This article is part of the Media Monitoring Highlights of December, 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 of publication: 24 December 2019
Media outlet: DH.be, La Dernière Heure, a French-language daily newspaper published in Belgium
Headline: “Muslim head covering prohibited in two schools in Antwerp: Ben Weyts (N-VA) welcomes the court's decision”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This article reports the reaction by the nationalist New Flemish Alliance party (N-VA) to the judgement of the Court of Appeal of Antwerp, which held that the headscarf ban in two schools in the north-Eastern Maasmechelen municipality was justified. The article states that the Flemish minister of Education Ben Weyts (N-VA) welcomed the Court of Appeal ruling. It also quotes the minister’s words: “I fully believe that the prohibition of wearing philosophical symbols in the Community Education [Flemish Community GO! Education] is necessary. Wearing these symbols often provokes discussions. Community Education schools must be a neutral space, not a place for discussions on religion or conversions. Only the extremists benefitted from this argument, which has been going on for a while now”. This ruling overturns the previous decision by a court in Tongeren, which in 2018 judged that that the eleven students, whose parents had started the procedure, should be allowed to wear the headscarf in their schools. In its ruling, the court in Tongeren referred to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which obliges European countries to allow all citizens free practice of religion. The school which the students challenged in court is affiliated to a public body called GO! Education of Flemish Community. In 2013 GO! Education decided to ban headscarves in all public schools affiliated to it in Belgium’s Flemish region.
Myth Debunked: This article is problematic because it presents only the point of view of the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), a right-wing Flemish nationalist party, on an issue that concerns Muslim women first and foremost. But no one from the Muslim community was interviewed by DHnet.be, nor the article reports any reactions or statements by Muslim organisations. Only the Islamophobic and discriminatory views of N-VA are presented in this piece, suggesting the importance of their prejudiced attitudes over the opinion of the people whose lives are, or could be, affected by this ruling. Once more, Muslim women are at the centre of news stories but their voices keep being excluded. Furthermore, the photo chosen by DHnet.be to illustrate this article is of a woman wearing the niqab. This image is not suitable for this specific piece because it is not representative of Muslim women in Belgium, where only a very small minority of Muslim women wear the face-covering veil, and even fewer students wear it in schools. Last October, GTTO highlighted the same issue for an article about people’s attitudes towards Muslim head coverings. Prompted by a complaint from the European Network On Religious Belief, DH.be changed the unsuitable photo, but only two months later the same media outlet made the same mistake, again overlooking the implications and the consequences of the photo they used. Muslim women are consistently stigmatised in the mainstream media, and images and articles such as this ultimately fuel discrimination.
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