Antwerp: Who really wants the headscarf?

The following article was written by Marij Uijt den Bogaard , a former social worker working for the Antwerp municipality. She was fired after writing reports warning about radicalization in the Muslim community. The article originally appeared on Brussels Journal in Dutch.


The discussion in Antwerp about the veil by the counter is beginning to be hilarious.

It's not only about the attitude of Muslim women but also about the way in which politicians react and the media reports about it.

First let's put the facts in order.

The Antwerp city council mentions in the council agreement that due to the diversity of the philosophies, civil servants who come in contact with citizens from now on must leave any external signs of religious conviction.

This isn't to the liking of several Muslim groups. Yet before there was talk of the only organized protest, De Standaard reported already in December 2006 the opinion of a Salafist organization. Before the city decides on regulations regarding the headscarf they should come talk with them. In the beginning of 2007 several women's organizations combined to create BOEH and came out to protest the clause in the council agreement.

The media played a remarkable role in this protest. Taking into account the total number of women present, in comparison with the total number of women who walk around with a headscarf, it seemed like good news, that most women accepted the regulations. Only a limited number showed up for the protest, certainly in comparison to the high number of women in Antwerp who walk about with a headscarf. In contrast to the impression that the media gives, there's barely any protest of Muslim women against the council agreement.

It's also simple to to explain. Within the Antwerp Muslim world there are many subgroups, with stark differences among them, but also similarities.

One of those is the geographic origin of the homeland, the first immigrants from Morocco and Turkey were mostly poorly educated villages with a strong cultural Islam. Most of the immigrants who followed still share this background, which partially explains their poor social and economic situation. Families which started here hold on to the tradition and identity that they have built up here. This means that the husband is usually the breadwinner and that women shouldn't work. They do the housework and take care of the children. This mentality still exists for the first traditional subgroups. Within these groups there is also little interest of the city's decision that according to the BOEH women discriminates against women on the job market. There don't plan to be part of the labor market. They choose wholesale for the traditional female roles and are often encouraged to do so.

Naturally this doesn't hold for every Antwerp Muslim. There are female Muslims who do work, who owe their success in great measure to education, an ability to adapt to the business culture and employer expectations versus religious convictions and their own cultural background.

A pity that no photographer present at the protest took a picture of the lonely Naima Lanji standing outside the ring of protesting women. She made a stand, this municipal councilor without a headscarf, contradicting in essence all the arguments of the protesting women.

But apparently this escaped the attention not only of the women but also of the press, who preferred giving attention to Mrs. Miri, who would like to ban Christmas trees and Easter eggs! As if her headscarf has anything to do with it, Miri doesn't see that she's walking about with the guillotine of women's rights on her head. According to all signs, she doesn't understand what it's about.

It's about the question if she takes up the opinion that because she thinks a headscarf is obligatory, this right holds for always and everywhere, above the expectations of a diverse society. She demands that her convictions get priority above the diversity of life-convictions of all other Antwerp residents. If we choose for that, demands such as those of Mrs. Miri will interfere more and more with our environment. And this will clash in a protest of those who don't share the opinions of Mrs. Miri and sisters and don't want to do so in the future.

That protest is taking form, as can be seen from the planned protest in Brussels. It is remarkable that an organization such as AEL can say in the media without problem that this is about a protest of the extreme right, racism and hate against other cultures, religious convictions. That it totally not so, since most Antwerp residents are welcome, as long as their culture doesn't repress ours, or their conviction doesn't include pushing away those of others. The statements are threatening for many Antwerp residents and Flemish and testifies that there's little readiness for dialog or self criticism. Meryem Kacar's statements shows this as well, comparing the critical attitude of the Flemish to the holocaust and denying every form of criticism by calling it simplistic perception. this offends and stigmatizes a large part of the Flemish population and this type of statements are picked upon by less and less people.

The Antwerp city Council would do well to look at the connection and networking between women who rise up for their right to continue wearing the headscarf everywhere because it's obligatory and between organizations that also have this issue high up on their agenda. This would give insight into whom people are dealing with and what this is about. The issue is much more pressing than the extent to which a headscarf is allowed or not. The current bandanna discussion is also absurd [Antwerp agreed to allow daycare workers to put on a bandanna]

The city council will not get information about the networking of organizations with radical standpoints via this or the other intelligence service. This information must be collected at mosques and organizations, who show how the subgroups are organized. And especially through the experience of fieldworkers, who often know well who works at integration and wants a diverse society and who only pursue their own agenda, helped by unknowing politicians and supported by a media that puts political correctness above objective reporting. Hopefully you will be able to laugh about it before it's forbidden as well.

Maybe you'll be allowed to smile, just as you'll be allowed small Easter eggs and Christmas trees.

Source: Brussels Journal (Dutch)


Anonymous said...

It seems a bit flawed for Marij Uijt den Bogaard to base her opinion that most women accept the regulation on the attendance at a protest. Also, if the reason to ban the headscarf was because of its religious significance, it seems perfectly acceptable for Christmas trees, Easter Eggs, and anything else which is religiously significant to also be banned. Otherwise it would appear that the law was targeting Muslims and other expressions of religion are acceptable, which shouldn't be the case.

Anonymous said...

That is fair. If muslim women remove their headscarves I'll take the Christmas tree off my head.