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Belgian prison. Photo supplied

Religion above the law?

In view of the fact that the number of foreigners in Belgian prisons remains disproportionately high, mainstream parties have tried to minimize the political impact of the facts.

Published: July 28, 2022, 10:50 am

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    Non-European newcomers place their faith above the law in Flanders, according to the results of the Living Together Barometer (Samenleven). This proportion is even higher in Brussels.

    In Flanders, 9 percent of second-generation citizens of non-European origin believe that the law can be broken in the event of a conflict between law and religion, De Standaard and Het Nieuwsblad reported on Tuesday. This observation is based on the results of the study published by the Flemish government at the request of the Flemish Minister for Cohabitation, Bart Somers (Open VLD).

    The political aim of the barometer with regard to diversity in Flanders and Brussels, was to present a picture of unproblematic ethnic realities.

    A person is considered a “newcomer” or a “person of foreign origin” if he or one of his parents was born abroad. People born in Belgium from foreign parents are considered second generation, while those born abroad are considered first generation.

    In the questionnaire, the section on citizenship particularly concerned the separation of church and state. In the survey carried out during the first quarter of this year, a representative group of residents of Belgian and foreign origin spoke about the possibility of breaking Belgian laws which are not compatible with the requirements of their religion.

    Notably, Flemish and Brussels residents of foreign origin born in Belgium (second generation) are more likely to have this opinion than their parents. The results of the Barometer show that in Flanders the number of second generation foreigners (9 percent) is higher when it comes to a belief that breaking the law is in conflict with religion than the first generation (8,5 percent).

    In Brussels, the difference is even more flagrant with 13,2 percent of members of the second generation who place religion above the law against 7,6 percent for the first generation.

    This position is not reserved for citizens of non-European origin since the Flemish and Brussels residents of Belgian origin also believe that Belgian law should make room for religious rules. In Flanders, this is the case for 1,2 percent of those surveyed and 5,4 percent in Brussels.

    The ban on ritual animal slaughter that applies in Flanders and Wallonia is, for example, a law that clashes with religion. In the Brussels Parliament, an ordinance on this subject was rejected last June.

    The survey did not focus on any particular religion, nor did it say whether people had major or minor offenses in mind.

    “Thanks to the barometer, politics can get to work, without taboos,” the spokesperson of Bart Somers told Standaard. “Respect for the rule of law is an essential cornerstone of society. We will not move an inch on this point. This is why we pay a lot of attention to it, both in the integration policy and in the plan for living together.”

    The spokesperson added: “I also want to emphasize that the vast majority of citizens, regardless of their origin, respect the rule of law.”

    Vlaams Belang reject survey

    For the Vlaams Belang, there is no place in society for newcomers who put their faith above laws. “The recently published results of the Samenleven barometer show that 9 percent of second-generation newcomers believe their religion takes precedence over the law,” said Flemish MP Sam Van Rooy . “Anyone who wants to stay here must be loyal to Flanders and embrace and comply with our laws. This 9 percent already show that they are better off leaving.”

    “People may be surprised about this in the media, but it is certainly not surprising,” said Van Rooy. “It is hardly surprising that this percentage is even higher in Brussels, which is known for its impunity. There, 13,2 percent of the second generation think that our laws should be broken. This proves that Islamization is doing its job.”

    “The barometer only shows dark clouds gathering, the reality is much worse,” continued Van Rooy. “Research by the Berlin Center for Social Sciences (WZB) already showed in 2013 that no less than half of Belgian Muslims – because that is of course what we’re talking about when it comes to religious newcomers – are fundamentalists. Some 82 percent believe that Muslims should adhere to a strict interpretation of the Quran, 70 percent believe that the Quran should take precedence over our legislation, 63 percent say ‘yes’ to the question whether the West wants to destroy Islam and 61 percent do not want to have gay friends.”

    “The norms, values ​​and traditions of Islam are completely at odds with ours,” Van Rooy concluded. “The separation between Church and state, freedom of religion, freedom of expression and equality between men and women must not be tampered with.” He said anyone who wanted to live in Belgium and participate in public life must unconditionally conform to Flemish and European culture.

    Prisons are filled with foreigners

    “Almost one in two prisoners in Belgium is a foreigner and about one in three is staying illegally in this country,” according to Member of Parliament Dries Van Langenhove (Vlaams Belang). He had requested the figures from Open VLD Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne on prison populations.

    “Convicted criminals should not serve their sentences in our cells, but as much as possible in their country of origin,” said Van Langenhove

    Of the 10 614 people who were in prison at the beginning of this year, a total of 4 667 did not have Belgian nationality, bringing the number of foreign nationals in the total prison population to no less than 44 percent. “For a good understanding: this figure does not even include those who have dual nationality,” Van Langenhove added. “The ‘top three’ of foreign nationalities in Belgian prisons are Moroccans (861), Algerians (509) and Dutch (363).” He did not specify whether the Dutch citizens in prison were foreign-born.

    Equally remarkable is the fact that a significant proportion of the prisoners reside in the country illegally. “On 1 January of this year, there were a total of 3 204 people, accounting for 69 percent of all detained foreign nationals and almost one third of the total prison population,” said Van Langenhove.

    “Illegal immigrants must be sent back to their countries of origin, much more frequently than is currently the case. And that is especially true when it comes to criminal aliens. The many promises must finally be followed by concrete actions,” continued Van Langenhove. “It is therefore high time that the pressure on the countries involved was increased. Those who do not want to hear must feel.”

    For the Vlaams Belang, convicted criminal aliens must serve their sentences in their countries of origin: “That would not only result in substantial savings, but also offer a solution to the persistent problem of overcrowding in our prisons”, concluded Van Langenhove . “And the prospect of serving a prison sentence in the home country would have a dissuasive effect on potential foreign criminals that should not be underestimated.”

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