Sunday, 19 February 2006: Discussion/exchange: No clash, exchange instead
't Werkhuys, Zegelstraat 13, 2140 Borgerhout (Antwerp - Belgium) - 13.30-16.00 pm

Stop islamophobia

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An afternoon of exchange among women about the so-called “clash of civilisations”, the media and alternatives.

The media commotion about the so-called “Mohammed cartoons” does not leave the Actiecomité Moslimvrouwn Vlaanderen and FC Poppesnor untouched. Because in the current macho-discussions our voices remain unheard, and because we're no exactly planning to wait until they listen to us, we are organizing our own meeting. We invite all women to a discussion afternoon on Sunday February 19th, between 13.30 and 16.00 pm in 't Werkhuys, Zegelstraat 13 in Borgerhout.

On February the 3rd De Standaard reported that according to the Danish prime minister Rasmussen the cartoon row ceased to be an enmity between Copenhagen and the muslimworld, but had turned into a conflict between free speech in the West on the one hand, and taboos in Islam on the other. Most of the media, politicians and commentators take up this refrain and warn once more for the “clash of civilisations” we are witnessing. In these last weeks they have all been very busy loudly defending freedom of speech and the values of the enlightenment.

The fact that the heart of the matter is pushed out of sight, testifies once more that a western feeling of superiority prevails in its relationships to other parts of the world. Since the attacks of September 11 an entire religious community has been stigmatised and criminalised by equating its religion with terrorism. The diffusion of the “Mohammed cartoons” by the Western media needs to be understood in the light of this global phenomenon. A genuine defence of the values of the enlightenment should instead inspire European policy makers and politicians to work for a world free of racism and recognise islamophobia as a form of racism. After all the European member states have signed the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discriminations. Instead of building up a suggestive “clash of civilisations” perspective, Europe would be better off to critically evaluate its foreign policy.

Like the Lebanese publicist Rami G. Khouri we do not believe that the issue is really about the European freedom of press. Instead, as Khouri writes, it is "about a desire of the Arab-Islamic world to liberate itself of the Western and Israeli yoke, diplomatic double standards and aggressive neo-colonialism." (De Standaard, 9/2/2006)

In De Morgen of February 8 we saw a beautiful example of such “double standards” close to home. An op-ed of the VLD president Bart Somers pleaded "for the fact that each person must have the right to realise his or her own life-plan, to study what one wants, to marry whom one wants, to exercise the profession one desires, to have children yes or no, to being able to express one's opinion without fear." It is, however, also Somers who recently charged the youth centre Rzoezie and threatens to take away its funding, because one of the members of the youth centre’s board spoke publicly about the racism of the police force of the city of Mechelen. And the proposal of Somers' party to ban the headscarf excluded even more muslim women from a job or a training of choice. Let alone the VLD-supported impossibility of those individuals among us who are not even considered as humans anymore but as “illegals” to realize their own life-plan.

The very selective way in which Somers practices the “fundamental liberal rights” he propagates, points to what many (at least in flanders) really want to protect and consolidate in this commotion over the cartoon: the right of “autochtons” to deny “allochtons” full citizenship. This is motivated by racist motives, as the construction of and emphasis on differences between white people (“autochtons”) and coloured people (“allochtons”) in such discussion shows us again and again. Not unlike the times of the enlightenment, today some people are considered more as “humans” than others, with grave consequences for the exercise of human rights.

The Actiecomité Moslimvrouwen Vlaanderen en FC Poppesnor are disappointed by the lack of responses from the left and from the broader women's movement. These last years we experience daily that women and women's organisations are increasingly influenced by a right wing discourse which has become the order of the day. Solidarity between “autochton” and “allochton” women is increasingly put under pressure and undermined through the polarisation in multicultural debates. Yet “allochton” women these days are most struck by issues that have always been a priority to the women's movement; i.e. the struggle against, among others: exclusions from full citizenship, the demand to “adapt” to the values and norms of a dominant group, discrimination on the labour market and in education, wage inequalities, etc.

But the voice most loudly heard in the public debate in this respect is that of the right-wing publicist (and feminist) Mia Doornaert, who remains painfully blind for the profoundly discriminating and racist character of islamophobia which is becoming more and more normalised and embedded in our societies. We do not want to live in a society which considers “the right to insult” as its highest right and makes racism and islamophobia “an opinion” among others. Although for some years now politicians are calling for a “serene dialogue”, this is systematically undermined by such islamophobe and racist “opinions” and the hard work of many women's and other organisations is crushed time after time. As concerned women's organisations with their home grounds in the right-wing city of Antwerp, we want to call upon women (organisations) to gather the forces and work together towards 'doing' society (samen-leven).

The Vrouwen Overleg Komitee (VOK) subscribed to this text.

Translation from Dutch: Sarah Bracke

Contact

Actiecomité Moslimvrouwen Vlaanderen: bestuuramv [at] hotmail.com
FC Poppesnor: fcpoppesnor [at] collectifs.net


location: 't Werkhuys, Zegelstraat 13, 2140 Borgerhout. when: 13.30-16.00 pm
click here for a printable route description (PDF - 179kB).

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