A small town in the French Ardennes, close to the Belgian border, where life has become quite hard and unemployment very high because of the industrial decline and economic crisis with many factories closing.
With a big muslim population that arrived in the 60’s and 70’s during an immigration wave at an economic high for the region, the Centre Social that is hosting the first poster exhibition of The Rise of Populism, was also interested in my work on Muslim Women in Belgium. Around 40 people, mainly Muslim women, came to my presentation with an animated conversation as a result afterwords while we were enjoying sugar cake and coffee.
The situation for Muslim women in France is the same as that of Belgian women. People seem to fear the Muslim community and with the veil as a symbol, look upon the veiled women in a suspicious way. The women became really passionate in trying to explain to me that they are just the same as any other women. That they might wear different clothing but that they are just as anybody else. They also really emphasized on the fact that Islam is many things and that there is a big difference between religion and tradition. The burqa has nothing to do with religion, but is all about tradition. Some girls became so passionate in explaining this and making their point that I had to reassure them that I knew this, and that this was one of the reasons why I initiated this project in the first place. It was just really wonderful to interact with these women.
The day after, an article was written in the local newspaper L’Ardennais with whom I had an interview. Even though written with a few mistakes, the context and point was clear. We are all the same and Muslim women, veiled or not, are also mothers, sisters, friends, … we all share the same values and want the same things out of life. In a time of globalization where people fear of loosing their identity and economic hard times, fear has taken an important place in populist political rhetoric. Yet instead of focusing on what is different all the time, we might better start looking at what we share and have in common.