Freedom of religion for Muslims - on 'Flemish' terms only? : an interdisciplinary analysis of four proposals impacting freedom of religion in Flanders, post-terrorist attacks

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Vancutsem, Willem
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This dissertation presents an interdisciplinary analysis of four political proposals, affecting freedom of religion, that were made in Flanders in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 22 March 2016. These were the following: a suggestion to, constitutionally, no longer allow religious exceptions from the law; a proposal to criminalize expressions of ‘radicalism’; an attempt to ban the burkini, a swimming suit for Muslim women; and a political agreement to ban the practice of ritual slaughter without stunning. Fusing legal method with philosophy and political science, more specifically securitization theory and discourse theory, this thesis asks whether or not these proposals would violate the human right to freedom of religion, as codified in the ECHR. After first outlining a conscience-based philosophical justification for freedom of religion, it is argued that the ECtHR’s protection for this right is insufficient, following its problematic use of the limitation criterion of a ‘legitimate aim’ in art. 9(2). Through this, it is revealed, the ECtHR has unjustly allowed States to interpret and judge religions, so that its doctrine does not suffice to assess possible violations, and an alternative framework is needed. A thoroughly constructivist version of securitization theory, linked with identity constructions, it is argued, can provide this alternative, as it allows to asses violations based on the way in which manifestations of religion are discursively constructed as ‘threats’ to a ‘legitimate aim’, and can reveal whether or not this happens on the basis of an interpretation of, and value-judgment about, a religion as a whole. Applying this framework through a discourse analysis of selected newspaper articles, opinion pieces and parliamentary documents, it is then argued that each of the concerned proposals would violate this right. None of them complies with the requirement of a legitimate aim, as it is revealed that all proposals are based on a value-judgment about one religion: Islam. This, in turn, is the result of the particular identity construction driving these proposals: Flemish identity is being constructed against the Islamic ‘other’, resulting in the demand that Muslims abandon manifestations of their religion in order to become part of the Flemish ‘us’. This identity construction is incompatible with freedom of religion for Muslims, and alternatives, based on an inclusive identity that respects the implications of freedom of religion, must therefore be supported. Keywords: freedom of religion, human rights, European Convention of Human Rights, European Court of Human Rights, legitimate aim, threat, securitization theory, Flanders, identity, Islam, burkini, ritual slaughter, radicalism, terrorism, discourse analysis.
Second semester University: Uppsala University
freedom of religion, terrorism, Islam, Muslims, Belgium, Flanders, religious discrimination