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The Head Scarf And Islamophobia In Europe

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Excerpt from the Washington Post (You’ll need to register to view it, but it is for free):

“Ten days ago, a 31-year-old Moroccan-born immigrant to Belgium quit her job at a prepared foods factory in the small town of Ledegem. Her decision was the result of several months of intimidation, beginning in November when her employer, Rik Remmery, received an anonymous letter. It claimed to be his “death warrant” unless he fired his “fundamentalist” Muslim employee — or made sure that she removed her head scarf.

A few days later, a second letter arrived, repeating the threat. Another came, putting a $326,000 bounty on Remmery’s head. When a further envelope showed up containing a bullet, Remmery and his wife became truly worried. Although they had stood by Naima Amzil, their employee decided to ditch her head scarf while she worked. It was a wrenching decision for her. “A piece of me has been taken away,” she cried.

It wasn’t the end of her ordeal, though. After two more bullets showed up in the mail, Amzil finally decided to quit the job she had for eight years rather than endanger either her life or her employer’s.”

Such news cannot escape my attention, although I have heard many. So far I have failed to get myself used to this kind of news though. I am Muslim, living in Europe, and do not wear head scarf for my own reasons. But what is the matter with these head scarves? Are they not simply clothes?

On the last Women’s Day, a group of women protested on how Muslim men forced the women to wear headscarf by putting Muslim clothes on a statue in Budapest. Of course they have a right to do so, as I have the right to criticize them. The action showed a cultural ignorance instead of the defence of human rights. No one forced anyone to put on anything. Clothes are closely related to culture. I can imagine we would have been as eccentric sightseeing in Iraq wrapped in a bikini as well as those Muslim women with their scarf in Europe. Anyhow, we would have needed a lot of sun block cream to protect our skin from having sun burned there with bikinis. Another example; we cannot force Indian women to get rid of their Saris and begin to wear Levi’s; I daresay.

Religion, to some points, is also a product of culture. Thus I cannot deny that the decision to wear something is based on it as well, which means that some women wear head scarf due to their religiosity. However, that is beyond man’s control. It is one’s own responsibility with God if s/he believed in any.

Surely it would be a tough job to distinguish whether something belongs to religious symbol or not nowadays. I noticed older women in Hungary also have custom to wear head scarf; not exactly the same style like the Middle Easterners; but quite similar to those worn by Muslim women in South East Asia. And I doubt that the French law which bans Islamic headscarves and other religious symbols from its state schools would come out fairly. Head scarf and cross necklace might be easily identified; although I cannot see what is wrong with wearing them; but would every lad who shaved their head a la Vin Diesel not be able to attend state schools because they resemble Buddhist monks?

More from the article:

“Islamophobia is a new phenomenon in modern Europe. In the early 1970s when I lived in Britain, Muslim women in France used to tell me how their neighbors admired their “stylish turbans.” Turkish women in Berlin and Cologne would flaunt their head scarves, which their own country’s ultra-secularist government had banned from many public places. Some Arab women arriving at Paris’s Orly Airport would take off the veils they were obliged to wear in their homelands. They did so of their free will, not because of Europeans’ negative reactions to their cultural peculiarities.

In fact, 30 years ago Muslims were rarely recognized in Europe as a religious group at all. In Britain, Muslims were usually identified by ethnic and national labels — Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Kashmiris and so on. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that Britons began to refer to them as Muslims. In the last five years, the cultural symbols that distinguish Muslims have come to be mistakenly viewed as symbols of Islamic extremism.”

For this matter, I have no explanation, unfortunately. I only hope tolerance and understanding will enlighten us all.

For peace in this world

Note: I got this link from a mailing list. Full-text of IHF Report “Intolerance and Discrimination Against Muslims in the EU – Developments Since September 11”
(160 pages, March 2005) is available free.

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About Ayu

  • SFC Ski

    It is not as simple as you have made it out to be.
    In one case, a woman is considered an extremist because she wore a head scarf, but in her community she might be considered a whore for NOT wearing one. Even more complex, some Muslim women wear the veil or headscarf because she sees it as a sign of adherence to her religion, but her sister could chafe at being forced to cover her hair, there is no one answer.

    Men do have it a bit easier, or so it would seem, but in many Muslim countries, you would not see a man walking around in shorts, for example. In some places, a man cannot cut his beard, or wear western clothes, it is unfortunate that cultural/societal pressures bring this about, and that western unfamiliarity with ME culture makes every little difference into a larger symbol of fundamentalism.

  • Ayu

    I’d say that depends on which Muslim countries do you mean. That’s why I stated on my post that clothes are related to the culture. I come from South East Asia (Indonesia) where Hindu and Buddha had been the previous common religions before we knew Islam. Thus made our culture views the head scarf differently. Until a few years ago, the government banned the using of head scarf in the state offices, for example. But now as the country becoming more democratic women can wear anything they like as long as it fits the occasion. It is the opposite from what is going on in Europe nowadays. There are various reasons why men cannot wear shorts though. In some places it’s considered to be impolite, for example. But they still wear them for special occasion, such as football.

  • SFC Ski

    Well, it would be great to hear more about the Indonesian Muslim culture. I am really only familiar with the ME Muslim culture, and I’d say that is true for most of us Westerners here on the forum.

  • Ayu

    As any other religion, Muslim believes on Koran; as well as Christian with Bible and Buddhist with Tripitaka. What I mean is that although there are Muslims around the world, they hold the same value based on Koran. But again, those values are adjusted into their own customs. Now Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim populated country, where you can see a woman wearing head scarf walking hand in hand with another one in mini skirt.

    As for myself, I am not a very religious person so I don’t mind that France bans the Muslim students from wearing scarf due to its secular reason; when it’s really fair (others also cannot wear their religious symbol. What I’m really afraid is this Islamophobia. Although, I think you are right, SFC Kfi. Most people I met were mistaken me for being Chinese rather than a Muslim.

  • The intimidation by certain groups of the Muslim lady seems to be the key issue here, not her mode of dress.

    In re the cultural trappings of religion, Sir V S Naipaul, with his books ‘Beyond Belief’ and ‘Among The Believers’ – which shall be reviewed at length soon – has looked at the incongrousness of tribal, desert customs being enforced in lands far from their origin, and where the original purpose has little meaning.

  • Ayu

    Sorry for mistyping your name anyway 🙂

  • Ayu

    That’s it, Aaman. But usually people decide whether a woman is Muslim or not by her clothes (head scarf is the easiest symbol, maybe).
    I’m looking forward to read the reviews.

  • Samii

    i just wonder why women have it harder than men, even though in Islam they are guaranteed to have a higher status than men?