What Happens When a Queen’s Respect for a Culture Upsets Politicians

While I was supposed to be putting the final touches on a presentation on Sunday, procrastination on Twitter led me to the trending topic “Kamervragen PVV.” The PVV is the Dutch Party for Freedom, which is headed by Geert Wilders. This man and this party, to me, represent everything that is wrong with my country (well, perhaps not everything, but quite a lot). I’m generally of the opinion that engaging them in any way legitimates them, which is the last thing I want to do, but today I just can’t keep quiet.

“Kamervragen” (chamber questions) are instruments with which Parliament can keep tabs on the government and developments in society. Any member of Parliament can ask ministers or the prime minister questions about anything at any time, and these questions need to be answered within a 3-week period. When the PVV asks questions, you can be quite sure they’re absolutely ridiculous. Today’s questions did not disappoint.

Queen Beatrix, Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, and his wife Princess Máxima are currently in Abu Dhabi, where they visited a mosque. During this visit the Queen (and I assume Princess Máxima as well) wore an abaya and headscarf. Banning headscarves is one of the PVV’s pet projects (they once proposed a headscarf – or as they called it, “headrag”– tax), so naturally they are not amused. They have submitted the following questions to the Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration, Integration, and Asylum Affairs:

1) Are you aware of the message/article “Beatrix wears headscarf at visit to mosque in Abu Dhabi”?

2) To what degree do you agree with the PVV’s opinion that the headscarf is a symbol of islamization, oppression, and discrimination of women?

3) Do you realize that by having done this, our head of state has legitimized the oppression of women?

4) Could this sad show not have been avoided? If not, why not?

The organisation which speaks for the Queen in such instances, the Rijksvoorlichtingsdienst, has said that “she did it out of respect to the nation’s customs […] When in Rome, do as the Romans. On previous visits this has also happened.”

If I were the prime minister, my answers to these questions would be as follows:

1) I am now.

2) Not at all. Firstly, “islamization” is not an actual thing in this world; it is a term used to promote fear and antipathy towards Muslims. Stop trying to make “islamization” happen. It’s not going to happen. Secondly, though I won’t deny that in some instances, headcoverings have been used to oppress women (see the mandatory dress codes for women which were enforced in Afghanistan and are still enforced in Iran and certain other nations), I refuse to take women’s personal choice and agency away from them. There are millions of women in the world who start wearing hijab, niqaab, and even burqa, after thorough deliberation which stems from a place of deep cultural, religious, and personal conviction. By painting them as oppressed, you are doing them a disservice. Furthermore, as a result of your stance against headscarves, you are discriminating against these millions of women, thousands of whom live, vote, and work in our own country.

3) I refuse to acknowledge any such realization because it is false. Queen Beatrix’s actions have legitimized both a woman’s right to choose what she wears and how she presents herself to the world, as well as the importance of respect towards other cultures, particularly whilst inhabiting those cultures.

4) I refuse to acknowledge that this was a sad show, or indeed a show of any kind. And no, it could not have been avoided, because doing so would have shown blatant disregard to the Queen’s hosts, her host country and culture, and also the belief system of 1/16th of our own population.

As the day progressed, I kept track of some of the commentary, not from politicians (they pretty much all dislike the PVV, which doesn’t stop them from forging alliances) but from Twitters and everyday folks responding to this story. There was a ridiculous amount of, “She is adapting to their culture, fine, but then they [i.e. Muslim Dutch women who wear hijab] should adapt to ours.” The sheer stupidity of this line of reasoning baffled me. Do these people honestly believe that it is a Dutch custom for women NOT to cover their heads? It’s true that we currently have no nationwide tradition of head-covering, but that is relatively new. Up until 30 or 40 years ago, many women wore scarves on their heads while cleaning the house or running outside for errands, not to mention to church. The Netherlands, like other countries, has its share of Catholic nuns and Orthodox Jews, both of whom cover their heads because of their religion. And in certain towns, women still wear traditional clothing, including head coverings. See hereherehere, and here for a few examples. It is only with Muslims that people suddenly start grasping for straws and invoke women’s rights and “culture.” Gee, I wonder why?

I should not let this party get to me, but this time I couldn’t help myself. I’m practically shaking with anger because of the bigotry that this party has once again slapped in our collective faces. Instead of letting fearmongering male politicians speak about these issues, why can’t we just shut up and let the women in question speak for themselves?

Crossposted from Not Your Average Nan’s Writing

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Nanna Freeman

Anglo-America-loving Dutchie with a grad student twist and a mad dash of self-mockery. Sometimes I also write things here: http://notyournanswriting.wordpress.com/

14 thoughts on “What Happens When a Queen’s Respect for a Culture Upsets Politicians”

  1. There comes a point where secularism oversteps its bounds. Freedom to worship carries with it the right to wear whatever garb your religion deems fit and which you choose to wear to honor that religious tradition. Not all male Jews wear a yarmulke. Not all Muslim females wear a hijab or burqa. Not all Catholic women cover their shoulders in church. When general society — or certain parts of it — begins to try and change how people are allowed to worship, it is treading on an inherent right.

    The Queen, in taking this step of covering her head, was showing appropriate respect for the customs of another religion. I — a reformed Catholic — have donned the yarmulke for temple services. There is no great harm, and much good will to be gained, from showing others respect. I would like to think the Queen has a pretty good head on her shoulders.

      1. head coverings in Mass were required by papal edict in 1917 for women until they noticed a decrease in attendance from young women. After plenty of heming and hawing, they officially lifted the ban on uncovered heads for women during mass when the Code of Canon Law was updated in 1983. This is only the legalistic end- some communities enforce covering during mass as a community standard.

        It should be noted that head covering in Christian Europe- after marriage in particular when you talk about day to day covering rather than just religious situations- was the common practice until the renaissance era, and typically late in this era. Additionally, It was fashionable for average woman (ie, non-aristocratic) to cover their hair in roman society, though there was no requirement to do so from what I’ve read in passing.

        As for Judaic head covering, it stems to cultural practices of the time that the tradition started. Covered hair was a cultural indicator of marital status for many cultures over time. Indeed, it was culturally expected long before it became attached to Judaism in particular. It wasn’t until later that scholars began having specific spiritual reasons for continuing this practice- and for your average Jew in the ancient world, there was no need for a spiritual explanation for the practice.

    1. I actually got that from a graphic I saw floating around a different internetspace once, but yes, isn’t it just the silliest thing how xenophobes will blatantly ignore certain things and how calling them out on their (literal) ignorance is either unsuccessful or just doesn’t happen at all?

    1. No kidding. Personally, I celebrate that she did this. When I lived in France, the anti-Muslim attitude was downright scary and that was 10 years ago (not that the US is much better). I would see her gesture as a step forward, but obviously the sentiment isn’t shared. I know many Muslim women who aren’t oppressed (in the way they’re talking about at least…) who love wearing their headscarves and it hurts them that politicians would be willing to devote so much energy to taking away a tradition like that, especially in the name of FREEING THEM FROM OPPRESSION.

    2. Absurdity is Geert Wilders’ middle name, which is why I think it is usually best to ignore his antics (much like you would do with a little child clamoring for attention), but sometimes I just can’t help myself… The Queen now has, in an unprecedented move, called his criticism “nonsense,” by the way. She already had my undying love (royalist for life, no not really, but still), but that just solidified it.

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