Muslim Women in Europe: Strategic and Cultural Challenges
An author, activist and scholar, Senay Özdemir addressed her personal experiences as a Muslim feminist in Western Europe, along with her literary and journalistic efforts to give voice to the Mediterranean community and their role in Dutch politics.
On December 16, 2010 the Middle East Program and European Studies hosted a meeting on "Muslim Women in Europe: Strategic and Cultural Challenges" with Senay Özdemir, Senior Fellow, Osgood Center for International Studies. Christian Ostermann, Director of European Studies at the Woodrow Wilson Center, moderated the event.
Ms. Özdemir, a Dutch-Turkish journalist and women's rights advocate, spoke about the future of Muslim culture and women in Europe. She explained how currently in Europe there is an atmosphere of debate surrounding Islam. Before addressing the nature of the conflict and what it evokes for Muslim feminists, she cited a number of facts and statistics about Islam in the world. She then began her discussion with the immigration of Muslims into Europe after WWII, comparing it to both the current Hispanic immigration to the U.S. and the influx of Turks into Germany, Algerians into France, and so on when Europe needed labor to rebuild following WWI. The population of Muslims in Europe is currently 42 million, she says, and the increasing inflow is exacerbated by the fact that vast numbers of these immigrants are young and multiplying. While welcomed at first for their labor, she explained that these people have come to be discriminated against and called "Islamists," "intruders," and such.
With the rise of the Muslim population, Europe is seeing a rise in Islamophobia, according to Özdemir. She then talked about her own experience as a Muslim feminist living in the Netherlands and dealing with issues raised by, for example, the Dutch anti-Islamic politician Geert Wilders who complained about Muslims who reject Dutch liberal values. On the question of the existence of a "Dutch identity," Özdemir explained that, as a Turkish feminist, a fundamental debate for her is the definition of such an identity and whether she must discard her Turkish identity in order to adopt a Dutch one. She noted that even the Dutch cannot decide if there is one typical Dutch identity; if that is the case, how does one know what to do, she asked. Özdemir's family chose to fully embrace their new homeland.
Özdemir then discussed her experience as a Muslim Turkish woman in Europe. As an editor and journalist, she claims to have been perceived negatively until given a chance to prove her skills and intellect. She explained that Muslim women around the world are increasing their level of ambition and education. Furthermore, with access to media, they are aware of women around the world, standing up for their rights, starting grassroots campaigns, and addressing sex and other formerly taboo topics, she said.
By Mona Youssef, Middle East Program
Haleh Esfandiari, Middle East Program