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Op-Ed: Belgian Anti-Semitism

Interview with Prof. Mark Elchardus of the Free Univ. of Brussels: "At the Brussels secondary schools, almost every second student is a Muslim."
Published: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 1:49 AM


“There is a major difference in anti-Semitic attitudes between Muslim students and non-Muslim ones in Dutch-speaking secondary schools in Belgium. About 50% of the Muslim students express anti-Semitic attitudes, as opposed to 10% of the others. These findings resulted from our study in Brussels titled “Youth in Brussels” and studies thereafter in Antwerp and Gent. In general, anti-Semitism is somewhat lower in Gent than in Antwerp and Brussels.

“The youths we studied were generally in the age group of 12-18, while others were above 18. Some studies were based on the age group from 12 years old. Others such as the analysis of anti-Semitism, cover from the age of 14. Surprisingly, we found that the presence of Muslim students was much higher in schools than we had expected. At the Brussels secondary schools, almost every second student is a Muslim. Usually the number of Muslims is underestimated, as they – more often than others – do not answer surveys. This is due to poorer language skills and/or a low interest in society at large in that community.”

Professor Mark Elchardus teaches sociology at the Dutch-speaking Free University of Brussels. His research focuses on cultural sociology. The aforementioned studies were undertaken in the framework of the JOP program, which aims at analyzing views and attitudes of Flemish youngsters in the age group of 12-30.

He remarks: “In our polls, all youths were given the same questions. We inquired about 8 types of anti-Semitic prejudices through polling, both with positive statements such as, ‘Jews can be trusted like anyone else’ and negative ones such as, ‘Jews want to dominate everything.’

“Between 26-36% of the Muslim students agreed with the various positive statements. For non-Muslim ones, the range was between 38% and 58%. From 37- 51% of the Muslims agreed with the diverse negative statements. For other students, the range was between 7% and 18%.

“In the Brussels study, the connection between anti-Semitism and general xenophobia was also investigated. Among native Dutch students this correlation is rather weak. Anti-Semitic attitudes are thus distinct from general xenophobia. We also found that among these students, anti-Semitism is much less widespread than prejudice or negative attitudes toward Muslims.

“It is difficult to study the correlation between general xenophobia and anti-Semitism among descendants of non-Western immigrants. They are mainly Muslims. Xenophobia is usually measured concerning aliens or immigrants. That analysis is difficult to apply to non-Western immigrants who see themselves as descendants of immigrants, or aliens in Belgian society.

“Our study in Brussels led to a lively debate in the Flanders Parliament. That resulted in the request for a further study in the two largest Flemish cities, Antwerp and Gent. Parliamentarians also asked us to indicate how one could combat the undesirable findings through education.

“From the Muslim community, we received extremely negative reactions. The same was the case from a number of non-Muslims who present themselves as ‘defenders’ or ‘spokespeople’ for the Muslim communities. Some even said that I was a racist. A Muslim organization complained about me to the Center for Equal Chances and the Fight against Racism. This complaint was thrown out. Yet it took their legal expert about a month to reach that conclusion.

“Muslim organizations are meant to play a major role in the integration of Muslims in society. It is regrettable that none of these organizations condemn anti-Semitism, or the very negative attitudes toward homosexuals our studies in Antwerp and Gent found. Nor did any of them announce that they would provide informal education for the Muslim youngsters who have these prejudices. In short: Muslim organizations either denied our studies’ findings, or remained silent about them.

“This denial is always expressed in the same way: ‘Muslims cannot be anti-Semites, as Israel’s behavior justifies all Muslim attitudes toward Jews.’

"After the publication of the second study, a new form of denial appeared concerning both anti-Semitism and hatred of homosexuals. An absurd claim was made that the findings of the studies are false, because when one talks to Muslims, one finds that they have no prejudices and are well integrated in society. This denial of truth by Muslim leaders who are responsible for helping build society is discouraging and also alarming.

“Anti-Semitism among non-Muslims occurs mainly among the socially weaker segments of society. Yet anti-Semitism among Muslim students is not a function of social and cultural factors, such as parents’ income and education, or the type of school the youths visit. The sole relevant factor is Muslim traditionalism. For instance, 12% of progressive Muslims agree with the statement ‘it is best to avoid Jews.’ Among conservative Muslims, this percentage rises to 46%. There are however few progressive Muslims.

For every 8 progressive Muslims, one finds 100 conservatives.

“We did not mark a difference between Muslim anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism. The prejudices concerning these were the same. This is however, a subject which merits further study.”