Fifth column: About a boy

Summary

The widespread reaction to the recent death of a teenager on holidays in Morocco has shown that the line between being tough on immigration and inciting racist reactions is a fine one

Political divide

Just as The Economist announced that it saw a new political divide emerging between people who stand for an open and welcoming society and those who want to erect walls around their countries, a nasty side of this divide reared its head in Flanders.

The report of the death of a 15-year-old-boy from Genk in a quad accident while on holiday in Morocco resulted in a number of now-infamous racist reactions on a Facebook page. “Is this what a Fleming looks like?” one user wrote about the teenager, who was of Moroccan descent. Other, more rancid, reactions were variations on the “one less Moroccan” theme.

The Facebook page was soon taken down as reactions were immediately condemned by politicians from all sides. “These people need help,” Flemish youth minister Sven Gatz (Open VLD) tweeted. SP.A party president John Crombez called the reactions “sickening”. Minister-president Geert Bourgeois (N-VA) noted that “there is much work to do before we arrive at a shared citizenship and an inclusive society”.   

But soon the political discussion turned sour, as opposition SP.A and Groen pointed the finger at N-VA for inciting racism. Theo Francken (N-VA), secretary of state for migration and asylum (pictured), in turn blamed “the left’s open border policy” for growing racism.

The discussion was not just a Twitter fight during silly season. Migration and security are set to dominate the political debate in years to come in Flanders, with N-VA taking the lead. In recent weeks, the nationalists have proposed limiting freedom of speech around terrorism and introducing a “Patriot Act”.

Ritual slaughter – without stunning, as is customary by Muslims during Eid al-Adha – has come increasingly under fire for reasons of animal welfare. N-VA, so it seems, has shifted its focus from social and economic demands to migration.

Some observers believe this shift is inspired by the recent rise of Vlaams Belang, the far-right party that had shrunk to irrelevance in recent years. Attracting former Vlaams Belang voters helped N-VA to unseen electoral successes – but at least part of them are turning their backs on the party.

One N-VA tactic in winning back voters is attacking its coalition partner CD&V as being naive and pandering to Muslim voters. There is a fine line, though, between being tough on immigration and inciting racist reactions, as the death of a teenager demonstrated last week.

Photo courtesy Theo Francken/Facebook