Dutch Convert to Islam: Veiled and Viewed as a 'Traitor'

Rabi'a Frank, at left, meets once a month in southern Netherlands with a group of Muslim women for prayer. The members of the group found each other on the Internet and also compare stories during their time together.
Rabi'a Frank, at left, meets once a month in southern Netherlands with a group of Muslim women for prayer. The members of the group found each other on the Internet and also compare stories during their time together. (By Molly Moore -- The Washington Post)
By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, March 19, 2006

BREDA, Netherlands -- Rabi'a Frank sees her Dutch home town through the narrow slit of the black veil that covers her face.

The looks she receives from the townspeople are seldom kindly.

On a recent winter afternoon, the wind tugged at her ankle-length taupe skirt, olive head scarf and black, rectangular face veil as she walked to her car from an Islamic prayer meeting in downtown Breda. Two blond teenagers on bicycles stared, their faces screwed into hostile snarls. Other passersby gawked. Some stepped off the sidewalk to avoid coming too near.

She tried to act like it didn't offend her. But it did. She knows what they think of Muslim women like her.

"If you cover yourself, you are oppressed -- that's it," said Frank, a lanky, 29-year-old Dutch woman who converted to Islam 11 years ago, about the time she married her Moroccan husband. "You are being brainwashed by your husband or your friends."

Or, you're a potential terrorist.

"Sometimes I make a joke and say, 'Oh, you don't have to be scared of me.' " Other times, she gets so fed up that she yanks up her hand under her robe like it's a pistol and shouts, "Boom!"

Frank spoke on a recent day in her living room in this city of 162,000 people near the Netherlands' southern border with Belgium. "They don't have the right to treat me different," she said. "It's like staring at someone in a wheelchair. It's not polite. I'm human, even if you don't like the way I appear."

This day-to-day struggle for acceptance on the streets of her home town is one woman's confrontation with a deepening rift in West European societies, where the emergence of a 15 million-member Muslim minority is reshaping concepts of national and personal identity.

Some European governments have passed laws they say are intended to help preserve national identity. Critics argue that the measures reflect Islamophobia and fears of terrorism triggered by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent transit bombings in Madrid and London.

The Netherlands, with nearly 1 million Muslims, almost 6 percent of its population, is particularly on edge. The 2002 assassination of an anti-immigrant politician, Pim Fortuyn, by an animal rights activist was followed by the execution-style murder in 2004 of the filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who had just released a controversial film seen as anti-Islamic. A young Muslim radical admitted to the killing.

A country with a history of tolerance is now adopting or debating some of the most restrictive anti-immigration and anti-Muslim laws in Europe. One proposed measure would ban women from wearing face veils, called niqab , in public. Another would outlaw the speaking of languages other than Dutch on the street.


CONTINUED     1           >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company