I opened my Facebook page and found an invitation to join the Halal-TV! What is that? It is a Swedish TV talk-show presented by three young women wearing colorful headscarf (or Hijab). The show, according to its makers, is meant to show how the three women view their Swedish homeland through the lens of their Muslim beliefs. Halal, by the way, is an Arabic term meaning permissible and mostly used to refer to food, but some extend that to include other things. The first episode of that show broadcast has already created a lot of controversy among Swedes.
When I saw the picture of the three young women from Halal TV, I thought immediately of our own experience in the Netherlands with this type of media: Last year there was a similar show called Halal Maiden, which also presented by three young women (of Moroccan origin) in colorful headscarf, discussing many issues, but mainly its all about the integration of Muslims in Dutch society.
I don’t know if it is the same production company is behind both shows!
I am not against headscarf. In fact I consider headscarf as a matter of self-expression; I see it as a social symbol rather than religious. I perceive the headscarf or the hijab the same way as I see a Nigerian woman wearing her gele or an Indian young woman putting saris on. I don't judge someone’s belief by the way they dress: It happened to me that I meet a person on a certain social occasion, and that person is wearing a very elegant suit or dressed so nicely that make all around keep looking at him, but after a few minutes of conversation with that person I excuse him and go to the toilet, throw up my lungs out because of disgust. Having said that, my objection against having a TV show with three beautiful young woman wearing hijab is not meant to be against hijab as it is against the concept of making specific program or talk-show that target certain people or certain social community under the name of “ the effort to address the issue of integration” . The definition of integration is “ The bringing of people of different racial or ethnic groups into unrestricted and equal association, as in society or an organization “. Would a weekly TV show like the Halal girls help to achieve the definition of integration? In my opinion it would achieve the opposite: a Dutch woman would watch the show and either she like it or not. Exactly like watching any local TV show, Dutch or Swedish, or even American spoken.
Before I continue, again, I don’t want to be misunderstood, I don’t mean to offend any of the two shows or say that the six girls are bad. On the contrary, I enjoyed the Dutch version, especially their argument and the way they approach the different aspects in society – some of them are very funny and I compliment the young ladies for their talent.
There are specific programs for specific communities, such as the Nederlandse Muslim Omroep or the Joodse Omrope, both are broadcast once a week on Dutch TV. What is the purpose of such TV programs? they were made to address different issues related to specific communities living and working in the Netherlands based on their religious belief. It also bring awareness the non-Muslim and non-Jewish. The Halal ladies show can be put in the same category. They are nothing but an introduction to another culture and their activities. Nothing more, nothing less. Bring people of different racial or ethnic background can be achieved the other way around: I have to meet people from another culture, I have to talk to men and women from different ethnic group, and I have to learn about their habits, rituals, and the things they like and dislike. With this, acceptance will be easier, and rejection would not be a barrier in the development of society. I didn’t watch Kurdish or Assyrian talk shows, for example, to learn how to go along with them and to deal with the way they see things. I made contact; talked Christians and Turkmans on the street, in shops, in social occasions, at school, in the neighborhood next to mine. From there I made friendship with men and women, families and individuals, by becoming more selective.
Those who say that there are problems coming from immigrants because they don’t understand the values and principles of the country they live in, for that reason there is a lot of focus on displaying how those immigrants live is part of the solution to integrate those people into Dutch society. By the way, it is known that Dutch society is one of the most tolerant societies in the whole world. This is entirely true, it is less than years ago, yet, it still exist in wide range around the country, and that has its reasons, mainly fear. For that reason people like Geert Wilders took that opportunity successfully and managed to get more than one million votes in the last elections.
I love colors, nowadays every single society consists of colors formed and shaped by its different ethnic groups and cultural backgrounds. However, it is like a painting, there are some colors for some is conceived as being out of shape and context, but the smart artist can adjust this. How? many Dutch ask how? many immigrants ask how? the answer consists of: first to focus more on how to accept each other, as long as there is acceptance from both sides, the mixture of colors will definitely be easier and the end result will be a master-piece. The second is to focus less, much less, on negativity in dealing with problems here and there caused by immigrants (not saying ignore them, but deal with them differently). The media is not the ultimate solution to bring people together in reality. The media will make the concept of acceptance harder to be digested by many, because the media will be the only means to know about that culture or ethnic group – the media topics are a series of messages addresses certain consumers at a certain time of the day and the night, and like any sort of messages, there are the bad and the good ones. Unless the Halal-maiden can be seen in office and universities as colleagues; Partners in one club or on a trip somewhere; in hospitals as doctors; or onsite as engineers, the media will be the only means to form the nature of relationship among citizens. It is not difficult to achieve this, especially if we forget that behind that headscarf or saris or gele there might be a great mind / personality able to contribute in making the neighborhood, school, workplace, and the whole society a better place to live in.