Belgian minister warns Brussels attacks hearing that the continent should not ‘make an enemy of Islam’
Muslims will ‘very soon’ outnumber practising Christians in Europe, a Belgian minister claimed yesterday.
Koen Geens, the justice minister, told the European Parliament the continent ‘does not realise this, but this is the reality’.
At a hearing by MEPs into the Brussels attacks, the Belgian deputy prime minister Jan Jambon added that ‘the worst thing we can do is to make an enemy of Islam’.
The remarks follow claims by Mr Jambon in the wake of the suicide bombings that ‘a significant section of the Muslim community danced when attacks took place’.
Speaking before the Parliament’s justice and home affairs committee yesterday, Mr Koens said the EU needed to realise a shift in population was taking place.
‘In Europe, very shortly we’re soon going to have more practising Muslims than practising Christians,’ he said.
‘That is not because there are too many Muslims, it is because Christian are generally less practising.
‘Europe does not realise this, but this is the reality.’
Mr Jambon, who also serves as the country’s interior minister, added: ‘I’ve said a thousand times, the worst thing we can do is to make an enemy of Islam. That is the very worst thing we could do.
‘We have 600,000 to 700,000 Muslims in Belgium and the overwhelming majority of those people share our values.
‘To make an enemy of all of those people, we really will be creating problems. We need to see who the terrorists are, who supports the terrorists, what networks are there to support them.
‘That is who we need to tackle and we need to get all of the rest of the Muslims on our side not working against us.’
Mr Jambon was accused of stoking tensions with Belgium’s Muslim community after he claimed there was ‘dancing’ after the attacks that killed 32 at Brussels airport and an underground station in the city.
In the interview with a Belgian newspaper on 16 April, he also accused Muslim residents of the Molenbeek district of attacking police officers during an operation last month to arrest Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam.
Several of the terrorists involved in both the Paris and Brussels killings lived in the neighbourhood that has a large Muslim population.
‘They threw stones and bottles at police and press during the arrest of Salah Abdeslam. This is the real problem,’ he said.
‘Terrorists we can pick up, remove from society. But they are just a boil. Underneath is a cancer that is much more difficult to treat. We can do it, but it won’t be overnight.’
Last night a spokesman for Mr Geens refused to provide evidence to back up his claims on the number of practising Muslims. She said: ‘His comments were very clear, I will not say anything more.’
The EU’s official statistical body Eurostat said it did not compile figures on religion.
But European Commission figures from 2012 show that, across Europe as a whole, 72 per cent of people identified themselves as Christian compared to two per cent who said they were Muslim.
In Belgium the figures were 65 per cent and five per cent respectively.
Although the numbers actually practising their religion may vary wildly, it is not known if such figures exist.
The Belgian ministers’ claims do not tally with the assessments of most respected analysts of religions and their numbers of followers.
The country’s national census has never counted religious groups – unlike Britain’s – so independent surveys are the only source of information.
A number of studies have suggested that Muslims make up around five per cent of the country’s population.
A key study is the religious population project carried out by the Washington-based Pew Research Centre.
Last year it projected that the number of Muslims in Europe, including Russia and Ukraine, would increase by 63 per cent between 2010 and 2050.
This increase would mean the Muslim population of Europe would rise from 43.5 million to nearly 71 million.
Christian numbers in Europe, Pew said, would drop over the same period by 18 per cent from 553 million to 454 million.
In Belgium, the study said that of the 10.7 million population 6.9 million are Christian and 630,000 Muslim. In 2050, it projected, this would changed to an overall population of 11.1 million, with 5.9 million Christians and 1.3 million Muslims.
The study is based on people who identify themselves as Christians or Muslims, rather than the much less precise category of who is ‘practising’ either faith.
Researchers said the rapid projected growth in the number of Muslims was due to a higher fertility, younger populations and migration.
Mr Jambon and Mr Koens both offered to resign following the 22 March attacks on Brussels, but they were refused.
Mr Koens yesterday complained about how Belgium had been ‘violently attacked’ for its ‘weak and inadequate’ handling of the attacks. He insisited the criticism was ‘an insult’ to his country.
Thousands gather in Brussels to commemorate victims of attack.