This article is part of the Media Monitoring Highlights of November, a monthly overview of the most significant results of our monitoring of traditional and new media in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, and the United Kingdom.
Date of publication: 17 November 2019
Media outlet: Facebook page of Vlaams Belang, Flemish right-wing populist and nationalist political party
Politician: Tom Van Grieken
Description of the anti-Muslim and xenophobic content: On November 10th, a building which was set to serve as an asylum center was purposefully set alight in the Belgian city of Bilzen. There were no victims involved and the perpetrators are currently unknown. However, some politicians and journalists associated the incident with political party Vlaams Belang, supposing that the perpetrators were party supporters. This was in part because a photo on Twitter showed around 15 demonstrators behind a Vlaams Belang banner proclaiming “No asylum centre in Bilzen.” In response to these claims Tom Van Grieken, current chairman of the party, spoke on the issue at Vlaams Belang’s presidential congress this month: “What is unbelievable, is the selective indignation of the political establishment. Those same politicians who now point at our party with an accusing finger, are the ones who say after every Islamic terror attack: ‘We have to wait for the investigation. It is probably a confused man. But it has nothing to do with Islam. We can certainly not draw any conclusions’.” Van Grieken then continued by mentioning that traditional parties accuse the Vlaams Belang for creating a division within Belgian society. He states that this is untrue, and that it is instead irresponsible immigration policy and traditional parties that are creating a division within the country. He claims that it is the traditional parties and not Vlaams Belang who are responsible for the rise of ghettos in Belgium, and that traditional parties are also the cause of ‘Islamisation.’ Similar points were raised by Chris Janssens, chairman of the Vlaams Belang block in the Flemish Parliament, on Twitter.
Myth debunked: The arson attack which happened at the to-be asylum centre in Bilzen currently does not have an identified perpetrator and thus the media must be careful with pointing fingers. In this regard, Van Grieken and Janssens do have some legitimacy; however, it is the way in which this issue was handled which is troubling. Van Grieken is taking an event, which we can safely assume is a xenophobic arson attack, and linking it with Muslims and the supposed ‘Islamisation’ of Belgium. This undermines the events that took place and creates a negative and hateful narrative around Belgian Muslims, despite them having no connection with this specific event. Moreover, Van Grieken uses this as a chance to spread anti-Muslim ideas, which include the far-right theory of ‘Islamisation’ and the blatant negativity in regards to immigration. It is precisely this type of rhetoric which led many journalists to assume that the attack in Bilzen was likely caused by Vlaams Belang followers. While, as stated before, this is not an ethical assumption to make, it does speak to the current nature of Belgian politics. Vlaams Belang sees Muslim communities in Belgium as a problem which must be dealt with. Through the Get The Trolls Out! project, we have highlighted this party in the past, for example when they posted a false xenophobic news piece on their official Facebook page. This is a political party which received the second largest amount of votes in the 2019 elections and thus holds a large amount of power in Belgian politics. It is also a party which has displayed, on numerous occasions, clear anti-Muslim and xenophobic rhetoric which can not and should not be taken lightly.
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