Attacks in Brussels

Terrorism, “the case of Belgium shows that law is not enough”

Silvio Ferrari, Professor of Canon Law at the University of Milan, explained that Islam in Belgium is a religion recognized by the state, and that the Imams have adopted a Charter of rights and duties. Yet the “system” was not enough, and the attacks of March 22 have dealt a deadly blow to the peaceful coexistence process

Law is not enough. Curbing radicalization and terrorism requires action on several fronts, ranging from educational processes to social conditions, to the involvement of the same religious community, called to “act as a barrier against the internal phenomena of violence carried out in the name of God”. The ” Belgium case” must serve as a reminder. Only a few days have passed since the double bombing in Brussels and the first conclusions are being drawn on the dynamics of what has happened, on possible errors and causes.

Everyone is asking “why”, but it remains a hanging question.

Recognized religious communities in Belgium enjoy a special legal regime”, said Silvio Ferrari, Professor of Canon law at the University of Milan, a leading expert on law and religion in Europe. He has a deep knowledge of the situation in Belgium where the recognized religious communities are entitled, for example, to teach religion in schools and the teachers of this subject are paid by the State. Even the salaries of religious ministers are paid by the State. The recognized religions – a unique circumstance in Europe – include agnosticism. Secular spirituality movements are considered on an equal level as religious communities, whose teachers and officials are paid by the State.

Islam is a recognized religion. The Islamic phenomenon in Belgium was affected by a set of issues, which have been almost completely overcome today. First of all, the fragmentation of the Muslim community made it hard to identify an organization that could represent all Muslims as official counterpart in the relations with the State. “A solution was sought democratically – the Professor recalled – by encouraging Muslim communities to elect their own representatives within a national organism. The elections, held twenty years ago, led to the appointment of radical representatives, thus the board elected by Muslims was eventually dissolved by Belgian authorities.” At the end of a long process, marked by ups and downs, Belgium today features an Islamic representative body, the Exécutif des Musulmans de Belgique, acting as mediator with the State.

The Executive Council has adopted “A Charter on the Ministry of Islamic worship”, enshrining rights and duties.

The Council of Theologians gives the final opinion on the evaluation and the appointment of an imam, who is required to abide by a set of rules: his sermons must not go against the “Constitution and laws of the Belgian people”; his behaviour must be in adherence with the values of Islam, inside and outside the mosque; he must refrain from any form of incitement to hatred, and favour instead the value of “living together” in Belgian society.

Unfortunately, this system is flawed. “As in France and other Countries – Ferrari pointed out – these bodies, created on the encouragement of national authorities, are not considered fully credible and representative by a part of the Muslim community. For them, the Belgian and French States have created a moderate Islamic counterpart, which does not represent them and which came to terms with a secular and lay State that does not fully respect freedom of religion. This is the limit, and the path undertaken so far has delivered positive – albeit not conclusive -results. ” Decisive results can be obtained by expanding the discussion, developing educational processes, and working on social conditions.

“Law can do its part but it remains a limited sphere.”

Ferrari voiced his concern over the scenarios hovering on the horizon. “There is the risk of making an instrumental use of the discourse on the Christian identity of Europe for political purposes, to meet claims in support of closures against members of other religions, exposing the danger of bringing together religion and nationalisms, as is happening, for example, in Eastern Europe.” In all likelihood we shall undertake the path of “greater control –justified by security- of religions along with stronger State intervention in the internal questions of religious communities.” Thus for the near future we should expect a “difficult horizon.” Before concluding, the Professor asked to highlight the “responsibility of religions in the delays in the furthering of interreligious dialogue over the past years. It is an urgently needed dialogue in order to erect a barrier against internal phenomena of acts of violence carried out in the name of God.”