The Need for National Unity The Belgian Lesson
By Paul M. Weyrich
March 01, 2007
Free Congress Foundation
When Americans think of Belgium — if they do so at all — they probably think of a small European country lying between the borders of the Netherlands, Germany, France and even smaller Luxembourg. Occupied by the Nazis during World War II, Belgium became the center of operations for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which located its headquarters in the capital city of Brussels in 1967.
More recently, the European Union and its associated parliament and economic organizations located their headquarters in Belgium. (Of slightly less importance in Belgian history, though appreciated by film fans everywhere, is the fact that Belgium gave the world a lovely young woman named Audrey Hepburn. Belgium also produces some of the best chocolates in the world and over one hundred beers.)
Belgium is in many ways an artificial state because it is composed of three distinct groups of people from three different cultures that historically have not always gotten along. Since 1993 the French-speaking population, or Walloons, which are primarily Roman Catholic, the tiny German-speaking population and the Flemish-speaking regions each have had their own parliament under a loosely federalized system of government, under the somewhat titular King of the Belgians. On paper, that sounds workable and could imply that Belgium is a model government in which plural interests are recognized at the local level but a federal government reigns supreme. Unfortunately, the reality is quite different.
According to the highly regarded philosopher Roger Scruton, who has written extensively on the issues of multiculturalism in Western Europe, Belgium today is a seething political mess. In the same country where the European Union holds forth on European unity, the most popular political party in the country, now called the Vlaams Belang, has been banned.
The Vlaams Belang also is known as the Flemish Nationalist Party inasmuch as it favors separatism somewhat in the way that Czechoslovakia divided into the Czech Republic and the Republic of Slovakia. Clearly, the Belgian state views that as a threat. In order to defeat the Party in 2000 the Government extended the vote to non-citizens, most of whom are Muslim immigrants. The Vlaams Belang still won 24% of the vote. And so in 2004, the Cour de Cassation or Supreme Court in Brussels declared the predecessor of the Vlaams Belang, called the Vlaams Blok, to be a criminal organization guilty of racism.
Its only crime was success in too many elections on a platform of Flemish nationalism, anti-socialism and against current Belgian immigration policies. When the Vlaams Belang continued winning elections funds were cut off. This will make it impossible to campaign and, according to the Partys leader in Antwerp, Flip Dewinter, when coupled with the rising number of voting immigrants the de-funding eventually will achieve the Governments goal of completely eliminating its main opposition.
Imagine if this could happen here, if the Democrats could eliminate the Republican Party by labeling it racist and taking away its funding! (Oh, wait. That is what they might like to do, but a lengthier discussion of this subject will have to await another column.)
Across most of Western Europe — but especially in France, Germany and Belgium — immigrants from the various countries of North Africa as well as Turkey and the Middle East have been steadily arriving since the 1960s. As Muslims, most of these immigrants have remained in separate areas of their host countries, shopping in their own stores, marrying within their own group, building mosques in traditional Eastern architectural styles, and in some cases, taking advantage of traditionally generous European governments with their cradle to grave social-welfare policies.
To even mention the possibility that this might not be good for the existing population of Western European Christians or that some of these immigrants might be Islamic fundamentalists and sympathetic to the goals of men such as Osama Bin Laden is to trigger instantaneous condemnation. In Belgium today rejecting the paradigm of multiculturalism means being branded a criminal and a racist.
It always has amazed me when left-wing governments or their representative political parties accuse their opposition of intolerance. What could be more intolerant than criminalizing ones opponents? What could be less democratic that changing the laws and allowing non-citizens the vote in order to win an election? Who is more intolerant than leftists, who condescendingly believe that only they have the answers to societys problems? This is what a coalition of various socialist and liberal parties in Belgium want everyone to believe: that wanting to limit the number of immigrants in a society means one is a racist.
If this has a somewhat familiar sound it should. Many of our United States, especially in the West and Southwest, today are overrun with illegal immigrants, mostly from Latin America. Yet anyone calling for true immigration reform or the actual enforcement of laws already on the books frequently is labeled a racist. Suggesting that it might not be a good idea that the vast majority of public school children in Texas and California are Hispanic and that their parents may or may not be legal immigrants is intolerant and even cruel according to the left-wingers.
Immigration or the policy of allowing new people into a melting pot such as the United States is difficult enough, but in a country already fragmented such as Belgium, which was artificially cobbled together out of sections practicing two main religions and speaking three languages, it is virtually impossible. Disbanding the Vlaams Belang is the equivalent of shooting the messenger who delivers the bad news. Will the Republican Party in the U.S. be next?
Marion Edwyn Harrison is President of, and Counsel to, the Free Congress Foundation.
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