Election Of Muslims A Start To Changing Gop’s Image; Dupage Party Aims For More Diversity

By John Biemer Tribune staff reporter No one would mistake a gathering of DuPage County Republicans for the United Nations, but the party took a significant step last week toward shaking its image as a party dominated by “old white-haired men” when Moin Moon Khan and Esin Busche were elected township trustees. Party officials say as far as they can tell, Khan, an Indian-born longtime Chicago-area activist who works as a computer network administrator, and Busche, a Turkish-born chemist, are the first Muslim Republicans elected to public office anywhere in the state–and a symbol of the party’s new outreach effort in a rapidly diversifying county. “This is a small office, and for me it may be a very small individual achievement,” said Khan. “However, I think it’s a giant milestone for the minority communities in general and the Muslim American community in particular.” Rasheed Ahmed, coordinator of the Illinois Muslim Political Coordinating Council, also called their elections “an important milestone,” but noted that there are hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Illinois–and an estimated 6 million to 8 million across the United States. “It’s only natural,” he said. “I’m not surprised. One could say perhaps that it’s even late.” Khan, who lives in Lombard, won a York Township trustee seat last week with 12.6 percent of the vote. He finished last out of the four Republicans elected trustee, beating out Bob Wagner, who came closest of four Democratic trustee candidates with 11.8 percent of the vote. Busche, who lives in Naperville, was elected Naperville Township trustee last week with 17.9 percent of the vote–also last among four Republicans elected to that office, but five points ahead of the closest Democrat. Republicans won every one of the 72 township offices on the DuPage ballot in last week’s municipal election, so having the support of such a well-entrenched political organization didn’t hurt. Both Khan and Busche served as GOP committeemen for a handful of years before making their runs. Muslims don’t tend to naturally gravitate to either party, Ahmed said, because there are parts of both the Democratic and Republican positions that appeal to them. But Khan pledged as a candidate to reach out to a variety of immigrants that he says make up a sizable chunk of the tax base in his district, although they are underrepresented in government. That message resonated beyond the Muslim community–but so did Khan’s decades of work for such organizations as the DuPage Minority Caucus, the Asian American Institute and the Council of Islamic Organizations in Illinois. “I’ve seen him as a person who’s concerned with the welfare of people and such,” said Shanker Pillai, president of the Hindu Chinmaya Mission in Hinsdale. “And in this time of religious and social animosities developing, he’s stood beyond those barriers.” Asian populations in DuPage County have skyrocketed in recent years–growing by 80 percent from 1990 to 2000. As of 2000, Asians made up 7.9 percent of the suburban county, according to the U.S. Census, almost as much as the even faster growing Hispanic community–another group wooed by both political parties. DuPage Democratic Party Chairwoman Gayl Ferraro said her party also has tried to tap into the intensifying political activity of Asian immigrants in recent years. She points to Chodri Khokhar, chair of the Bloomingdale Township Democrats–a Muslim Pakistani immigrant. “We always welcome everybody into our party; we’re very diverse,” Ferraro said. “I’m kind of colorblind when it comes to all that stuff.” Republican officials concede that the GOP did not do a great job in the past of reaching out to new communities. But Paul Hinds, chairman of the York Township Republican Party, said the time has come for the party to better reflect the constituency. “We get pegged too much as 70-year-old white-haired men. That’s a stereotype we always have to work against,” he said. “That’s not what we are.” Still, there were risks involved. Khan acknowledges that Hinds may have displeased some party loyalists when he pushed Khan to run for the post. And party leaders questioned how voters would receive the candidates–noting that their vote counts did lag behind other Republican office-seekers. “I’m not going to kid anyone,” said state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale), chairman of the DuPage County GOP. “I was worried that someone named Moon Khan would lose to someone named Susan O’Brien or Robert Wagner. But if Barack Obama could win, Moon Khan should clearly win, and he did.” “I know my name was quite different from other people,” Busche said in agreement. “But I tried to introduce myself to people in my community. I guess people, once they get to know you, the name doesn’t play any part.”

Fear of Islamists Drives Growth of Far Right in Belgium

ANTWERP, Belgium – Filip Dewinter, a boyish man in a dark blue suit, bounds up two flights of steep stairs in his political party’s 19th-century headquarters building where posters show a Muslim minaret rising menacingly above the Gothic steeple of the city’s cathedral. “The radical Muslims are organizing themselves in Europe,” he declared. “Other political parties, they are very worried about the Muslim votes and say let’s be tolerant, while we are saying – the new political forces in Europe are saying – no, we should defend our identity.” From the Freedom Party in Austria to the National Front in France to the Republicans in Germany, Europe’s far right has made a comeback in recent years, largely on the strength of anti-immigration feelings sharpened to a fear of Islam. That fear is fed by threats of terrorism, rising crime rates among Muslim youth and mounting cultural clashes with the Continent’s growing Islamic communities. But nowhere has the right’s revival been as swift or as strong as in Belgium’s Dutch-speaking region of Flanders, where support for Mr. Dewinter’s Vlaams Belang, or Flemish Interest, has surged from 10 percent of the electorate in 1999 to nearly a quarter today. Vlaams Belang is now the strongest party in Flanders, with support from a third of the voters in Antwerp, the region’s largest city. Many people worry that the appeal of antiIslamic politics will continue to spread as Europe’s Muslim population grows. “What they all have in common is that they use the issue of immigration and Islam to motivate and mobilize frustrated people,” said Marco Martiniello, a political scientist at the University of Li_ge in the French-speaking part of Belgium. “In Flanders all attempts to counter the march of the Vlaams Belang have had no results, or limited results, and no one really knows what to do.” Fear of Islam’s transforming presence is so strong that even many members of Antwerp’s sizable Jewish community now support Mr. Dewinter’s party, even though its founders included men who sympathized and collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. Many of those supporters are Jews who feel threatened by a new wave of anti-Semitism emanating from Europe’s growing Muslim communities. The friction is acutely felt in central Antwerp, where the Jewish quarter abuts the newer Muslim neighborhood of Borgerhout. There, Hasidic diamond traders cross paths daily with Muslim youths, for many of whom conservative Islam has become an ideology of rebellion against perceived oppression. Israeli-Palestinian violence produces a dangerous echo here: anti-Israel marches have featured the burning in effigy of Hasidic Jews, and last June a Jewish teenager was critically wounded in a knife attack by a group of Muslim youths. “Their values are not the right values,” said Henri Rosenberg, a Talmudic scholar and lawyer who is an Orthodox Jew, speaking of the Muslim community. Though he is the son of concentration camp survivors and his grandparents died in camps, he campaigned on behalf of Vlaams Belang, then named Vlaams Blok, in regional elections last year. As the right rallies beneath an anti-Muslim banner, European Muslims themselves have become increasingly politically engaged. The community is far too divided along religious, racial and national lines to present a unified political force, so most of Europe’s Muslim politicians have allied themselves with socialists or other left-leaning parties. But radical Muslims are also getting involved, and in many ways they are helping to validate the fears that keep parties like Vlaams Belang alive. Behind the wooden door of a brick Brussels town house, Jean-Fran_ois Bastin, 61, a Belgian convert to Islam, holds court before a steady stream of Islamic activists. His fledgling Young Muslims Party is one of the new groups aggressively pursuing pro-Muslim agendas in Europe. He calls Osama bin Laden “a modern Robin Hood,” and the World Trade Center attacks “a poetic act,” “a pure abstraction.” His 23-year-old son is in jail in Turkey on charges that he was involved in the bombings there that killed 61 people in November 2003. But Mr. Bastin argues that his son’s troubles are evidence that Muslim youths feel politically excluded in Europe. He says political engagement is an antidote to militancy. “There is deviance because people don’t find their place here,” he said, a long, hennaed beard falling over the front of his Arab-style tunic, his graying hair tucked beneath a turban fashioned from a multicolored head scarf. “If we deny that political voice that can judge and determine what is good for Muslims, from the point of view of their religion and their citizenship, their children are going to look for adventures elsewhere.” Mr. Bastin, who converted to Islam in 1972 after a spiritual quest led him to Morocco, dismisses the far right’s fears of an Islamization of Europe, even if he does dream of an Islamic theocracy governing the Continent someday. “Were not talking about Shariah now,” he said, referring to the Islamic legal code that fundamentalist Muslims believe should be the foundation of society. “Were talking about Belgian Muslims being recognized on the same footing as other confessions and ideologies.” In many ways radical Islamists like Mr. Bastin are holding Europe’s broader, moderate Muslim population hostage, attracting attention disproportionate to their numbers. “You have, in the current context, people who feel legitimized being anti-Muslim,” said Mr. Martiniello, the political scientist. He cited the case of a Belgian man who had received death threats for employing a woman who wore a Muslim head scarf. Many of the extreme right’s supporters see Islam’s growing European presence as the latest, most powerful surge of a Muslim tide that has ebbed and flowed since the religion spread to the Continent in the eighth century. They warn that lax immigration policies, demographic trends and a strong Muslim agenda will forever alter Europe. The Continent’s Muslim population, now 20 million, grew from a postwar labor shortage that was filled with workers from North Africa and Turkey. By the 1980’s economic malaise and rising unemployment had created tension between the largely Muslim immigrants and the surrounding societies. But family reunion policies, which granted visas to family members of immigrants already in Europe, fueled another, more sustained wave of immigration that continues today. “We were very na_ve,” Mr. Dewinter said of the liberal policies. He called tolerance Europe’s Achilles’ heel and immigration Islam’s Trojan horse. The trend is even more distressing to the far right when considering the low birthrate of Europe’s traditional populations and the likelihood that more workers will need to be imported in the coming decades to broaden the tax bases of the Continent’s aging societies. Already about 4,000 to 5,000 Flemish residents are leaving Antwerp every year, while 5,000 to 6,000 non-European immigrants arrive annually in the city, Mr. Dewinter said. Within 10 years, he predicts, people of non-European backgrounds will account for more than a third of Antwerp’s population. “It’s growing very, very fast,” Mr. Dewinter said. “Maybe that will be the end of Europe.”

Dutch Muslims Find A Voice – Of Reason?

The establishment of a political party to represent Muslims in the Netherlands is as welcome as it is overdue. But it also entails very real risks. The announcement by columnist Mohammed Jabri that moves are afoot to launch a political party for Dutch Muslims by the beginning of summer should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed events in the Netherlands in recent years. The Muslim Democratic Party (MDP) could be a real force for good if it plays a positive role. It should forthrightly defend aspects of Muslim life that are worth defending; help spread understanding and acceptance of Muslims among the native Dutch and vice versa; and perhaps most importantly, expose as a lie the convenient myth that Muslims are the root of all that is wrong or bad in the Netherlands today. On the other hand, if the MDP fails to get off the ground, embroils itself in extremist rhetoric or suffers the internal disputes that have set the anti-immigration LPF on the way to an agonisingly slow self-destruction, the consequences would be terrible. Politics would be seen by many in the Muslim community as a dead-end, leaving imams and radical thugs to represent the community. Already there are daily reports of young Muslim men – a minority, but an active one – in the major cities who look on the native Dutch as the enemy and fair game for crimes of theft. It is common for unveiled women, both Muslim and native Dutch, in parts of Amsterdam to be branded “whores” and “sluts” by self-righteous Muslims. But giving Muslims a real voice on the political stage – and who knows, perhaps a seat at the Cabinet table – would go a long way to helping Muslims to look on Dutch society as their society also. A Muslim party would have real potential: there are an estimated one million Muslims in the Netherlands and the number is growing. Muslims and Islam are the topics of the hour as a decidedly one-sided debate rages about how far Muslims should be willing – and according to some critics, forced – to integrate into Dutch society. Islam’s chief Dutch critics in Parliament, Geert Wilders and Hilbrand Nawijn, are vying with each other for the title of “Champion of Liberal Democracy” who will lead a modern day reconquista to compel Muslims here to become Dutch or get out. There is no coherent voice on the Muslim side to represent the other side of the case. We hear daily from Muslim clerics who have rightly avoided getting into politics proper. And occasionally the Arab European League (AEL) issues a statement, but it seems to be more concerned about the situation in Iraq and the Palestinian issue than about what is going on in the Netherlands. Echoing the wider-scale tragedies in those parts of the world, the brutal murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh last November has brought home to people in the Netherlands the damage that even one wannabe martyr can inflict. The State security service AIVD has estimated that there are 100 to 200 extremists in the Netherlands prepared to use violence to defend Islam. But for all their apparent zeal, they remain an unrepresentative minority within the Dutch Muslim communities. And in turn these communities – Turkish, Moroccans, Iraqis, Afghans, Somalis and others – are seriously under represented in the Lower House of Parliament. The Muslims that have made the step into politics have done so under the banner of one or other of the main Dutch parties. Since their parties have been falling over themselves since 2002 to prove they can dish out tough love to Muslims, Muslims have not surprisingly lost interest. The need to balance the political scales was reinforced at the start of January when MP Nawijn – the first minister for Immigration and Integration from 2002 to 2003 – said that Muslim schools should be banned. None of the established political parties uttered any semblance of protest. Our erstwhile champions of liberal freedoms didn’t seem to think there was anything wrong with Nawijn’s assertion that the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion should only apply to Christian and Jewish schools – because Dutch society, he said, was a Judeo-Christian one. He forgot to mention that until Indonesia got its independence from the Netherlands in the 1940s, Islam was the biggest religious group in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. And Nawijn also went so far as to say integration was a waste of time, Muslims had to be made to assimilate. Again his colleagues in parliament didn’t bat an eye lid. He simply ignored the rights and views of the Muslims living here now. Instead, Nawijn – who is trying to ensure a political life for himself after the inevitable demise of the LPF – is flirting with the Vlaams Belang, the successor to the Flemish party that was banned in Belgium for being racist. Jabri and the others setting up the MDP have a right to be scathing about this sort of thoughtless anti-Muslim bias which seems to dominate present political debate in the Netherlands. But let’s hope the MDP chooses the high road and decides to play a positive role. To take the Nawijn-Vlaams Belang road might prove popular in the short-term, but ultimately it would be a dead end and everyone would lose out.

Once, Muslims And Labour Were Natural Allies. Not Now. All My Years Of Activism Have Achieved Little, And The Young Know It

By Pola Manzila Uddin For much of my adult life I have dressed modestly, in shalwar kameez and sometimes saris. Only when visiting places of worship or in the presence of elders did I ever feel obliged to cover my head. However, earlier this year, I wore a scarf on Umrah, a mini pilgrimage, and it somehow felt natural to keep on wearing it when I got home. For me, this was simply an expression of a deepening knowledge of my faith and of my self. The first time I walked into the House of Lords with it on, I could feel the surprise. Some of my Labour friends were wonderful about it. But for others, shock soon gave way to suspicion, and the questioning began. Why was I doing it? When would I stop? Was my scarf a sign of my support of the French schoolgirls who’d been banned from wearing the hijab? And even, had I become a “fundamentalist”? And this from people who had known me, and my politics, for years. It was as if they thought that one piece of silk cloth over the hair changed one’s personality. Since that first day, this little piece of cloth has even coloured how some people receive my work. When I launched a report into faith schools earlier this month, it was suggested that I had an “obsession”, and was demanding more Muslim schools. Even some people who knew that I had sent my own four children to a Church of England school interpreted a simple call for parity as an expression of my new “extremism”. I am disappointed that, after so many years of political activism, so little seems to have changed. But this is not simply a personal disappointment. No one can have failed to notice what the recent election results confirmed – that Labour has lost the confidence of the minority communities, especially Muslims. Take my part of east London: the Respect candidate, coming from nothing to securing nearly 20,000 votes in boroughs where Labour should have walked home. As a party activist for three decades, I am frustrated that the government has come to be seen as complacent. And as a Muslim I am dismayed that there is no strategy to address this loss of support. Everyone has a story about why they feel let down, especially in areas where Muslim communities have settled over decades. Too often one still finds an all-white hierarchy in the town hall presiding over ghettos. Muslims feel powerless to change their communities – communities in which male unemployment is unacceptably high, schools are failing their children, and where inequalities in housing and health persist. And we have to acknowledge the impact of the “war on terror” – the huge increase in the number of Muslims now being subjected to stop and search adds to the feeling that the whole community is being criminalised. For over 50 years the Muslims of this country went about their business, obedient to the core. Our parents’ generation worked, ate, slept, they tolerated being spat at and being told to “go back”. When my generation, their children, grew up, we spoke English, ate fish and chips and became defiant when told to “go back”. That is why so many of us became politically active in the late 70s and early 80s. The Labour party was our natural home. We fought shoulder to shoulder, challenging the fascists on our streets. Our generation believed that we had a stake in Britain; we believed respect and understanding was just around the corner. Labour raised huge expectations when it professed to understand and value the Muslim community. But after September 11 everything changed. Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq has all but destroyed that partnership. The government does nothing to protect us from the onslaught of verbal and physical attacks we face every time there is another bomb explosion, or a further threat of terror attacks. There is a sense of vulnerability, that every savage act carried out elsewhere leads to repression of every one of us on the streets of Britain. It is in this atmosphere that new questions are asked about us, as though we had not been born or grown up here. Muslims are being challenged to prove that they are more British than anyone else. How women wear their clothes, the way men cut their beards and even the company we keep are all now up for debate. Just imagine these questions being asked not in a place of courtesy and kindness, and by your friends, but with real hostility. When one is not understood or respected, how can one begin to explain such complex and often personal choices? I am dismayed by the daily justifications demanded of us just so that some of us can be called “moderates”. Is this what we mean by integration? My 18-year-old son voted for the first time this year, and I know the talk among his friends was anything but Labour. By his age we were demonstrating against the far right; his peers are protesting against Labour – stop and search, anti-terror legislation, and the war in Iraq. We have to prove to them that they are valued by society and that their survival in the mainstream matters to us all. If we don’t, we may lose them to those vile preachers outside mosques and marketplaces. It is in this atmosphere that Shabina Begum’s fight to wear the jilbab to school came to court this week. The judge ruled that the school’s refusal to let Begum wear the full-length gown did not breach her right to education and religion. I wish this case had never come to court – not least because, once it had done so, no other ruling was possible. I admire the school’s commitment to meeting the needs of local pupils, 80% of whom are Muslim. The uniform policy was only implemented after consultation, and I would defend the school’s right to apply it. However, the school was wrong to cite health and safety concerns. This gives credence to the spurious, yet increasingly commonplace argument that Muslim girls are hampered by their clothes (and thus, by implication, by their communities and by their religion). This is absurd. In court it became clear that the school’s real concern was that Begum’s jilbab would create a hierarchy of piety among the pupils. I have seen for myself that where the majority of Muslim schoolgirls wear scarves there is peer pressure to comply. But the question we should be asking is, why is it that some of our young people are vulnerable to pressure to identify themselves as more Muslim than others? On my pilgrimage, I was struck by what is said as you enter Mecca (I paraphrase): “You are forbidden from covering your face.” And yet there were thousands who did. The fact that more young British Muslim women are choosing to wear scarves is not a phenomenon imported from aboard – what we have is what we have created. And in some respects we should welcome these developments, because they show that the Muslim community is returning to political activism, and trying to reclaim the agenda. For the major political parties this should be a time for reflection, because the clear message is that no vote is to be taken for granted. Labour must work out who it should be talking to within the community. Fine, talk to the imams, but also recognise that the vast majority will never see one except on religious occasions. Meanwhile there are professional men and women in every sphere who are denied a voice. Let’s give them a one. I have banged my head against this brick wall with colleague after colleague, with every institution and every figurehead. There have been too many reports – Swann, Macpherson, Parekh – and too much talk. I believe a new generation of Muslims is ready to represent the community at every level of government. We are in public view, just waiting to be called.

Vote To Block The Far Right, Muslims Urged Vote to block the far right, Muslims urged

By Emily Pennink Muslims are being urged to use their votes in the local and European elections to stop the threat from the far right, it was reported today. The Muslim Council of Britain has penned an open letter warning of BNP success in the event of a low turnout on June 10, the BBC says. The group claims a party political broadcast by the BNP last week was threatening and anti-Muslim, although the BNP insists it is not a threat to the Muslim community. The council said the BNP would need less than 10% of the vote to win a seat on the Greater London Authority or in the European Parliament – successes which would entitle it to public funding. “The rise of the far-right parties poses a dangerous threat to our communities,” the letter says.

Whitehall And Muslim Youth: Secret Whitehall plan to win over Muslim youth

Islamic leaders sceptical about scheme to discourage support for al-Qaida by vetting radical imams and assisting moderates By Hugh Muir Secret government plans designed to win the “hearts and minds” of young Muslims and dissuade the vulnerable from resorting to terrorism were strongly criticised by community organisations yesterday. Tony Blair has assembled a group of senior civil servants from nine Whitehall departments to work on a project, codenamed Contest, aimed at the 10,000 young Muslims whom officials fear may be sympathetic to al-Qaida. The project, details of which were revealed yesterday in cabinet documents leaked to the Sunday Times, would lead to an unprecedented level of government intervention in the political and religious practices of Muslim communities.

Id Cards Needed Urgently To Fight Terror – Top Policeman

By John Deane, Chief Political Correspondent Britain’s most high profile police officer has called for the rapid introduction of a national identity card scheme as a tool in the struggle against terrorism. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens said there was an urgent need to enhance the authorities’ ability to check identities – and ID cards should be introduced “the sooner, the better.” At his monthly press conference on Thursday, Prime Minister Tony Blair indicated that ID cards were moving up the political agenda rapidly. Mr Blair said: “I think that the whole issue of identity cards, which a few years ago were not on anyone’s agenda, are very much on the political agenda here, probably more quickly even than we anticipated.” In an interview for GMTV’s Sunday Programme, Sir John was asked whether the security of Britain’s borders is a problem. He said: “It is a problem. I think it is a recognised problem. This is why I think identification cards would be of great assistance. “Up to a year-and-a-half ago I would have been against identification cards because we had no certainty that the documentation used for identification cards could actually prove with certainty the identification of someone. “Biometrics, the use of eyes, the use of fingerprints is now a certainty in a way that never was before, so therefore identification, either whether it be on border controls or whether we have to deal with stop and search in the street, anti-terrorism kind of activity … would give a certainty we need. “And I’m very much in favour of that as is the Association of Chief Police Officers.” Reminded that last week Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt suggested that compulsory ID cards were “many, many years away”, Sir John replied: “Well, I disagree with her totally. “I think the sooner they’re brought in the better and as a professional police officer I have to tell you we need them … I’m afraid the minister is wrong. I have to say that we do need those ID cards now.” Sir John stressed that “proper border controls” were needed to help combat terrorism and crime. “We do need proper border controls, we do need proper immigration controls in this country. “The borders of this country have been porous and we can prove that with a number of cases which have had high profile recently. “I think that the drive towards ensuring that immigration, customs and the police are working together and on occasions working together with some of the excellent work done by MI5 in particular and MI6 is the way forward. “You’ve got to have some border controls which are there, which are obvious and which work.” Sir John was asked about Islamic fundamentalist preachers living in Britain who make provocative remarks about relations between the Muslim community and the rest of society. Sir John said: “We monitor what people say on a regular basis. If they in fact obviously break the law then we will do something about it there and then. “But a lot of these cases are on the very edge of the law in terms of breaking the law and in those cases we submit these comments to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Crown Prosecution Service to see whether people have breached the law. If they have breached the law we will take action.” Asked if the police were keeping a close eye on controversial London-based Muslim cleric Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri, Sir John replied: “Very much”. Sir John was also asked about Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, leader of the London-based group Al-Muhajiroun, who this week said Muslims should not cooperate with their local authorities against other members of the faith. Sir John said: “I think any comments that talk about not assisting the police – because we’re there for the public, we’re there to ensure their safety – is not helpful.” Asked whether Sheik Omar should be deported, Sir John said: “Well again you can only deport people if they’re breached the law.” Sir John was also asked about this week’s major anti-terrorism operation in south east England. He said: “Well I can’t talk about the specific arrests because that would be totally wrong. But I think what we have to acknowledge is that we have to look at the reasons why people do want to come to this country – or are in this country – and do want to bomb people. “I think we’ve got to try and understand it more because unlike the IRA there is no kind of political head, no political people that we can negotiate with – this Al Qaida.”

Disaffection Among British Muslim Youth

There is a political debate within Britain’s Muslim youth – and it is getting louder in the wake of continued scrutiny of their communities and faith. It is taking many forms and the outcome is uncertain. What is clear is that it is not just about how their world changed following the September 11 attacks – it’s about what it is to be British and Muslim, and disaffection with their place in society.

Dutch Parties Reject Hijab Ban Proposal

By Khaled Shawkat THE HAGUE – The Dutch far-right was dealt a fresh heavy blow in Parliament after most parties turned down a proposal to ban hijab in public administrations. Pim Fortuyn, an anti-immigration party named after its founder killed in 2002, found no support in its bid forcing Muslim civil servants to take off the dress code, the Dutch ANP news agency reported on Thursday, March 18. Joost Eerdmans, a parliament member of the party said after the emergency session on Wednesday, March 17, that the government should stand neutral in dealing with citizens – something he said should be reflected in their clothes. All other parties refused the plea, stressing citizens’ right to freedom of clothing choice and equal treatment by judicial employees as well, parliamentary sources told IslamOnline.net. Eerdmans accused the Dutch Liberal Party (VVD) of putting up hypocrisy in the debate in the legislature. The party leaders switched their stanch attacks on hijab in media outlets to another position, especially Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali refugee who had arrived in the country ten years ago and known for her anti-Islam remarks, the far-extremist party member charged. A number of Muslim women, promoted to posts in the Dutch judicial system or being lawyers remarkably in recent years, have insisted to wearing hijab in their work. Conditions Nevertheless, the government is preoccupied with setting a number of conditions on clothes judicial employees should wear during work hours, the parliamentary sources said. The Christian Democratic Party (CDP), now leading the ruling coalition, also called for workers of other governmental sectors – including the police, army and National Guard sectors – to stick to a “special code of dress” set by officials there. Political parties have expressed hopes to discuss the issue of hijab in a much broader way, as official sources said in press statements that the government still works out a final say on it. Muslim civil servants wearing hijab are growing in number as the one-million Muslim community – making up 6% of the overall population – keep upsurge if compared with other ethnicities. Most Muslims here are from Morocco and Turkey who arrived as guest workers in the sixties and seventies. In December 2003, the two parties of the ruling Dutch coalition of CDP and VVD locked horns over banning Islamic education in the European country. Exaggerated Muslims reacted to the fuss over hijab with a mixed skepticism and anger. Naema Azough, an Arab-Dutch member of the Dutch Green Left Party, on the opposition track, said the debate is exaggerated and unjustifiable. Interior Minister Yohan Remkes said on Wednesday that the hijab of Muslim women workers should be designed in a way consistent with the nature of the job and work conditions. Azough said there is a few number of hijab-clad women working in public administrations, citing that only three women wearing the gear in the Prison Guard sector as an example. Muslim officials highlight that their hijab poses no restriction to their work, denying the dress code has proven threat to secularism or Muslim women’s integration in the European country. Success & Fears Many of hijab-clad women were catapulted into success in many political, scientific and social fields, the most prominent of whom is Fatma Al-Ateq, former interior minister’s advisor and a current member of the Dutch parliament. In 2002, the Muslim minority celebrated their first hijab-wearing lawyer Jamila Arselan. In September 2002, two hijab-clad students were honored by a Dutch faculty for their excellence and dedication. Hijab is no obstacle to the integration of women in Holland, as hijab-clad Muslims have achieved a remarkable success in various fields of study and work, Rabiaa Bouhalhoul, the head of social integration department in the local government of Rotterdam told IOL on January 27. Bouhalhoul said that claims that the Islamic wear runs counter to the principles of secularism are the work of European far-right extremist parties seeking to satisfy voters. Bouhalhoul warned that France’s imminent ban on hijab in state schools would have grave repercussions on Muslims in the West. But she ruled out that The Netherlands would follow in the footsteps of France, as the education system is different in both countries. The one million Muslims of Holland 16 million citizen have established over the past 30 years hundreds of religious, social and cultural organizations, many of which receive grants from the Dutch authorities. The Muslim official, however, conceded that many other officials are greatly affected – even consciously – by media outlets. Deputy Prime Minister, and VVD Leader, Gerrit Zalm argued in a general party congress in the southeastern town of Eindhoven last year that the government should also ban Islamic schools. Muslim women took to the streets of Helmond city, southeast of the Netherlands, in September 2003 to protest a decision by the city’s municipality to withhold an annual grant for a government-aided social organization, allocated for women-only swimming classes.