Muslim censorship or just plain decency?

RNW archive

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In Utrecht, sexy posters have been covered up and a message stuck across them. Many people are annoyed at what they see as "Muslim censorship", others are surprised it hasn’t been done before.

In Kanaleneiland, a predominantly Muslim area of Utrecht, a poster advertising the open museum weekend has been covered by a black bag. The poster shows a woman in a short pink strapless dress. A message reading 'La ilahe il Allah – No Sexually Tinted Advertising In Our Suburbs. Stand Up And Fight Against This Case To Protect Our Children!' is plastered across the bag.

Another poster showing a woman in a bikini in the distance walking on a beach has also been covered up. The next day the cover had been taken off, but angry reactions had already started appearing on the internet. Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders even asked questions in parliament about this 'Islamic censorship'.

Freedom of expression

Meanwhile, in Kanaleneiland, many people hadn’t even noticed there was anything going on. “When I pass by, my main worry is whether I’ll catch the tram, not what’s on the posters people hang up and how others react,” says a girl wearing a headscarf. She and her friend had never noticed before that anyone had covered sexy posters in the neighbourhood. “There are often posters from the lingerie brand Hunkemöller, which couldn’t be much more naked.”

Advertising photos of half-dressed woman are a recurring feature on Dutch streets and debates on the issue crop up regularly. In 2007, a Christian Party councillor in centrally located Utrecht objected to a large billboard covering the whole facade of a city centre shop - showing a woman lying down in a gold bikini. She found it poor taste. Others criticised her for trying to "limit the freedom of expression".

Female stereotype
In 2010, people in various cities damaged posters advertising Sapph lingerie with women posed provocatively in sexy underwear, and men’s tailor SuitSupply received a wave of criticism for its advertising posters showing a scantily-clad model in sexually suggestive poses with men in suits. It wasn’t just the religious fanatics who were up in arms; feminists also objected to the "sexist" campaign. The model felt the need to defend herself, saying she had actually enjoyed the photo shoot.

The two girls are not surprised that other Muslims have reacted against the half-naked images. They don’t like the advertising either. Nevertheless, they think covering them up is “nonsense”.

“If you don’t want your child to see it, just turn their head away.” Besides, they say, children are confronted with nakedness anyway. “You can cover up a poster here on the street, but there are also advertising flyers with half-dressed women. And it’s on TV.”

“Why should I protect my children?” asks a young mother holding a little boy’s hand. “The posters don’t bother me. When my child is big enough I’ll explain to him that we don’t do things like this because we have a different religion.”

And what does a young Muslim woman, who has just arrived in the Netherlands, think about a poster showing a woman in bikini? She uses a Dutch sentence she has just learnt. “It’s cold!”


Link to blog on SuitSupply campaign (some may find the images unsuitable) - Designers Couch

Link to blog on Golden Bikini billboard - Cultural Omnivore

Link to blog on Sapph campaign (scroll down to Bus stop Doris) - Smoggy Blogger