Posted on February 12, 2008

Lent Fast Re-Branded As ‘Christian Ramadan’

Bruno Waterfield, London Telegraph, February 12, 2008

Dutch Catholics have re-branded the Lent fast as the “Christian Ramadan” in an attempt to appeal to young people who are more likely to know about Islam than Christianity.

The Catholic charity Vastenaktie, which collects for the Third World across the Netherlands during the Lent period, is concerned that the Christian festival has become less important for the Dutch over the last generation.

“The image of the Catholic Lent must be polished. The fact that we use a Muslim term is related to the fact that Ramadan is a better-known concept among young people than Lent,” said Vastenaktie Director, Martin Van der Kuil.

Three decades ago the Catholic Church was as strict as many Muslims are about Ramadan with a total ban on meat and alcohol during the 40-day Lenten period between Ash Wednesday and Easter.

Most Dutch Catholics now focus on charitable work after the Vatican loosened fasting strictures for all but the first and last days of Lent back in 1967.

Four million Dutch describe themselves as Roman Catholics and 400,000 people attend Mass every week but only a few tens of thousands still mark Lent by fasting, said Mr Van der Kuil

Vastenaktie organisers hope that by linking the festival to Ramadan they can remind Christians who may be less observant than Muslims of the “spirituality and sobriety” of Lent.

“The agreements are more striking than the differences. Both for Muslims and Catholic faithful the values of frugality and spirituality play a central role in this tradition,” said Mr Van der Kuil.

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP)—The Dutch Cabinet said Friday it wants to ban burqas from all schools and prevent government employees from wearing the head-to-toe Islamic robes, but said it was impossible to outlaw them altogether.

In a policy letter to Parliament, the Cabinet said it would send a proposal to lawmakers within a few months on banning burqas in schools and said it would push government offices to forbid burqas in their staff dress regulations.

The move is largely symbolic as only around 150 women are believed to wear burqas in this country of 16 million. But it is another sign of the turning tide of Dutch tolerance as the nation seeks to assimilate its Muslim population of about 840,000.

“I value being able to look somebody in the eye,” Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said, referring to the fact that the robes cover a woman’s face. “I find it unpleasant.”

Interior Minister Guusje ter Horst said the Cabinet concluded there was no need to legislate a total burqa ban. “Many organizations already have tools with which they can prohibit the wearing of a burqa,” she said.

The government has been under pressure from conservative parties to ban burqas outright and Friday’s announcement is unlikely to satisfy those calls. But legal experts have said that a total ban would be unconstitutional and breach international agreements.

Balkenende’s last administration, which included the right-leaning Liberal Party that is now in opposition, said in 2006 it wanted an all-out ban, but was voted out of office before it could introduce legislation.

Anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders, who has warned the Netherlands is being swamped by “a tsunami of Islamization,” wants a total ban and said the government did not go far enough.

“It’s very disappointing that the political correctness of this government makes them a bit cowardly not to act on what Parliament and the public asks,” he told Associated Press Television News. “It’s bad for security, it’s bad for the emancipation of Muslim women, they will not integrate walking around like a penguin in the Dutch streets.”

Education Minister Ronald Plasterk said the ban was necessary in schools.

“We think that schools are part of the educational process and that students learn that you have to be able to look each other in the face,” he said.

Balkenende said government ministers would meet municipal and transport leaders on how to deal with women in burqas.

However Mobis, an umbrella organization for public transport companies, said in a letter to ministers that a burqa ban on buses, trains and trams is unnecessary and unenforceable.

“Face-covering clothing forms neither a threat to public order nor does it increase the risk of people traveling without a ticket,” the group’s chairman Maarten van Eeghen wrote in a letter to the interior and justice ministers.

Famile Fatma Arslan, a Muslim lawyer who wears a head scarf in court, said she didn’t see the need for the moves given the small number of women who wear a burqa.

“I understand that it is a signal from the Dutch government to the Muslim community that that is the limit . . . that the burqa is not accepted here in the Netherlands,” she said.