The Research Question:
My research will be conducted in Belgium to find out and analyze data on the following questions:
“What are the existing patterns of political interaction between government agencies and Muslims in Belgium? What role does human rights discourse play within these interactions?”
When I look at the patterns of political interaction, I will focus on the conditions, the mechanisms and the actors of these interactions.
The rationale for the case study: Belgium
I am doing this research in Belgium for several reasons:
- The existence of different regions which have different characteristics offer the possibility of carrying out a comparative study. Since the 19th century Belgium is a country of immigration (currently 5 % of the population). There are two different concepts of citizenship in one Federal State (Flemish vs. Francophone): the former being more communitarian based on language, culture and ethnicity (the Dutch model) whereas the latter is based on political will (the French model). There are also two different and competing concepts of integration: In 1974, responsibility for the integration of immigrants was transferred to the regions and the linguistic communities: Flemish community subsidizes and supports migrant organizations in Flanders and Brussels, whereas Walloon and Brussels Regions do not specifically target immigrants as a distinct ethno-cultural group in policy initiatives. Recently, convergence towards more assimilationist policies such as compulsory citizenship and language lessons for non-EU newcomers has been taking place.
- Recognition of Islam as one of the “Official Religions” on 19 July 1974 (along with Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Anglicanism and Orthodox Christianity. Secular humanist groups serve as a seventh recognized “religion”) allowed for institutionalization of Islam at an early stage. Today, political interactions between government agencies and Muslims take place at three different levels, which provides ample opportunities for the researcher to make a multi-level analysis:
- Federal: “Executif des Musulmans de Belgique” (Muslim Executive Council) elections in 1998 (Moroccans overrepresented). In 2004 Turks were mobilized more effectively (40 Turks, 20 Moroccans). Elected members are subject to confirmation by the Belgian government. Main issue on the agenda of the Council has so far been mosque recognition to get financial support.
- Regional: “Charter of responsibilities and rights for a harmonious cohabitation of Brussels populations” aims to provide for the ground rules for coexistence of different groups in Brussels. In 1991 a Mixed Consultative Commission on migration issues was set up. In 1995 it was split into Flemish and Francophone mixed commissions.
- Local: “Consultative City Councils of Immigrants” established in several cities.
I will conduct a multi-level comparative research. In-depth interviews with Muslim representatives from Turkish and Moroccan communities who have been or are still active in the political interactions with government agencies at different levels will be held. Some government officials who have a first hand experience with such interactions will also be interviewed to the extent possible. If time and resources allow, focus group meetings will be organized. Written, audio-visual and electronic material produced by Muslims and the government will be reviewed and analyzed to map out the discourse of the actors about their participation in the dialogue as well as on major issues that were on the agenda of the interactions.