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 city.
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 personnel.”
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.