“Really Dutch:” On Consumerism and National Identity

“Really Dutch:” On Consumerism and National Identity June 14, 2010

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.”

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.

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