Whose body is it anyway? | Amsterdam mayor: No Benefit with Burqa

It seems that, with a few notable exceptions, people in the Netherlands have been accustomed to the headscarf. The burqa or niqaab however is a different matter. A while ago there was a debate in the Netherlands about banning the burqa from public spaces. A proposal for this by Wilders’ Party of Freedom never made it, but in the mean time the burqa and niqaab have been banned for women in public service. Working for local or national authorities, at schools and universities, the burqa/niqaab is not allowed. a decision that has been implemented without any fuss, let alone a political debate.

Now the social democratic mayor of Amsterdam, famous for his attempts to ‘keep people together’ has stated in an interview in Dutch daily Trouw:

Contrary to france, the separation of church and state never meant that public space should be free of religious expressions. […]Personally I find it terrible to see a woman walk about in a burqa. But whether or not I like it is not a criterium by which to forbid it

In situations however when contact and interaction with other people is necessary, things are different according to him:

I agree with the notion that if you cannot find work because of the burqa you can also not turn up for benefits.

The idea is similar to what current Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb (also social democrat) said in 2006 in an interview with feminist magazine Opzij:

Nobody wants to hire someone with a burqa […] In that case, I say: off with the burka and apply for work. If you don’t want to do that, that’s fine, but you don’t get a benefit payment.

Now if Cohen says he thinks a burqa is terrible, but that is not a reason to ban it, he is right of course. But if other people hate the burqa too and therefore do not want women on the working place wearing it, that is a reason to cut benefit for women with a burqa? There are not that many women wearing niqaab, let alone burqa (not that both terms are used as if they are the same) so is it that difficult to come up with a solution that fits the individual case? Do we really need a law for this or a general measure?

In 2006 and 2007 a counter campaign was run by Muslim women opposing the proposed ban on the burqa. There was an online petition and a demonstration in the Hague. The demonstration took place and the slogans used focused on themes such as freedom, personal choice and emancipation. (Interesting at that time was that a few days before this demonstration, another demonstration took place in which Afghan women also used the burqa for their statement about freedom and emancipation, but then in order not to be expelled to Afghanistan where they would be forced to wear it). As I have shown in my PhD research and also in my current research on the Salafi movement, female behaviour and body, therefore, are important symbolic boundary markers. And not only for Muslims. The teenage girls and women in my research also experienced their behaviour and attire as an important factor in the attention of native Dutch people which leads them to the perception that not only do other Muslims try to tell them how to behave and what to wear, but so also do the native Dutch. By politicizing gender in relation to Islam, women become the core of the struggle between Muslims and native Dutch people over the control of the Muslims in the Netherlands. They have become the embodiment of the Islam debate and integration debate as well as many internal Muslim struggles.

Will be continued probably.

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