Skip to comments.In Europe, Muslim women speaking out against extremism risk backlash
Posted on 12/01/2004 11:43:15 AM PST by NYer
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) Novelist Yasmine Allas doesn't believe in happy endings.
That's strange, considering her own unlikely road to success. The daughter of a wealthy army officer, she fled as a teenager from her repressive childhood in Somalia, where she had dreamed of becoming an actress, dating men, drinking wine and living the life she saw in movies.
Now in the Netherlands, having gained an audience for her bleak stories of oppressed women and failed immigrants, she finds she still can't escape fear.
Since the slaying of filmmaker Theo van Gogh last month in Amsterdam, there have been death threats against two prominent Muslim women politicians Ayaan Hirsi Ali in Holland and Mimount Bousakla in Belgium who have spoken out against repression in Islam.
Allas, 35, is among a growing group of young women from Muslim backgrounds who are making it in politics, the arts, media or the law in Europe, and in some cases are putting themselves at the forefront of the fight against extremism from two directions Islamic fundamentalists and Europe's far-right fringe.
From a television journalist in Italy to a standup comic in Norway, these women are speaking up in voices that may never have been heard had they remained in their native lands.
In Somalia, says Allas, ``If you are a girl, you always are in fear of your parents, your older brothers, your male neighbors. It is always the man ... It is always fear and fear and fear.''
Now her sister says she fears raising her small children here because of the heated anti-immigrant climate. Her two brothers have left the country.
``When I came to Holland, for me it was, Whew! What freedom! What a country! It was love, immediately,'' she recalls.
``But Holland is not the same.''
Nusrat Chagtai, a Muslim human rights lawyer of Pakistani origin who works in Birmingham, England, acknowledges that ``we are very fortunate we have a lot more freedom.'' Yet the higher profile comes with risks.
Fatima Elatik, deputy mayor of Amsterdam's heavily immigrant Zeeburg borough, was assigned bodyguards after receiving threats from a right-wing Dutch extremist after the Van Gogh killing.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks ``there's been a lot of Muslim- and Islam-bashing in our society that really was very frightening,'' said Elatik, 31.
She deals often with young immigrant men and women who want to be Dutch yet feel alien. Even though she wears a head scarf, she considers herself a modern, liberal Dutch woman.
``What is typically Dutch? I don't look Dutch, I don't have a Dutch name. But I wear Dutch clothes. Even my scarf, my hijab, I buy in Dutch stores. What more do you want from me?''
Elsewhere in Europe, some women confront the culture clash in unusual ways.
In Norway, Pakistan-born Shabana Rehman uses humor. A women's rights activist and professional comedian, her stories told in saucy, slangy Norwegian focus on the taboos of Islam, and culture conflicts.
``I go up on stage with texts from my own daily life. Openly, and with some wonder, I share with the public how I experience sexual and cultural expectations,'' she says on her Web site.
In April, Rehman caused a stir during a televised debate on Islam attended by Mullah Krekar, the founder of suspected terror group Ansar al-Islam, who lives as a refugee in Norway.
Rehman talked Krekar into allowing her to perform ``a little test'' on the stage to see if he was a fundamentalist. She grabbed him by the hips and lifted him.
``A man who can be carried by a woman can't be a fundamentalist,'' said Rehman to howls of laughter. Krekar exploded with rage and threatened a lawsuit.
In Italy, Rula Jebreal, 31, of Palestinian descent, anchors the late-night news on LA7, a national TV network. She sees Western freedoms as ``absolutely compatible with the Muslim religion.''
She's also a critic of the Iraq war, to which Italy contributed troops. ``When I criticized the war I received messages with insults and threats,'' she said.
The suspect in the Nov. 2 killing of Van Gogh, 26-year-old Mohammed Bouyeri, wrote a five-page letter pledging that ``Islam will celebrate victory with the blood of martyrs'' and allegedly left it impaled on the knife in the filmmaker's chest.
The letter explicitly threatened Hirsi Ali, a 35-year-old Somali-born Dutch politician who collaborated with Van Gogh on a film denouncing the treatment of Muslim women. She has not appeared in public since.
A telegenic former refugee who describes herself as a ``lapsed'' Muslim, Hirsi Ali campaigned against Muslims who reject Dutch values such as gender equality and gay rights. She outraged the Muslim community by saying the Prophet Muhammad was a tyrant by today's standards, and by urging women to abandon their traditional veils or head scarfs.
In Belgium, Mimount Bousakla, a 32-year-old senator of Moroccan origin who criticized a Muslim group for failing to condemn Van Gogh's murder received a telephone call threatening her with ``ritual slaughter.'' Two years ago, Bousakla wrote a book, ``Couscous with Belgian Fries,'' critical of forced marriages and the subjugation of Muslim women.
She has continued working in the Senate, but stays away from home at night. A Belgian convert to Islam has been arrested and confessed to threatening Bousakla.
It is in the Netherlands that the culture clash has been the most explosive perhaps because it was long obscured by the nation's fabled tolerance and progressive views.
Since the Van Gogh slaying there have been some 20 arson attacks on mosques or Muslim schools, and apparent retaliatory attacks on churches.
For years, anti-immigrant feelings were ``fearfully repressed'' by Dutch governments haunted by the Holocaust, when 70 percent of Holland's Jews were slaughtered by the Nazi death machine, said Meindert Fennema, a professor of political theory and ethnic relations at the University of Amsterdam. ``These feelings were always there.''
....how SAD for these women. Why won't the NOW nags ever help people like these who REALLY NEED it!
I finally saw Osama last night. This is one depressing film. It is the story of a girl who poses as a boy in order to work in Afghanistan under the Taliban. I can only say I wished it had ended with the jets screaming overhead dropping bombs on the Taliban.
Because its easier and safer to henpeck the locals who have some sense of chivalry and shrug it off than to risk offending the Muslims and have your head cut off. Talk is cheap, isn't it?
Funny how there's always a "far-right" but never a "center-right" or "far-left".
Soon they will follow the examples in Pakistan where Muslim women get acid thrown in their faces for not wearing hijab.
These home brewed converts are the worst.. they have some rose tinted romanticized vision of Islam because they have never in their lives been to a Mu-slum country and experienced the hell holes for themselves.
One needs only to look at the example of Sultana "I want to wear a mask on my photo ID pic" Freeman in Florida to see the amazing way they think Islam should be applied at home.
Don't be naive, my friend. NOW has no use for these women, who cannot be used to further the femifascist agenda. Therefore they do not exist.
Not to mention the recent slaying of that Englishwoman, married to an Iraqi, and living in Iraq for the past 30 years, where she devoted her live to helping the poor and destitute. If I am not mistaken, she also converted to Islam. That didn't stop these fiends from blasting off half her head, chopping off her limbs, disemboweling her and hanging her body over the side of a bridge.
They are there (in islam) willingly. Its their own damn fault.
All they need do is remove the scarf and renounce the religion, which is exactly what any other person would do if thier religion became a terrorist organization.
If living in Saudi Arabia its different, but in a western democracy to claim they are being abused and threatned by their religion is EXACTLY the same symptom as a battered wife who keeps going back to the same abusive husband.
I read about a "center-left" recently, and I still haven't figured that one out.
There you go.
The scarf is the mark of a muslim. If she wants to be Dutch lose the scarf and the attitude.
Assimilation, or the "melting pot", sems to be an alien idea to muslims of both sexes. They want to stand apart, but whine when they're discriminated against.
And, look where that "tolerance" and those "progressive views" got them.
It's hard to have any pity for a stupid person let alone a stupid nation.
The only good thing that can be learned from the Dutch today is that multiculturalism is a sham that will wreck a country as quick as a war will.
There is no freedom without the freedom to buy a 10 gauge and blow off the head of someone who is trying to kill you. Until these beleaguered European-Muslim women start agitating for weapons rights, they're talking into the wind.
Midway on the journey to loonyland.
I'd say more slowly, but just as certainly.
Thanks for posting this very interesting article. I think it shows that there is a reformation process underway in Islam. Many Muslims are not the extremists like the Taliban. They are reinterpreting their religion in a modern context.
I think it is really important to not alienate these kind of people.
There are 1.3 billion Muslims. I think young people like these are the future.
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