Burqa Ban

Burqa Ban


Much controversy has been concocted in the media about the wearing of a traditional Islamic clothing for women, the burqa (also known as ‘burka’).


The views on this matter vary depending on location and/or opinion, for example that of the leader of the One Nation Party, based in Australia. The One Nation Party is a right-wing populist party, founded in 1997, and led by Pauline Hanson, who has proven to have quite stern views on the burqa, concerning its presence in the field of government. In order to make a point, Hanson wore this Islamic wear into the chambers, and described the situation as ‘really horrible’ and ‘uncomfortable’. She further stated that the burqa is ‘not what should belong in parliament’, thus dismissing her acceptance of wearing the burqa on political grounds.

Image result for burqa

In terms of location, the wear of a burqa is permitted in some places (part ban), while some countries do not allow it to be worn at all (full national ban). One of these countries include Switzerland, where a fine of €10, 000 is used as a penalty for violating this particular law.


UKIP (UK Independence Party) also wants the banning of the burqa, some may say a predictable opinion to have, due to their past views on certain controversial ethical topics. A few of these may be Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, who is proposing to ban those with HIV from the UK and to legalise handguns.


In December 2017, Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany since 2005, has said that ‘the full covering… should be banned’. In European countries such as France, Belgium and The Netherlands, the burqa has already been banned in places such as schools, hospitals, and on public transport.


Another controversial figure in the burqa debate is Boris Johnson, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in the UK. In a column in the Daily Telegraph, Johnson described the burqa as ‘oppressive’, ‘weird’ and as not having any ‘scriptural authority… in the Qu’ran’ (the Islamic holy book).  He further compared the women who wear them as looking like ‘letter boxes’ and ‘bank robbers’, giving a sense of criminality to these Muslim women.


Many lashed out at Johnson’s blunt comments, one key figure being Mohammed Amin, the Chair of the Conservative Muslim Forum. ‘Boris is an educated man, he should know better’.


Christine Hamilton was another one of those who responded to Johnson’s comments in the Telegraph. As an English media personality, and a prominent supporter of UKIP (along with her husband), her response was acknowledged by a large number of people. Posting a photograph of the KKK (Klu Klux Klan), she captioned it: ‘If the #burka is acceptable then presumably this is too?’ Here, Hamilton is comparing a violent, racist movement targeting black people in the US to the international religion of Islam. Many replied in disagreement to Hamilton’s social media comment.


As Islam continues to be targeted in the media as a violent religion, and a large number Muslims continue to be verbally and physically abused on the street, decisions on the ‘burqa ban’ are ongoing, and could affect multiple Muslim women worldwide.


Religious Desire

Alexander Smarius
“I know already so much about Zeus, I need to learn more about God and Jesus now.’’

Alexander Smarius is a teacher at Vossius Gymnasium Amsterdam. He teaches Greek and Latin and is a Jehovah Witness. He has always had a religious desire, even though his parents were Catholic. After he got in touch with a Jehovah witness and becoming a father he knew he found the right way to fill it in. 

Do you have any struggles living your religion in your country?
In Holland and other Western European countries Jehovah’s Witnesses enjoy their freedom of religion. We have meetings in our Kingdom Halls twice per week. Also, we are at liberty to approach other people with our offer of a Bible course free of charge. In my country and its neighbouring countries, most people appear not to be interested in communicating with us. Many tend to be prejudiced towards both the Bible and organized religion. Although we sometimes encounter some form of enmity, most of the time people are polite. Even if only a minority actually accepts our open invitation to benefit from biblical education, it is clear there is a great spiritual need. Every year new members in Holland join our global brotherhood.

Have you ever got excluded from anywhere or got problems because of your religion?
No. Sometimes I choose not to participate in social events myself and, when requested to do so, politely explain why.

Are you satisfied by your government’s religious tolerance activities?
Apart from our constitutional right to freely enjoy our religion, I have no specific knowledge of government involvement in promoting tolerance towards religion in general or my religion in particular. I feel very fortunate about our circumstances here and in most other European countries, for members of our brotherhood in several other countries around the world experience real difficulties or downright persecution.

Do you have any rights for minority religions in your country? (e.g. Non-Governmental organizations)
The global organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses is called the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. It is a non-profit organization and as such is legally exonerated from taxation of donations in Holland and other countries.

What does EU integration mean for you and your community? How does it affect you?
As a religious group that makes an active use of the right of freedom of speech, we have benefitted from the existence of the European Court of Human Rights. For instance, some countries have tried to impose restrictions on our religious practices. Appeals were made to this European Court, which has repeatedly ruled in our favour, so that we can continue practicing our faith freely. We are very grateful for this. Apart from that, I think the EU is not a ‘union’ in the full sense of the word. People are still divided by cultural, political and religious views and of course by language. The key to true unification of a diversity of peoples is not to be found in the EU.

How do you (as a person and as member of a community) see the rest of society and other religious groups?
All mankind, whether in prosperous or poor countries, suffers from problems of which the most serious are as yet unsolvable: dysfunctional food distribution resulting in both over- and undernourishment, incurable diseases, violent armed conflicts, environmental degradation. I admire people, both individual and organized, who do not accept this and strive to deal with at least one of these problems. Sadly, most initiatives in the end come to nothing due to inefficient means, political inadequacy, discouragement or corruption. Furthermore, the greatest of all unsolvable problems, uncontrollable health loss due to ageing and inescapable death. The Bible clearly promises a universal Government that will solve all these problems. It will turn the entire earth into an ideal environment in which man can live for ever in peace and perfect health – no discord, no ageing, no death. It is both an enormous privilege to know this and a great responsibility to pass on this knowledge of the future to others. So I regard my fellow man, regardless of his or her ethnical, social or religious background, as someone who needs to know he or she can benefit from this. As for other religions, all of these are in some way or other involved in politics and warfare. By contrast, Jehovah’s Witnesses are politically neutral and never participate in War. This allows us to freely speak to people of all persuasions. Since we avoid political divisions, we are united as an international brotherhood, a true and growing union that already enjoys the practical biblical advice that helps us facing the many problems we have while we await the New World.

What is your opinion about religious education in the Netherlands and what do you think about the principle ‘’Teaching, not preaching’’?
To start with the latter question, when religion is the subject, teaching and preaching both amount to sharing knowledge about the teachings of a specific religion. The difference in my opinion is that teaching is merely explaining what persons of this or that religion believe, whereas someone who preaches is himself a believer who wishes those to whom he preaches will embrace his beliefs also. Preaching should be done in a situation that is different from the class room. The one who is listening should consent to the fact that he is preached to, and this implies an equal standing between both parties. In the class room, a teacher has power over his pupils, a power that must not be used to preach rather than teach when there is no way the pupils can consent to it. So, I agree with the principle. Of course it is useful when young people learn about religion as long as their teacher teaches without preaching.

Interview by Shinouk Ettema

May 2015, Amsterdam

About the author:

Shinouk EttemaShinouk Ettema (16) took part in the Dutch edition of “My Europe” in 2014. When coming home from Vossius Gymnasium in Amsterdam, she loves to go horse riding, play the guitar and do fun things with her friends. Shinouk is not quite sure yet what her profession should be, but it should involve making contact with other cultures, lots of travelling and writing.

For me, My Europe is…

…a place where everyone can interact with each other to achieve more together than they would have on their own.

“Teach, Not Preach!”

"My Europe" press conference in Madrid with the speakers of the working groups Anathea, Simona, Alex, Miguel and Leonor, founder Prof. Pohl and Youth Council for the Future chairwoman Alessandra (from left to right), Spotlight Europe
“My Europe” press conference in Madrid with the speakers of the working groups Anathea, Simona, Alex, Miguel and Leonor, founder Prof. Pohl and Youth Council for the Future chairwoman Alessandra (from left to right).

The Get2Gather of all Youth Council for the Future members took place from 23-26 April 2015 in Madrid. Together, the young Europeans elaborated on calls to actions for European decision-makers in order to help build a peaceful and sustainable Europe for future generations. Miguel is the speaker of the working group “Religion” and he held the following speech during the press conference:

Despite our discussions, the Religions Working Group has many questions and few answers – such is religion. Indeed, much of what the things I am about to say will sound like clichés or platitudes, but they remain important and worthy of saying.

I am not religious. Neither are many of you.

I am not a Catholic or a Protestant. I am not a Sunni or a Shi’a. I am not a Mahayana or a Therevada. But religion affects me. It shapes the world I live in, the way I speak, the way I see the world.

“Religion shapes the world I live in”

Since the Enlightenment, Europe has grapples with how to deal with religion. What place does it occupy in society, in public relations? How do we guarantee protection for all faiths?

Whatever answer we give to these questions, and there’s no shortage of answers, we must understand this: religion is not going away, and religion will not be side-lined.

These questions are most pressing when we consider the problem of religious extremism. How do we respond to this threat?

By bringing it out into the open. Religion must be brought into the public forum. And for this we must create an open space – a space in which the youth can become acquainted with various religions and discuss them. We need a comprehensive and objective religious education.

Public education exists to create citizens of a society and of a world. And for that, we must learn about this world of religions, just as we learn about other domains.

Miguel, Spotlight Europe

Students should become familiar with the history and ideas of major world religions, because these are forces that shape our world, across all continents. Schools must teach, not preach, while collaborating at the same time with religious communities to provide a broad and informative religious education.

In this Internet Age we live in, it is becoming easier and easier to live in a self-imposed bubble. Young people flock to online communities where their views are repeated, and where radicalization can take place. An open, discussion-driven religious education can provide a place for views to be shared and prejudices shattered.

Another matter is radicalization. The causes of religious radicalization are many and quite controversial, but they are not entirely religious. There are social conditions that foster radicalization.

Conditions in low-income neighbourhoods must be bettered. There must be better social care in these areas, and dialogue between communities and police.

“to shy away from a frank debate on religion is to capitulate on one of the present’s most pressing matters”

Stepping back now from the topic of religious education and extremism, we find that society must review the way it talks about religion. There is constant pressure not to talk about sensitive issues in a constructive manner: some rely on provocation, others use euphemisms, most stay silent. However, to shy away from a frank debate on religion is to capitulate on one of the present’s most pressing matters.

So I say: I am not religious.

I am not a Christian, nor a Muslim, nor a Jew. In truth, My creed is irrelevant. What I want, what, indeed, we all want is to have a Europe that is at once more tolerant, more open, and more knowledgeable.

Through education we banish conceit, through integration we weaken discrimination, and through dialogue we encourage a better world and a better life.

There are very few of us here, very few out of a community of 500 million. I wish we had brought more. But perhaps we can do some good. Let us follow the true spirit of religion, let us unite!


Thank you.

About the author:
Miguel Ribeiro, Spotlight Europe

Miguel (18) participated in the “My Europe” workshop in Lisbon in Novemver 2014. 

We Are All Black Cats

Concentration camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland, Spotlight Europe
Can you imagine a world where cats kill other cats just because they have black fur? Concentration camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland. (Picture taken by Alessia Tavarone, remix by Spotlight Europe)

Can you imagine a world where cats kill other cats just because they have black fur? Or can you imagine a world in which animals marginalize dogs just because they are loyal to men?

I think not. Nevertheless this world exists, but not for animals, they do not have this kind of evil. But man, yes.

Think about it. We live in a world where people are denigrated because of the color of their skin, a world in which religion is still a matter of discrimination and violence.

Visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau Poland, Spotlight Europe
“But that is not the past, not just history, it is real life.” Alessia´s trip to Auschwitz left her thinking about parallels between past and present.(Picture taken by Alessia Tavarone)

On January 27, we celebrate the World Day of Memorial, a day to remember the events that changed the history of humanity: the Holocaust. The Nazi madness, with the collaboration of several European states, led to the deaths of more than fifteen million people during the Second World War. We all know the events that distorted the history of mankind and destroyed Europe, and we are used to think of those events as in the past. But that is not the past, not just history, it is real life. We read the stories of survivors, we see epic films that recount those years and sometimes we look at things with distance, as if what happened does not concern us.

I made a trip to Poland. I entered in the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau. It was exactly what I had seen in many photographs and films. It was exactly the same, but it was totally different. Why? Because it was true. I was there.

Barbed Wire Fence, Auschwitz-Birkenau Poland, Spotlight Europe
“Because it was true. I was there.” (Picture taken by Alessia Tavarone)

I walked along the streets that the prisoners crossed to go to hard labor, I saw the ruins of the crematory ovens, I entered in brick huts where prisoners slept huddled together. It was so cold. The wind was so cold to stop me. I could not talk, I could not walk, I was only able to sit still and tremble. I was well-fed, healthy, and I had three sweaters, coat, cap, scarf, gloves, boots and yet I trembled. They had only a pair of pajamas, were malnourished and subjected to forced labor. I thought “how could they resist even one day in the cold?”. It is not humanly possible.

Then I realized the horror, the pain and suffering that those people must have felt. It goes far beyond our comprehension. At that moment I realized how deep darkness can be in the human heart.

Do not think that this is something away from you. Seventy years have passed and the blood of those people is still in Europe. Yet the recent terrorist attacks in Paris suggest that mankind still has not learned from its mistakes.

“At that moment I realized how deep darkness can be in the human heart.”

Yet people kill for religion and this is everybody’s problem. There is war in the Middle East, but also the heart of Europe is suffering the consequences, as in Paris. Do not think that the problem is the Muslims. Yesterday the Ku Klux Klan in America was against black people, yesterday there was anti-Semitism in Europe, yesterday there were the Christian crusades that caused millions of victims in the name of God.

So the question is this: have pain, death, repentance, compassion and hope not taught you anything? Are all these things are still served if you kill a man for his religion, for his race, for his political views?

Hatred exists, just as love exists, but this awareness should not leave us without hope. The solution exists: respect for life.

Transportation carriage, Spotlight Europe
“There is no right, no wrong. There is the difference that must be respected and loved.”(Picture taken by Alessia Tavarone, Detail)

As the dream of Martin Luther King in a world where people are together and the skin color does not matter, like a Jew child and a German child playing together, as an Israeli who embraces a Palestinian, as a Christian who accepts a Muslim. There is no right, no wrong. There is the difference that must be respected and loved. Look at yourself in the mirror; you are different from anyone else in this world. Is it bad? No, it is special.

Europe can no longer accept this ignorance and intolerance. Enough violence, stop wars, it is time to promote peace and equality among men, because without this Europe itself cannot exist. Can you imagine a world where cats kill cats because they are blacks? No. Then do not accept a world where men kill other people just because they are different.

Change the world. Promote respect, promote peace.

About the author:
Picture Alessia Tavarone 2, Spotlight Europe
Alessia – Author at Spotlight Europe

Alessia (24) participated at the “My Europe” workshop in Milan, Italy, in 2012. She is an active Member in the Youth Council for the Future.