EMBASSY OCTOBER 10 IFTAR DINNER -- IDENTITY ISSUES STILL A MAJOR CONCERN FOR MUSLIMS

Identifier: 
06BRUSSELS3488

UNCLAS BRUSSELS 003488

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KISL, SOCI, BE
SUBJECT: EMBASSY OCTOBER 10 IFTAR DINNER -- IDENTITY ISSUES
STILL A MAJOR CONCERN FOR MUSLIMS

1. (U) On October 10, the Ambassador hosted his third Iftar
dinner since arriving at post in 2004. He will host a fourth
dinner on October 16. In welcoming the guests, the
Ambassador noted that the Embassy was working actively to
maintain close ties to the Muslim community, as witnessed by
the November 2005 Muslim Outreach Conference in Brussels.
These contacts had proven especially valuable during the past
year, when events such as the Danish cartoons, the French
riots, and the London bombings had done much to spark
inter-communal conflict.

2. (U) As during the previous dinners, the guest list
included senior Ambassadors from Muslim countries, and
representatives from the Turkish and Moroccan communities,
the two dominant groups among Belgium's 450,000 Muslims. Of
the Belgian guests, community activists predominated.
Discussion of their "street level" attempts to operate in
Belgium's complex society was the principal topic of
discussion.

3. (U) Both the Turkish-origin and Moroccan-origin guests
agreed that community loyalty was a primary motivating factor
in explaining the political behavior of Belgian Muslims.
This loyalty explained some of the more interesting results
of the October 8 local elections. Many Muslim local
councilors gained their seats solely because of the
preference votes they received from fellow Turks or fellow
Moroccans. Although they deplored it greatly, the guests
knew of few instances in which Turks had voted for Moroccans,
or vice versa. The resulting lack of unity among Muslims
dissipated the community's strength, as did a continuing
generational split between the first generation and the
second and third generations.

4. (U) Several of the guests described imaginative efforts
their organizations are undertaking to promote a better
relationship with Belgium's non-Muslim majority. The
representative of one group described plans for a
"pilgrimage" in early May in which Muslims, Christians, and
Jews would take part in informational programs at a mosque, a
Catholic church, and a synagogue. A female guest who had
participated in the embassy's 2005 dialogue between Belgian
and American Muslims expressed gratitude for the contacts she
had developed with American co-religionists. Other
participants in the dialogue and its follow on programs
expressed similar sentiments.

5. (U) The Muslim country ambassadors noted that their
citizens all fared differently in Belgium. There were, for
example only about 550 registered Indonesians in Belgium.
They were concentrated almost entirely in the north, and
looked toward Holland for jobs and community. The
2,000-2,500 Egyptians here included missionaries from Al
Azhar. The 5,000 Iraqis in the country paid more attention
to developments at home, than to participating in Belgian
life. The Moroccan community, which numbered between
250,000-318,000, was the biggest single Muslim group in the
country; a more accurate count would probably find 500,000
Moroccan-origin citizens, according to the Moroccan
ambassador.

6. (U) In addition to the Egyptians, almost every major
Muslim country attempted to provide some sort of
officially-sanctioned religious leadership to its community
in Belgium. The Moroccan community was especially active
during Ramadan, and was looking for ways to do more during
the rest of the year. That said, the Moroccans were sending
Arabic teachers to work with the broader Moroccan community.
Korologos
.