UPDATE: SEE BELOW

As in some other countries such as the US there is a debate in the Netherlands about the pornofication and sexualization of Dutch society. In particular feminists have been active in this debate pointing out the objectification of women (reducing women to objects of sexual desire and moulding women into standardized models that fit the general pattern of what is sexually attractive to Dutch heterosexual men) and men (reducing men into objects that are determined by sexual lust and moulding them into standardized models of what a Dutch heterosexual man should find sexually attractive).

The debate focused on issues as ‘sex sells’ in commercial ads that are displayed in magazines and on the streets and on the degrading position of women in porn movies. As such this sexualization and pornofication of the public sphere would disturb the sexual development of young men and women. Indeed, examples abound such as in the billboard with a picture of an almost naked woman, with no head and in front or her vagina a small handbag and the posters carried the words: “lesson 84: lead him into temptation“. The explicit or sometimes implicit reference in many of the discussions that such a sexualization and pornofication leads to distorted views on sexuality and sex has been criticized and many of the arguments against this pornofication and sexualization (such as children losing their virginity a much younger age which is in fact stable for many years now at the age of 17, that girls in partiuclar feel pressured to have sex, that girls sell sex for money or some other reward which does occur but only in 1% of the girls and 1,8 % of the boys), have been refuted. Nevertheless research also shows that 15-20% has troubles in dealing with sexually charged images, that such images in videoclips do influence self-esteem of girls and that they are influenced in such a way that they feel a ‘sexy look’ (according to a particular standard) is more important and that they are less positive about their own looks. Furthermore boys are more susceptible for misogynist views after watching such images and both sexes are less satisfied with their own relations. Really problematic are the numbers for sexual force. One in six girls and one in four homosexual boys (less for heterosexual boys) have experienced sexual force or transgressions. See the research sex under 25 (Dutch).

Notwithstanding the sometimes ambivalent research outcomes we should also ask ourselves of course how do we want to represent women and men in public? This is not only a questions feminists have dealt with in this debate but also (of course?) religious groups. In particular Christian groups have been active in the current debate and lodged complaints against particalar ad campaigns. While feminists such as Myrthe Hilkens or Sunny Bergman who denounce the pornofication are sometimes being seen as enemies of the free sexual morals of Dutch society and ridiculed but also as a-sexual or anti-sexual hysteric women who need a good …, or need to have a vaginal correction and a…. (the latter three thereby in fact almost proving the value of feminist criticism), the Christian groups received another response. Christians are back into arena, Do Christians get a big mouth?, back to the narrow minded times of the 1950s and an attack on the current freedoms in a society that has been relieved from the burden of religion.

Now we have one (!) Muslim man who is on a ‘crusade’ against, what he sees, as pornographic representations of women in commercial ads. The not so trustworthy Geenstijl brings as a campaign of prudish Muslims (plural) and hate-beards referring to an article on the BBC site about a school that burned down with Muslim girls in it. The comments in the newspapers show how people see this a the result of multicultural society, the next example of how Muslims want to impose their standards, an example of a person who doesn’t belong here and example of religious (in general) intolerance and sexual frustration.

NRC Handelsblad yesterday had an article with this man showing the ad that has been censored by Tariq Abdullah by scratching parts of the ad away with his nails. It is the second ad of lingery brand Sapph (‘Dress less to impress’) that he took care off in this way.

I do it to protect the women and children who pass by. […] Women may think that they have to look like that to pleasure men.

Mr. Abdullah who appears in the article to be an older, quiet with a soft voice and an ‘old-testament’ appearance says he does not do it for himself.

I’m not a young man anymore who immediately goes to the bathroom when he sees such a poster.

When a police man stops the question is if he will arrest mr. Abdullah. The officer states that he understands mr. Abdullah’s action

According to Abdullah he acts out of

 ‘respect for God’.

He sees himself as a traveller with a message. Prophets and wise men have foretold that something is about to happen and according Mr. Abdullah this something is near and has apparently something to do with this poster. Only if we follow the path of God, and more precise the God of Islam, we can resist the danger.

The officer doesn’t do anything. Since there are around 30 Sapph-posters in Amsterdam (250 in the Netherlands) mr. Abdullah has taken up a major task and his nails do not reach much higher than the bottom of the model.

But you have to begin somewhere.

I don’t really know what to think about his actions although to a certain extent I can sympathize with it and given the fact that this is a one-man’s campaign it is certainly not worthwile to make a lot of fuss about it. According to Sapph company they are shocked about this violation of their property, Mr. Abdullah is shocked about the violation of God’s creation and the feminists are shocked about the violation of womens self-worth and agency and others will be shocked about the violation of freedom of expression and creativity.

UPDATE:
I have emailed the website GS with questions about their report on the issue. I know it is not to be taken seriously but given the impact of the website in the Dutch mediascape I think questions about how and why they portray mr. Abdullah as a hatebeard, referring to a school in Saudi Arabia that burned down with the girls in it and talk about multiple Muslims, I think questions are in order.

The editors have responded in their usual way, see also:
http://religionresearch.org/martijn/2009/04/10/geenstijl-gelukkig-is-het-geen-nederlander/
AND
http://religionresearch.org/martijn/2009/03/22/geenstijl-freak-show/

Fortunately the people who visit Geenstijl (and now also here albeit with some problems) and respond have far more interesting things to say here or by email. I will go into their reactions later in a separate entry, inviting people to respond to it.