RUG should set example and not enforce ‘burqa ban’

Op-ed

RUG should set example and not enforce ‘burqa ban’

The RUG’s decision to uphold the so-called ‘burqa ban’ may be in line with the Dutch law, but PhD student Aukje Muller agues it’s a peculiar choice.
By Aukje Muller, PhD
5 November om 8:07 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:18 uur.
November 5 at 8:07 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:18 PM.

The RUG’s decision to uphold the so-called burqa ban might be in line with national law, but as the police and several public transport companies have shown, there is some wiggle room when it comes to actually enforcing it.

The RUG’s less-than-obvious decision to not use that wiggle room and the message it sends with that are highly problematic.

The burqa ban appears to be an open, ‘religion-neutral’, civil law. According to the government, the ban is exclusively in service to public safety and service. But banning certain pieces of clothing only really reflects how the national community and public spaces are organised on the basis of identity markers such as ethnicity and heritage.

The burqa ban is an example of how institutionalised racism and ethnicity-based exclusion of certain groups in the national community are concealed and justified by the ‘neutral’ and accepted nature of the law.

The ban reflects a form of ‘ethnic nationalism’ in which the national community and the way it’s decided who is part of it and who is excluded – and to which extent – is defined by common ancestors, language, religion, traditions, and values.

Within this construction, the cultural majority will always have the power to determine who meets the criteria to be included. The exclusion is then normalised, since the ban makes it seem like Muslim women ‘choose’ to break the law whenever they enter public space wearing a niqab.

The RUG is sending the message that Muslim women and Muslims in general aren’t recognised as full members of the academic community

This then connects to the idea that in order to be included in the national community, one should follow the rules. This makes it seem as though the law is inclusive, since everyone seemingly has the choice to be included. But when a law implicitly turns against specific groups, the idea of the ‘neutral’ law masks the vicious cycle of the exclusion of certain groups.

In this case, it leads to public spaces being racialised; in other words, some people are being excluded based on their heritage, ethnicity, and religious identity.

That is because the burqa ban, which also bans clothing such as balaclavas, mainly affects Muslim women. Given the current anti-immigration, Islamophobic climate in the Netherlands, the ban will only contribute to the social exclusion these women face, as well as to the idea that Muslims in general don’t belong in the Netherlands.

As an ‘inclusive’ educational institute, the RUG should take a stand and emphatically state that the ban is not in line with its vision of and position in society. Maintaining the burqa ban is at odds with the RUG’s spearheads of internationalisation, diversity, and freedom of education.

Unconditional access to education should always be a priority. But with this, the RUG is sending the message that Muslim women and Muslims in general aren’t recognised as full members of the academic community.

On top of that, the university should be a safe space for all students and staff. The burqa ban increases the risk of Muslim women, even those wearing a hijab, facing direct violence. They become an easy target for discrimination and harassment.

This certainly applies to the Muslims who are looking for an education and who should be free to do so at the RUG. Maintaining the ban would lead to people seeing them as a problem, which could then be used to ‘justify’ discrimination towards them.

It’s also most regrettable that the university makes its service department employees responsible for enforcing the law, thereby making them complicit in a discriminating law against other staff and students.

The RUG should set an example and not enforce the ban. Ideally, the RUG would even release a statement condemning the law, guaranteeing the safety of all staff, students, and visitors.

Aukje Muller is a PhD student at the RUG and Macquarie University (in Sydney, Australia). She studies the relationships between religion, inclusion, and national identity as it relates to national immigration politics in the Netherlands and Australia.

This opinion piece is based on a blog post that was previously published at The Religion Factor.

Dutch

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