This article is part of the Media Monitoring Highlights of July, a monthly overview of the most significant results of our monitoring of traditional and new media in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, and the United Kingdom.
Date: 14 July 2019
Media Outlet: Le Soir, a liberal French-language newspaper in Belgium
Description of racist and anti-Muslim content: Interviewed by the newspaper Le Soir, the conservative N-VA MP Michael Freilich said: “the veil is not a religious symbol, but rather a symbol of oppression of women by men. We cannot say the same for the kippah, which just reminds us that there is something more up there, over us.” Freilich’s statement was a response to a statement by minister Denis Ducarme who equated the MP Farida Tahar’s hijab and MP Michael Frelich’s kippah, which were worn during their oath of office. Freilich was editor-in-chief of Belgium’s largest Jewish magazine, the Antwerp-based Joods Actueel, until earlier this year, when he resigned to run for parliament. When he left his editorial position, he published a statement in his own magazine saying that he was “particularly concerned about immigration policy” because Belgium had let in “people with extremist views.”
Myth Debunked: Although everyone has a different reason for wearing the kippah or hijab, both garments signify the religious belief and cultural affiliation of those who wear them. Both are an expression of identity, and should be respected as such.
“Kippah” is the Hebrew word for head-covering, and can be worn by Jewish men for either daily or special occasions. “Hijab” translates to modesty, and is the most common type of Islamic headwear in Europe.
Calling the veil a symbol of oppression deprives Muslim women who wear the hijab by choice of their agency, and implies that they are uniformly being subjugated by men. While there are certainly women who do not choose to wear the hijab by choice, criticism of the headscarf often flattens the diversity of experiences of women who chose to wear it, and instead functions to “other” those who do wear it. This emboldens Islamophobic attitudes, and further obscures the lived experiences of Muslim women.
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