FROM the Belgian port city of Antwerp comes a sad tale: of a school headmistress whose efforts to construct a haven of multicultural dialogue have been wrecked by the intolerance of others.
In recent years, a growing number of schools in Antwerp (a tough but buzzing city, where the anti-immigrant far-right picks up about a third of the vote in local elections) have banned outright the wearing of Muslim veils and headscarves by female pupils. Karin Heremans, headmistress of the Antwerp Atheneum (a prestigious sort of secondary/high school) tried another approach. Ms Heremans is described in the local press as a champion of cultural diversity in the school system, who fought for nine years for the right of her pupils to wear headscarves if they wished.
Alas, as her school became a rare place where veils were permitted, in addition to girls taking refuge in her liberal policies came girls from families dominated by radical Islamism. Instead of being a beacon of tolerance, her school became a “ghetto” in the words of one supporter. The proportion of headscarf-wearing girls went from 50% to 80% in three years, and girls who did not wear scarves found themselves under stronger and stronger pressure to cover up. The school found itself “targeted” by Islamist hardliners who began questioning certain lessons, school excursions, and trying to block the organisation of mixed gender parents’ meetings, Ms Heremans told Le Soir, a Francophone daily, this morning (no link).
Finally, when term began this month, she banned the headscarf. She described this as a “difficult and frustrating” decision. There was a protest by about 60 radical Islamists on the first day of term, some of whom insulted and publicly threatened her, according to Le Soir.
White Flight: Europe’s modern, religious version