Flanders: Reactions to headscarf ban
See also: Flanders: Public schools to ban headscarves
On Friday the public schools in Flanders decided to ban all religious symbols for both teachers and students. This decision affects about a fifth of all schools in Flanders - 300,000 students. Most of the schools in Flanders belong to the Catholic network which already announced they will not introduce an encompassing ban. (NRC)
In other Belgian headscarf news, two Muslim women were told by a judge in Ghent to take off their headscarf, upon which they left the courtroom. According to Belgian law everybody in attendance should be with an uncovered head. This is not the first time the issue has come up. In a previous case (see here and here), the judge had turned to the arbitration court which decided on Jan. 17, 2008 that no answer was needed.
Antwerp imam Nordine Taouil said he would take legal steps against the headscarf ban and, if need be, open his own Muslim schools.
"We've being given a signal that we're not welcome," responded Taouil . "So we're being forced to set up our own schools."
According to the imam 'Vrije Keuze' (free choice), the Antwerp action group against the headscarf ban has already started classes for girls who refused to take off their headscarf in class. Taouil told De Standaard that it's not a Muslim school, since if anbyody wants to take Catholicism lessons, they'll take the trouble to find a teacher for it.
Selahattin Koçak (SP.A) from Beringen says that he's sick and tired that the Antwerp imam Nordine makes it seem that he speaks for the entire Muslim community in Belgium. That is not so, says Koçak, and certainly not for people of Turkish origin.
According to Koçak imam Taouil just leads prayers for the Antwerp Muslim community and not more than that. He also doesn't believe in Taouil's plans to open separate Muslim schools since there's that would end integration of immigrants in the Belgian community.
The Beringen alderman blames Taouil of having provoked the headscarf ban by ratcheting up the debate about it.
Flemish Minister of Education Pascal Smet urges the Muslim community to think thinks over before setting up their own schools.
"There's naturally freedom of education in Flanders and everybody of fulfills the requirements can found a school," according to Smet, "but I think that schools should be a good mix of society. On the streets children also walk mixed, and it's better if schools would be a reflection of society. Separate schools don't seem to me therefore to be a good option."
On Monday Minister Smet will explain to the Flemish parliament what's going to happen to girls who stay home because of the headscarf ban. These girls are violating the compulsory education law.
The Federation of Moroccan Associations in Belgium rejects the headscarf ban in schools. According to the federation this is an undemocratic decision and discrimination of Muslims which will not advance the relations between the communities.
They're also concerned about what they say is striving to restrain Islam.
The Federation asks that schools first busy themselves with the educational and language problems of immigrant students, which in Flanders is very big compared to elsewhere in Europe, according to a study.
The action group BOEH! (Boss of our own heads) is considering taking legal steps against the ban. "For us this decision is a downright disaster," says spokesperson Kitty Roggeman.
The Minorities Forum, the umbrella organization of ethnic-cultural association in Flanders and Belgium, is deeply disappointed. "This is a black day for democracy," says director Naima Charkaoui.
"This will strengthen polarization instead of deceasing it," respond parliament member Meyrem Almaci (Groen!). She thinks it's particularly a pity that there has been no prior consultation.
Vlaams Belang thinks the headscarf ban is a good thing and demands that the ban be applied to the entire public sector.
The Dedecker List (LDD) is pleasantly surprised by the 'courageous' decision of both the Flemish school authority and the umbrella organization of all Antwerp schools, which decided to ban the headscarf in all their institutions. Flemish PM Boudewijn Bouckaert speaks of a 'very strong signal by people who dared take up their responsibility'.
According to Bouckaert they've understood that wearing a headscarf has nothing to do with freedom of religion but rather everything to do with oppression of the woman in Islam. "It's also positive that the school administrations will not be left on their own from now on against the intimidation of the street or would have to deal with false arguments."
He says that the civil organizations showed the way here where the politicians didn't have the courage to show what they think.
LDD says this is a first step to hold up Flanders as an example of a secular state. Party chairman Jean-Marie Dedecker says that the headscarf ban should be the rule in all public services and buildings. The next step is that all other discriminatory preferential treatments which are permitted in the name of religion will be decisively dealt with.
In Verviers (Wallonia), 50-60 people protested in support of a decision to ban the headscarves in a school in Dison. The protest was organized by Karima, a young woman of Moroccan origins from Verviers, the author of the book 'Unsubmissive and Unveiled'.
The protest was meant to support the Dison municipality which banns the headscarf in schools. Though a court decided Tuesday that students in the school in question may wear a headscarf.
Karima congratulated the school authority in Flanders for their headscarf ban and hopes the decision will be copied in Wallonia.
Sources: De Redactie 1, 2; HLN 1, 2 (Dutch)