Friday, 18 January 2008

Europe’s far right calls for ban on mosques

Far-right groups in Belgium, Germany and Austria today launched a drive calling for a ban on the building of new mosques in order to stop the spread of radical Islam in Europe.

Belgium's far-right Vlaams Belang has joined with radical groups from Austria and Germany to launch a Charter to, “fight the Islamisation of West-European cities.” They announced their new coalition Thursday in the Flemish city of Antwerp. Vlaams Belang’s Filip Dewinter told Radio Netherlands Worldwide, “"We are not opposed to freedom of religion but we don't want Muslims to impose their way of life and traditions over here because much of it is not compatible with our way of life."

Tensions between Muslim communities and the majority populations in Western Europe have been growing in recent years as these largely secular societies struggle to absorb populations with deeply held religious beliefs. The crisis has been exasperated by incidents such as the 2004 murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh (a relative of Vincent Van Gogh) by a jihadist after Van Gogh made a movie dealing with violence against women in Islamic societies. Tensions between Muslims and the secular Dutch have been particularly strong since then.

The Vlaams Belang coalition is calling for a moratorium on new mosques, which they say, "act as catalysts for the Islamisation of entire neighbourhoods." In order to spread their movement, the groups plan on holding rallies in European cities with high immigrant populations.

Radio Netherlands spoke with two Muslims in Antwerp’s multi-cultural Borgerhout neighbourhood about the charter. One seemed to dismiss the radical groups as not worth paying attention to, while the other expressed real fear about what the future holds for Muslims in Europe.

El Fetri, a Moroccan shopkeeper, told the radio network, "It's pure provocation. I have Belgians, East Europeans, Jews and Muslims coming in and out of my shop, there are no problems with integration here…I am a Muslim but that doesn't mean that I don't live by the rules of this country."

But local shopkeeper Mohammed told the network, "I've lived here for almost 40 years. Me and my children are perfectly integrated but these kinds of campaigns worry me. In ten years' time, it won't be possible for us to live side by side like this anymore."

The increased tensions are also being met by efforts on the other side. Last week the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe (FIOE) launched its own Charter to promote better understanding of Islam in Europe, according to Radio Netherlands. It was signed in Brussels by Muslim organisations from 28 European states with the aim to "enhance the values of mutual understanding, working for peace and the welfare of society, moderation and inter-cultural dialogue, removed from all inclinations of extremism and exclusion."

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