‘Muslims too often on the menu instead of at the table’

Discrimination: As a theme, it is more in the media than ever. How do we deal with this phenomenon? Is it going in the right or wrong direction? Time to test the zeitgeist. Gijs de Swarte talks to experienced experts and top researchers about the current situation and personal pain points.

Martijn de Koning is an anthropologist and lecturer at the Department of Islam, Politics and Society at Radboud University Nijmegen. He is one of the Dutch experts in the field of hatred against Muslims and the radicalization of Muslims in Europe.

To get straight to the point: have you yourself experienced painful moments with or around Muslims?

‘I travel a lot through Islamic countries and for the most part I experience cordiality and hospitality. Even if people know I’m an ‘infidel’.’

As a scholar of Islam, you must have seen a few things up close, right?

‘Yes, especially from the second line. So not directed at me.

‘What you always see happening is that Muslims are held responsible for the actions of other Muslims elsewhere in the world. I still remember – also because it is so typical – when I heard a teacher in a schoolyard ask a Moroccan girl: ‘Where does it say in the Koran that you can fly into an apartment building?’ A bit of a strange question considering the lack of airplanes when Islam came into existence.

‘So that sort of thing. Plus the reverse variant: the constant underlining that Muslims are just ordinary people, that there are also good Muslims. In fact, there was often no doubt about that. “I have nothing against you personally, you you are fine, but Islam…’, and so on.’

That acceptance, but only on a personal level, do you have an explanation for that?

‘You can call it a classic, which applies to people of color, Roma, Jews… ‘The Jews are planning a conspiracy with world power as their goal, but… the Jew who lives next door is super nice.’ So that. It’s actually quite logical. When you get to know someone, experience them in social situations, you must determine that there are more facets to her or him than your image of what his group or religion would stand for. The point is that the prejudices and stereotypes are often not disproven. Because that neighbor is seen as the exception, while the negative image is seen as characteristic of the group.’

Do you think there are problems with Muslims as a group in the Netherlands?

‘Yes there is. There are problems with the behavior and attitudes of some Muslims. Just like with other Dutch people.’

For example, when it comes to the position of women and homosexuals?

‘Yes.’

‘Yes, there are problems with the behavior and views of some Muslims – just like with other Dutch people’

We live in a time where some people ignore the hot mess, while others are guided by the ‘It just needs to be said’ mentality, which is driven by Geert Wilders, among others.

‘Wilder’s’ story is only about problems that people have with Muslims. It pays off for him. This gives them media attention and thus votes. But it does very little to solve the aforementioned problems and when it comes to fighting discrimination. It’s an old political trick. The claim is that it opens things up, but it just obscures the discussion’.

In which way?

‘I recently ended up, a little too late, in a debate in the House of Representatives about discrimination and anti-Islam sentiments. I thought I was in the wrong debate. It was only about problems that people have with Islam. That is one of the obstacles at the moment. This is what you see happening all the time: ‘Yes, but Muslims also discriminate. Look at what’s wrong with … ‘It doesn’t help.’

What do you think helps? That is pretty much the central question in this interview series.

‘It helps to keep the discussion clear. It is really important.

‘In that respect, SPEAK’s philosophy really appeals to me. This collective of Muslim women fights against racism, Islamophobia and exclusion and, where necessary, presents themes separate from each other. If we’re talking about discrimination and Islamophobia, that’s what it should be about, nothing else. Is it about problems in and with Muslim communities? Then we’ll talk about it. And preferably together with people from those communities themselves. Now they are far too often on the menu, but they don’t even sit at the table.’

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