“Really Dutch:” On Consumerism and National Identity

Al Nisa (Arabic for “the women”), a Muslim woman’s organization based out of the Netherlands, has found a new and eye-catching way to combat misconceptions about Muslim women in the Netherlands.

In early May they launched their campaign titled, “Really Dutch.” This poster campaign features Muslim women, pictured wearing a headscarf, doing things which are “Dutch.”

What is “Dutch,” you ask? According to the posters, drinking tea and eating herring are things which are indicative of one’s Dutch-ness.

Leyla Çakir, the chair of Al Nisa says, “We want to make it clear, in a humorous way, that we are Muslims, but we’re also Dutch. And we want to break down the negative prejudices about Muslim women. That we are oppressed, that we spend all our time indoors. That we have nothing to say.”

Caption: "I like them raw." Image via the Telegraph article.

The most widely-seen poster (pictured above) is one of a Muslim woman, wearing hijab and dressed in the colors of the Dutch flag, about to put an entire raw herring in her mouth. Underneath the picture it says, “I like them raw.” The words are supposedly a quote from Freedom party leader and noted Islamophobe Geert Wilders, talking about women who wear the veil. Sexual innuendo anyone?

Radio Netherlands Worldwide comments, “For those of you in any doubt, raw herring – preferably swallowed whole – is a traditional Dutch delicacy.”

Nonetheless, this campaign is reminiscent of others which aim to fight discrimination in the Netherlands, specifically other campaigns which address the need to embrace the society’s multicultural makeup in the face of a relatively anti-Islamic political and social climate perpetuated by political party leaders such as Wilders.

The campaign definitely shows Muslim women consuming Dutch products, which at best points to the fact that Muslim women are somewhat assimilated into Dutch society in that they consume the same products as the other people of the Netherlands.

However, I am skeptical of the campaign’s ability to challenge perceptions. Eating herring and drinking tea may be Dutch, but do these acts really counter the argument that Muslim women are oppressed or that they spend most of their time indoors?

Al Nisa is off to a good start, but this is just a drop in the bucket in terms of fighting the existing prejudices of Dutch society towards Muslim women. It is still left to be seen whether these types of campaigns can push the envelope and elicit a much-needed social debate regarding the contribution of Muslims to Dutch (and European) identity.

  • NancyH

    they should do a woman riding a bike(very Dutch), maybe to her *job*, that would show Muslim women are participating in society, and not staying indoors being oppressed.

  • Hana

    I am not familiar with the conditions in the Netherlands Nancy, but what exactly makes you say that Muslim women are “not staying indoors being oppressed”?

  • Diana

    @ Hana
    While, I am sure it is the case that some Muslim women are in fact oppressed, I think the idea here is that the “oppressed” Muslim woman should not be the face of all Muslim women. Just as some women are victims of domestic violence, it would be unfair to say that all women are victims.
    It is exactly this idea is expressed over and over again by European leaders, for example, Sarkozy, who says of veiled Muslim women, “In our country, we can’t accept women prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity.” So to counter this I would have to ask what exactly makes everyone say that Muslim women are staying indoors, “cut of from all social life”, even if they wear the burka, chador, niqab, abaya. Frankly this is a blanket statement that attempts to silence Muslim women from speaking out about their experiences or their oppression, if in fact they are oppressed.