Rescuing Muslim women from or by sharia? Islam vs. women's rights: framing of the Dutch sharia debate by the media in 2012
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The way Dutch popular media framed the sharia debate in 2012 is very characteristic of the Dutch discourse on Islam and the integration of Muslims. The role of gender was very present from the start, because multiculturalists thought a sharia council in The Netherlands could be a solution to marital captivity of Muslim women by dissolving marriages. Proponents and opponents in the 2012 sharia debate center on the notion that women are oppressed in Islam and stress their need for a saving from their Islamic marriage. Muslim women were the object of debate, more than subject, which reinforces the fact that Muslim women struggle to be heard. The limited number of quoted people and the minimum extent to which newspapers elaborated on the diverse statements on sharia councils, flattened out the debate and made it easy to polarize the sharia debate in 2012. The neo-realist articles of my case study mainly rely on emotional arguments such as ‘sharia is amoral, backward and intolerant’ or refer to human rights violations abroad. The articles from my case study are dominated by a lack of essential insider’s information, fear and leading questions. The articles relate Islam as problematic, conflicting or threatening to women’s rights in specific and Dutch society in general. Sharia law is a complex, nuanced, flexible and heterogeneous law system, but Dutch media reduce sharia to orthodoxy and misogyny, and don’t discuss in depth what role sharia law can have in The Netherlands. When media continue to stereotype Muslim women and frame Islam and women’s rights as mutually exclusive, it doesn’t contribute to more justice in Muslim women’s lives. Thus, when some groups in Dutch society consider to explore the possibilities of organizing sharia-based mediation in The Netherlands, this debate has to start with the recognition of the different opinions of Muslim women and of the fact that religion can be compatible with emancipation.