Freedom of religion and the securitisation of religious identity: An analysis of proposals impacting on freedom of religion following terrorist attacks in Flanders

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Vancutsem, Willem
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Global Campus
This article develops an adapted, discourse theory-based framework of securitisation theory to assess possible violations of the human right to freedom of religion. The relevance of this framework is illustrated by the analysis of three political proposals that would limit freedom of religion, made in Flanders after the terrorist attacks of 22 March 2016: a change to the Constitution; the criminalisation of ‘radicalism’; and a ban on the wearing of the burkini. While none of these proposals has subsequently been put in place, the article demonstrates how securitisation and identity constructions may impact on freedom of religion in illegitimate ways, while drawing attention to the possible effects of a particular construction of Flemish identity on the right of Muslim citizens to freedom of religion. After first outlining the securitisation theory and its original shortcomings – most notably the failure to take the discursive context and the role of identity constructions into account – the article links this theory to the human right to freedom of religion, through the limitation criterion of a ‘legitimate aim’ in article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It is shown that a manifestation of religion has to be securitised, or constructed as a threat to a ‘legitimate aim’, in order to be limited. However, it is argued that there are different ways in which this securitisation can occur: First, a manifestation of religion can be securitised in its own right; or, second, on the basis of an interpretation of the religion it belongs to. Embracing the insights of discourse theory, it is argued that both are related to identity constructions and the threats that ensue from clashing identities. The second instance, it is argued, constitutes a violation of the human right to freedom of religion. This insight is subsequently applied to the three proposals, demonstrating the relevance of the theory and its practical implications. All proposals, it is shown, ensue from a wider construction of ‘Islam’ as a ‘threat’ – the result of a Flemish identity construct that regards Muslims and Islam as the ‘other’. It is this construction that has given rise to the three proposals that aim to securitise manifestations of Islam. This identity construct, it is concluded, therefore is not compatible with freedom of religion for Muslims, and alternatives should be supported. Key words: securitisation; freedom of religion; legitimate aim; Islam; identity; discourse, European Convention on Human Rights
freedom of religion, social security, security, human rights, collective identity, Islam, European Convention on Human Rights, Flanders
W Vancutsem ‘Freedom of religion and the securitisation of religious identity: An analysis of proposals impacting on freedom of religion following terrorist attacks in Flanders’ (2018) 2 Global Campus Human Rights Journal 41-58

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