Joe Van Holsbeeck, the 17 year old boy who died after being butchered with a knife by North African youths in Brussels Central Station last week, was buried today. Muslim immigrants distributed home baked bread during the funeral. Joe was savagely stabbed to death Wednesday a week ago when he refused to hand over his MP3 player to the North Africans. Immediately after the assassination the police inquired whether Joe had made any “racist remarks” whilst been mugged, but Joe and his family and friends were not racists. On the contrary.
Joe’s parents opted for a memorial service instead of the traditional funeral Mass. The parish priest of the Catholic St. Elisabeth Church of the Brussels borough of Haren told Belgian radio this morning that the parents wanted to ensure that “immigrants would not feel excluded at the funeral service.” The priest did not hand out the Holy Eucharist to the mourners, but the immigrant neighbours of the Van Holsbeeck family distributed home baked bread. This, the priest explained, was “a sign of fraternity” between Belgians and immigrants.
Joe’s killers have not been caught yet. Some doubt whether they ever will. The North African youths who slaughtered a 16 year old black boy in a similar fashion last January, have not been found either. Yesterday Senator Jean-Marie Dedecker, a member of Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt’s Liberal Party (VLD), wrote in an op-ed article in De Standaard, a major Brussels newspaper, that the Belgian police, when confronted with criminal immigrants, all too often “look the other way in order to avoid being accused of racism.” Dedecker called Joe’s murderers “thugs.”
The maverick Senator was reprimanded by Verhofstadt and Interior Minister Patrick Dewael because he had ignored the government’s appeal for “calm and serenity.” According to Verhofstadt Dedecker is “inciting hostilities.” The senator replied that “One has to have the courage to say that these murderers are scum.” He feels this is the only way to counter Belgium’s main opposition party (which is also the country’s largest party), the Flemish secessionist and “islamophobic” Vlaams Belang (VB). Another leading Liberal, Herman De Croo, the Speaker of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives, said Dedecker is a “poujadist” and a “populist” – two qualifications which are often applied to the VB as well.
Earlier this week school friends of Joe’s launched a petition asking the authorities “to initiate a dialogue with young criminals” and warning against racist politicians. Isabelle Kumps, one of Joe’s friends, said that Joe was an anti-racist. “He would have been horrified if his death were to be exploited by a political party.” She regretted, however, that half the commuters in Brussels Central Station flatly refused to sign the petition. “They tell us to our faces: ‘Next time I am going to vote Vlaams Belang. That will be a greater service to Joe.’”
Yesterday Marc Joris, a VB politician who is a member of the provincial council of East Flanders, criticised an initiative of VLD Governor André Denys against arms possession. The authorities are worried that more and more Belgians are arming themselves because they feel they are no longer adequately protected by the police. It is illegal to carry arms in Belgium, where even a pepper spray is considered to be an illegal weapon. According to Joris bearing a weapon can be a protection against crime. “There is no proof that societies are safer when citizens are not allowed to carry arms,” Joris said. Governor Denys retorted: “I am the Governor of East Flanders, not of Texas. […] I do not want to live in such a society [where citizens are allowed to possess arms].”