Belgium: Antwerp – repression used to force through anti-veil measures

CWI members arrested for opposing anti-democratic ban on veil in public school

Yesterday morning 7 September, young people opposing a ban on the wearing of the Muslim veil in a school in Antwerp were arrested by the police. The banning of the veil was accompanied by a ban on organising actions against this undemocratic measure. For the city authorities, “these young people had the opportunity to express their ideas last week, which was largely sufficient”. Not only they want to stop students expressing their identity in their own school, they also want to stop them doing anything about it.

The idea that it is possible to suppress debate in society through repressive measures alone is an illusion. In fact, this kind of approach just leads to more polarisation on these issues. Do city and school authorities really think that they help muslims by acting in this way? This ridiculous argument is being used to justify the banning of the veil.

Students protest banning of veil

EGA (Active Left Students – affiliated to LSP, CWI in Belgium) have participated in protest actions against the banning of the veil. We have also opposed the banning of protest actions and yesterday morning, we distributed leaflets expressing our arguments. On this basis, eight young people were arrested, just for expressing their opinion. This is the message being delivered to young people today.

We will not accept this and will continue to protest the banning of the veil. However, EGA do not only oppose a ban on the veil, we also oppose young people being obliged to wear it. But even women forced to wear the veil or persecuted in other ways at home cannot be emancipated “from the outside” through repressive measures, but only through a collective struggle to defend their integrity and freedom. EGA has always been to the forefront of campaigns against women’s oppression and exploitation, as we consistently oppose any kind of oppression and division, either on a racist, sexist, religious or other basis. However, we think that this struggle can be effective only if it is linked to the need to break with capitalism, which breeds oppression of all kinds.

Ten years ago, in Kortrijk, we participated in actions against the banning of piercings at school. In doing this, we defended our right to express our identities and personalities. Last year, in Antwerp, there was an attempt to expel “goth” school students because of their appearance. These explusions were prevented thanks to actions organised by students and parents.

In this discussion about the veil, a desire to repress youth and identity is evident. The repression applied yesterday illustrates clearly this point.

EGA thinks that it is necessary to consciously oppose the segregation of students along ethnic and religious lines, in schools with a large number of immigrant students. We oppose policies of cuts in education, which represent a brake to the development of young people. On the contrary, we defend the need for more public investment in education, as well as demanding investment to provide access to decent jobs, and stronger public services.

The issue of banning the veil is being used as an instrument of division by the ruling politicians to divert attention from the real social problems they have created through their neo-liberal policies. As we have argued many times, in the absence of a clear left opposition, this policy opens the way for far-right parties, like Vlaams Belang, which uses the problems in education, unemployment and lack of decent housing etc. to put forward their racist and demagogic rhetoric against the Muslim community. We, on the contrary, put forward the need for a common struggle of all young, working and oppressed people, whatever their origin or religious beliefs, for a decent life and future.

By investing in free, quality education at all levels, eliminating problems of overcrowded classrooms, many existing social problems could be eliminated. But this alone will not be sufficient. The existence of poverty blackspots leads to the concentration of poverty in certain schools. This problem cannot be solved by repression. That’s why Active Left students fights for another society, in which the interests of the majority are central, rather than the interests of a rich elite of bankers and big business. That’s what we call socialism.

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September 2009