Paul Belien: "If I get hurt blame Father Leman" : Publisher of 'Brussels Journal' becomes target of left and media
May 16, 2006
During the past few weeks I have been under attack from the Belgian Left and the media. In February the editor in chief of the mass circulation weekly Knack (a supposedly centrist publication) wrote a piece entitled "Paul Belien and His Pals," claiming that I was part of a neo-con conspiracy, led by Daniel Pipes (whom until then I had never met or spoken) and the Danish journalist Flemming Rose (of the Muhammad cartoons), who wanted "to anger radical but also moderate Muslims into violent action. Their [=the conspirators'] goal is to persuade public opinion in Europe and America once and for all that all Muslims are violent and dangerous, so that the ‘clash' [=the world war against Muslims] in Palestine, Iran and Syria can really kick off."
This goal, according to Knack, would be the real reason why The Brussels Journal reported about the Danish cartoon affair (although in our reporting we have always stressed the important role of moderate Muslims – which, if we did not believe moderate Muslims existed, we would not have done).Johan LemanToday Father Johan Leman, a Catholic priest of the Order of Saint Dominic (the inquisition order) and a professor at the Catholic University of Leuven, has joined the chorus. Father Leman is the previous president of the CEOOR (Center for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism), the inquisition center of the Belgian government. In today's news broadcast on the national radio he says that the CEOOR has been negligent because it has not already started prosecutions against me.
According to Father Leman I have incited racial hatred, with the result that extremist or unbalanced people, such as Hans Van Themsche, have decided to take the law into their own hands and shoot immigrants. Father Leman blames the Belgian authorities and the CEOOR for not punishing me. In the reverend father's own logic, if his hate speech against me should lead to extremist and unbalanced people threatening or hurting ("punishing") me in any way he is the culprit.
Do words make reality, or do experiences create ideas?
Within hours of the shooting political fingers were pointing at Vlaams Belang, the Flemish nationalist party that some have hailed as the only real Flemish alternative, or rigidly condemned as a right wing, proto-fascist experiment.
Crisis, death and murder come about on the crossroads of irascibility, they are the outcome of a terrifying balancing act, walking the tightrope of life. That act may end in uncreation, in not-being, life being destroyed without any conscience or a superego imposing itself upon the person. A world given to No-within. Who is to be blamed for that process, that crossing of the most individual threshold that is called our conscience, that emptiness within? Society at large, our teachers, our politicians, our presscorps, the catholic technocrats, or must we blame the advocates of that singular peace which has brought war to minds of men, and unrest to the streets? Is it Vlaams Belang, or must we cover the heads of our parents with ashes, chastise the children, who will be our scapegoat?
Oscar Laurens Schrover 2006
Belgians Seek Roots of Racist Crimes
By John Ward Anderson
ANTWERP, Belgium, May 19 -- When 18-year-old Hans Van Themsche was expelled from his boarding school dormitory for smoking, police officials here say, it pushed him over some existential edge. He shaved his head, bought a Winchester hunting rifle, put on a black leather trench coat and wrote a note saying he was going to kill foreigners. Then he went on a shooting rampage in the narrow cobblestone streets of this ancient port city.
First he shot and critically wounded a Turkish woman wearing a head scarf as she sat on a bench reading a book. Then he calmly walked down a street and turned his gun on a black, 24-year-old nanny from Mali and a 2-year-old white toddler in her care, killing them instantly.
Police say that a plainclothes officer caught up with Van Themsche a short time later. After the teenager ignored orders to drop his weapon, the officer shot him, wounding him in the stomach.
The May 11 rampage was the worst in a string of racially motivated crimes that have rocked Belgium in recent weeks. Mainstream politicians, religious leaders and human rights activists have warned about a dangerous rise of intolerance. Many of them blame that atmosphere on Vlaams Belang, or Flemish Interest, a xenophobic and hugely popular separatist party in Flanders, the northern part of Belgium. Members of Van Themsche's family hold prominent positions in the party.
"It was not only a racist murder but a political one, because the guy who did it was from the circles of an extreme right party and was influenced by their ideology," said Meryem Kanmaz, a political scientist at the University of Ghent's Center for Islam in Europe.
A swelling tide of immigrants from Africa and the Middle East is fueling frustration among the majority populations in countries across the continent. "Europe is not ready to accept that our societies are multicultural," Kanmaz said. "Today, the European identity is a European one and a Muslim one, too, and if they don't accept that, it leads to discrimination."
Vlaams Belang is the successor to Vlaams Blok, a Flemish party that was outlawed in Belgium two years ago on the grounds that it was a racist, criminal organization. Frank Vanhecke, the head of Vlaams Belang, condemned the May 11 killings and said opponents were trying to link them to his party to undermine its surging popularity before municipal elections in October.
"Nobody has the right to hold us morally responsible for these events," he told a party congress shortly after the shootings.
Some politicians and activists are using the murders to try to strip Vlaams Belang of the government funding received by every political party in Belgium. But analysts say that even as other parties express alarm at the group's growing appeal -- it received 24 percent of the vote in Flanders in 2004 elections -- they are moving closer to some of its xenophobic positions.
"Since 1994, other political parties, such as the Christian Democrats and the Liberals, have been saying the same sorts of things" against immigration, "so there is a validization of the racist way of seeing things," said Christian Desert, a spokesman for the Brussels-based Movement Against Racism, Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia.
"There is a social crisis here, like in other European countries," Desert said, "and if the politicians can't find political solutions, some try to find the solution with foreigners by saying they're the problem."
Philippe Van Der Sande, a Vlaams Belang spokesman, pointed to foreigners as the problem but said that the party had never advocated violence against them.
"People are fed up with crime in our cities and radical Islamists who don't accept integration and won't assimilate and accept our Western democratic society, and so those are things we want to change with our policies," he said. "Do we have a multicultural Europe or one that is based on Jewish-Christian values?"
Human rights activists say the recent upsurge in violence against foreigners in Belgium may have been set off by the killing last month of a 17-year-old white boy by people who robbed him of an MP3 player in the central train station in Brussels, the capital. The teenager's assailants were initially reported to be African, but two Poles were later arrested and charged with his murder.
On May 6, two men -- one a French citizen of African descent -- were savagely beaten after walking past a bar frequented by skinheads in Bruges, about 50 miles west of Antwerp. On May 10, the body of a Moroccan man who had been in a fight with skinheads at an Antwerp disco was found in a nearby river.
Van Der Sande said that Van Themsche was not a member of Vlaams Belang but that his aunt represented the party in the Flanders legislature. The suspect's father is also a local party leader, officials said.
"He apparently wanted to commit suicide, and he played a lot with violent computer games, and he went to a shop and bought a gun and started shooting around with it," Van Der Sande said. "Such a murder has no racist motives. He was probably mentally disturbed."
Sven Lommaert, a police spokesman, and Dominique Reyniers, a spokeswoman for the Antwerp prosecutor's office, gave nearly identical descriptions of the crime, as did Van Themsche's two attorneys.
On the Monday before the killings, Van Themsche was caught smoking in his dormitory room at a boarding school in Roeselare, about 60 miles southwest of Antwerp. That led to his automatic expulsion from the dorm, according to Bart Herman, one of his attorneys.
Shortly before he left Thursday morning, he shaved the top of his head, leaving long strands of hair hanging from the back, and wrote a letter to his parents saying that he was going to kill some foreigners and commit suicide. "I don't want you to be hurt by my expulsion," the letter said.
Van Themsche traveled to Antwerp, legally bought the rifle and then, at about noon, shot a 43-year-old Turkish woman as she sat on a park bench about 200 yards from the city's famed Gothic Cathedral of Our Lady.
"I heard a loud noise and I jumped from my chair -- I thought it was fireworks," said Stephanie Van Demberk, 22, an intern at a nearby architectural firm.
"I went to open the door, and the shooter passed by me right outside. He was very tall, and he was wearing a long leather jacket down to his ankles and carrying a big gun," she said. "It was a very warm day, very sunny and nice. He walked by like he was going grocery shopping. A woman started screaming and he stayed the same, walking like nothing was happening. "
Van Themsche walked another 200 yards down the cobblestone streets and shot the nanny and the toddler, who was on a small bicycle, witnesses said. The plainclothes police officer confronted him shortly after that.
During his interrogation, Van Themsche "confirmed that he sympathized with the extreme right side of our political landscape" and "declared himself to be a skinhead," said Reyniers, the prosecution spokeswoman. He did not explain why he killed the small girl, she said, "but in the opinion of the investigating judge, the girl was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Reyniers said law enforcement officials were investigating whether Van Themsche was acting out a scene from the video game Grand Theft Auto.
He has been charged with two murders and attempted murder and is being held at a prison hospital. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison. Belgium has no death penalty.
Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt called the killings "a terrible and cowardly act" of "extreme racism."
His spokesman, Didier Seeuws, said that gun control legislation introduced in February had been expedited and, if approved as expected, would require new background checks, a mandatory "cooling off period" and other safeguards