*Islamicization of Antwerp
By Paul Belien
March 14, 2007
The decisive battle against Islamic extremists will not be fought in Iraq,
but in Europe. It is not in Baghdad but in cities like Antwerp, Belgium,
where the future of the West will be decided.
I recently met Marij Uijt den Bogaard, a 49-year-old woman who deserves
America's support at least as much as Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Ms. Uijt den Bogaard was an Antwerp civil servant in the 1990s, who
spent many years working in the immigrant neighborhoods of Antwerp. There
she noticed how radical Islamists began to take over. "They work according
to a well-defined plan," she says.
One of the things Ms. Uijt den Bogaard used to do for the immigrants was
to assist them with their administrative paperwork. Quite a few of them
came to trust her.
About three years ago, young men dressed in black moved into the
neighborhoods. They had been trained in Saudi Arabia and Jordan and adhere
to Salafism, a radical version of Islam. They set up youth organizations,
which gradually took over the local mosques. "The Salafists know how to
debate and they know the Qur'an by heart, while the elderly running the
mosques do not," she said They also have money. "One of them told me that
he gets Saudi funds." Because they are eloquent, the radicals soon became
the official spokesmen of the Muslim community, also in dealing with the
city authorities. Ms. Uijt den Bogaard witnessed how the latter gave in to
Salafist demands, such as the demand for separate swimming hours for Muslim
women in the municipal pools.
Worried immigrants told Ms. Uijt den Bogaard what was happening. On the
basis of their accounts and her own experiences she wrote (confidential)
reports for the city authorities about the growing radicalization. This
brought her into conflict, both with the Islamists and her bosses in the
The city warned her that her reports were unacceptable, that they read
like "Vlaams Belang tracts" (the Vlaams Belang is Antwerp's anti-immigrant
party) and that she had to "change her attitude." The Islamists sensed that
she disapproved of them. They might also have been informed, because there
are Muslims working in the city administration. One day, when she was
accompanied by her superior, she was attacked by a Muslim youth. Her
superior refused to interfere. When she questioned him afterward he said
that all the animosity toward her was her own fault.
In the end she was fired. She is unemployed at the moment and gets
turned away whenever she applies for another job as a civil servant. Last
week, she learned that city authorities have given the job of integration
officer, whose task it is to supervise 25 Antwerp mosques, to one of the
radical Salafists. Meanwhile, the latter have threatened her with reprisals
if she continues to speak out.
After her dismissal Ms. Uijt den Bogaard went to see Monica Deconinck, a
Socialist politician who is the head of the Antwerp social department, to
tell her about the plight of the Muslim women. Ms. Deconinck said, "You
have taken your job too seriously and tried to do it too well," adding that
she cannot help, although she sympathizes. Ms. Uijt den Bogaard also went
to see Christian Democrat and Liberal politicians. They also refused to
help her because they are governing the city in a coalition with the
Socialists. The only opposition party in town is the Vlaams Belang.
According to Ms. Uijt den Bogaard, the reason why the Socialists, who
run the city, allow the Islamists to do as they please is because they want
to get the Muslim vote, which is controlled increasingly by the Salafists
who are in the process of taking over the mosques.
In a letter to city authorities she wrote: "You employ workers to
improve social cohesion in the city's neighborhoods. But if you do not want
to know what is damaging social cohesion, then you need not bother sending
those workers!... Employees who are confronted with this problem [of Muslim
radicalization] and investigate are silently removed, losing their income
and their reputation. That is censorship in the fashion of political
dictatorships. As a former member of your services I am shocked to find
myself in this position and to discover after years of service that you
have no policy whatever, either political or with regard to your
Sadly, what is happening in Antwerp is not unique. The Salafists employ
the same strategy in other European cities. They boasted to Ms. Uijt den
Bogaard about their international network and their successes in
neighboring countries. While the Americans fight to secure Iraq, Western
Europe is becoming a hotbed of Salafism.
/Paul Belien is editor of the Brussels Journal and an adjunct fellow
of the Hudson Institute./