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After Terror Attacks In Europe, Muslims Still Face Intense Scrutiny

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Muslim communities in Belgium have been under intense scrutiny since the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels. Many of the perpetrators had lived there. Since the attacks, there have been efforts to improve community relations. But Belgium's far-right party and a mixed message from a government minister might be having the opposite effect. Teri Schultz has more from Brussels.

TERI SCHULTZ, BYLINE: Since the attacks, Brussels has acquired a reputation as a jihadist hotbed, but that generalization doesn't paint the whole picture.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Calling to prayer in Arabic).

SCHULTZ: Here, an Islamic call to prayer echoes around a Christian church in the suburb of Etterbeek.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing in foreign language).

SCHULTZ: Later, children of both religions join their voices in song and prayers for peace. This event was organized to foster unity. It's a scene in stark contrast to one described by Belgium's interior minister, Jan Jambon. In the tense political atmosphere after the March 22 terror attacks, he caused an uproar by saying, quote, "a significant part of the Muslim community danced to celebrate the suicide bombings at Brussels airport and the metro station." Muslim social entrepreneur Taoufik Amzile says statements like that stigmatize hundreds of thousands of Belgian Muslims and make the terrorists cheer.

TAOUFIK AMZILE: ISIS is applauding because this is the background materials for their narrative. This is exactly what they need. The message we have sent so many times to the authorities is, you should be really careful with such statements.

SCHULTZ: Amzile says authorities should focus on trying to alleviate the social and economic problems of disaffected young Muslims.

AMZILE: Which is far more important than just looking for two or three youngsters who have danced or probably danced because actually nobody knows of someone danced.

SCHULTZ: But if any Muslims did dance after the attacks, one political party wants that information publicized. The openly anti-Muslim Vlaams Belang has created a website where Belgians can report what their neighbors are doing. Vlaams Belang parliamentarian Filip Dewinter...

FILIP DEWINTER: We started this website islamwatch.net where people can report about facts of Islamization. Every new mosque, every new madrasa, every new halal shop and so on and so on is a sign of Islamization, and we want this Islamization to stop.

SCHULTZ: Dewinter says his group will pass the information on to authorities whether or not the activities are illegal. Thomas Renard researches terrorism at the Egmont Institute in Brussels. He agrees Belgium needs better ways of spotting the early signs of radicalization but says the Vlaams Belang website isn't the way to do it.

THOMAS RENARD: Putting the whole population on duty - I think that is difficult and also potentially counterproductive. With a limited amount of analysts dealing with a large number of untreated information, it becomes really problematic.

SCHULTZ: Renard says IS wants to increase tensions between Belgium's Muslim minority and the rest of the population, and the Islam Watch website could end up doing the terrorists' work for them. Jan Jambon insists he agrees with that sentiment.

JAN JAMBON: (Through interpreter) I have said a thousand times, the worst thing we can do is make an enemy of Islam. We need to see who the terrorists are, and we need to get the rest of the Muslims on our side, not working against us.

SCHULTZ: However, Jambon has refused to take back his remark about Muslims dancing after the Brussels bombings. Belgium's Movement Against Racism, Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia has filed a complaint of hate speech against him. For NPR News, I'm Teri Schultz in Brussels. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.