Belgian headscarf ban sparks heated reactions

26th June 2009, Comments 3 comments

Many Muslim girls who wear a headscarf feel targeted by the measure.

The state secondary schools in Antwerp and Hoboken (also part of Antwerp) are in the midst of heated discussion regarding a decision taken by the school administration to ban all religious symbols from the next school year.

The principal of the state secondary school in Antwerp, Karin Heremans, explains that the decision to ban religious symbols stemmed from a growing pressure on Muslim girls to wear veils, even if they don't want to. The idea behind the ban is to take away the growing peer pressure.

When Karin Heremans addressed the students in the courtyard to explain the measure her words were met with booing. The police were massively present in the neighbourhood, but no incidents were reported.

During a protest action in the school the Antwerp imam Nordine Taouil, also chairman of the Muslim Executive, called on muslim parents to keep their children at home and not send them to school as long as there is a ban on headscarves. "I'm calling on all parents, muslim parents, not to send their children to school from the first of September until our rights are guaranteed," said the imam.

Other muslim associations are more moderate, but they are also protesting against the new school regulation. They do not back the imam's call to keep children at home.

Flemish nationalists especially are vocal about their disappointment

The Flemish conservative nationalist N-VA party (the big winners of the recent regional elections), thinks the imam has gone too far. The N-VA labels the imam's call to keep children at home "irresponsible".

"Mr Taouil talks about rights, but there are other rights too. Like the right of children to get an education," says Flemish MP Kris Van Dijck.

"Calling on parents not to send their children to school threatens their future."

As it is, many students of foreign origin (children who do not speak Dutch at home especially) are somewhat behind at school. Van Dijck also points out that Flemish schools are already making a great effort to implement an equal opportunities policy and to give immigrant children optimal opportunities to the have a good education.

3 Comments To This Article

  • Larry posted:

    on 17th July 2009, 16:56:00 - Reply

    I believe the intent of the school uniform policy is to prevent the conspicuous display of expensive clothes as status symbols, which discriminates against pupils whose families can't afford to buy them (thereby avoiding situations where kids spend their savings or even resort to crime to acquire the latest sneakers, jeans or whatever). As you say peer pressure is part of life, and one of the goals of classroom education is to learn to live, study and cooperate with other kids who have different backgrounds (ethnic, cultural, social, and religious). I don't see how muslim girls can be subjected to such relentless, overwhelming peer pressure while they're in class studying history and math, more so than when they are on the street, in a café or at a party.
  • Louise posted:

    on 16th July 2009, 06:02:39 - Reply

    Well actually banning branded clothes and fashion accessories, and instead having a strict school uniform policy, has long been a common measure in the UK, with precisely the argument being given that it helps students to resist peer pressure. Of course peer pressure is part of life, and Muslim girls like everyone else have to learn to stand up to it, but school is unique in that it is compulsory and you see your classmates daily and often for long periods of time, so the pressure is much harder to avoid than in other scenarios.
  • Larry posted:

    on 15th July 2009, 11:49:29 - Reply

    ban all religious symbols in order to remove peer pressure to wear them, what brilliant logic. By the same reasoning, why not ban all branded clothes and fashion accessories that schoolkids feel pressured to wear so they can conform with their peers?

    A better solution to lessen peer pressure among muslim children would be for Belgium to desegregate its schools and ensure equal opportunity in education.