely two miles from Molenbeek lies Brussels’ European district. One of its huge glass and concrete buildings is the European Parliament where the elected representatives from the 27 members states of the European Union (EU) convene. The 736 MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) have just returned from their summer break. They are mostly unaware of life in Molenbeek. Most of them never go to that part of the city. It is probably a sensible decision, because the Muslim neighborhoods are known to be unsafe for non-Muslims. Nevertheless, it is a shame that Europe’s politicians are unaware of day-to-day life just around the corner. It means that most of the 736 MEPs, who make up the second largest democratically elected assembly in the world (after India), do not know what life really is like in an ever growing section of Europe’s urban areas. A walking tour of Molenbeek should be compulsory for every MEP.
Some friends in Brussels organize one-hour trips through Molenbeek. They go in an inconspicuous car, driven by a local who knows the escape routes, and with a bodyguard. Otherwise the risk would be too great. These trips are called “safaris.” Similar “Eurabia safaris” are organized in other European cities. One of the highlights – though absolutely not the most dangerous one – of the safari in Rosengaard, the Muslim section of the Swedish city of Malmö, is a short stop, to give the visitor the opportunity to take a quick snapshot, in front of Malmö’s “Jihadskörkortsteori” (Jihad Driving School).
The Sharia areas of Europe are expanding rapidly across Western Europe. While currently still restricted to what the French officially call the ZUS (zones urbaines sensibles – sensitive urban areas) these areas are growing fast. Even today, eight million of the sixty million inhabitants of France already live in one of the country’s 751 ZUS.
The month of Ramadan is traditionally the most dangerous time of the year in Europe’s sensitive areas. After sunset, the Ramadan ban on eating, drinking and engaging in sexual activities expires until the following sunrise. Ramadan is a period of nightly feasts for Muslims. Young Muslims are extremely touchy. These feasts easily spill over into nightly spasms of mayhem, vandalism, and violence. Europe’s Ramadan riots often go on for days or weeks, during which hundreds of cars, shops and public buildings are set on fire.
In Muslim countries, such as Indonesia, the police steps up patrols during Ramadan in order to crack down on illegal nightly activities. In Europe, however, the police has been given orders to adopt an extra low profile so as not to “provoke” Muslim populations. In countries such as Britain, police officers have had to attend “Ramadan awareness” courses. They have even been ordered, “for reasons of religious sensitivity,” to avoid the execution of arrest warrants on Muslims during the month of Ramadan. During Ramadan, Europe is a tinder box.
The most widely reported Ramadan riots so far, which were even covered by the American press, took place in France in 2005. Since the 2005 riots, the French authorities have asked the media not to report about waves of violent unrest in the ZUS – a request which the media seem to have followed. During the 2005 Ramadan riots, several sociologists suggested that polygamy was one of the reasons for the large-scale rioting in Muslim communities among youths who lack a father figure. This theory seemed to have impressed France’s political leaders. Gérard Larcher, then France’s employment minister and currently the president of the French Senate, explained to the Financial Times (Nov. 15, 2005) that multiple marriages among immigrants lead to anti-social behavior, such as criminal activity. Bernard Accoyer, a leading parliamentarian of France’s governing UMP and currently the president of the French National Assembly (France’s Congress), said that children from large polygamous families have problems integrating into mainstream society.
As the Financial Times warned, however, at the time, “Mr Larcher’s comments could further fuel the debate and are likely to outrage Muslim and anti-racism groups.” Apparently, the French government was of the same opinion; it did not follow-up the words of Messrs. Larcher and Accoyer with a clampdown on polygamy. Having multiple wives is illegal under French law, but is allowed under Islamic Sharia law. It is estimated that 30,000 French Muslims have more than one wife and that more than 250,000 people live in polygamous families.
The tolerance of polygamous Sharia marriages is not restricted to France. In Norway, the Islamic Cultural Center Norway (ICCN), an immigrant organization subsidized by the Norwegian state, advises Muslims to take several wives because polygamy “is advantageous and ought to be practised where conditions lend themselves to such practice.” In Britain legislators adopt a liberal approach towards polygamy for Muslim men, allowing tax breaks for their second, third and fourth wives. Last February, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a Conservative Peer of Muslim origin, warned that the growing numbers of Muslim men marrying up to four wives in Britain, is becoming a threat to community cohesion. In the Netherlands, the authorities officially register polygamous marriages by non-Dutch citizens from Morocco, Egypt, Pakistan and other Muslim countries. The Amsterdam municipal authorities admitted that they have even registered Dutch citizens (of Islamic origin) with multiple wives. Belgium, too, recognizes polygamous Islamic marriages. This month, the welfare department of the city of Antwerp announced that 45 welfare recipients have two or more spouses.
Polygamous immigrants abuse the social security system by collecting state benefits for several wives. In France, residence is only granted to polygamous families if the two wives do not live at the same address, which means that these families claim double social housing, family allowances and other social benefits.
The recognition of polygamous marriages of Muslim men indicates that Sharia law is already accepted in many European countries, where polygamy used to be illegal – and still is illegal for non-Muslims. They have implicitly accepted a system of “legal apartheid” with different legal systems for Muslims and non-Muslims. The decision to avoid arresting Muslims during Ramadan “for reasons of religious sensitivity,” thereby treating Muslims and non-Muslims differently, confirms this existence of a dual legal system. It is difficult to see how such a dual legal system can continue to exist on the same territory. Ultimately, one of the legal systems will have to prevail. The decision of the Molenbeek mayor that non-Muslim police officers have to respect the Ramadan prescriptions indicates what the next step will be if Europe’s authorities fail to impose the existing laws of the land on Islamic immigrants: the imposition of Sharia law on everyone, non-Muslims as well as Muslims. While Europe’s Muslims hold their Ramadan, this is something worth pondering for Europe’s non-Muslims.