Screenshot from the video / Loubna Stensaker Goransson and Naouel Aissaoui are debating on a headscarf ban in schools © SVT Play
Two Muslim women with opposing views on a headscarf ban in schools clashed in a fierce TV debate in Sweden. The teacher told the politician that people uncomfortable with the veil should just leave the country.
The heated exchange between Naouel Aissaoui, a school teacher in the Swedish municipality of Skurup, and local politician Loubna Stensaker Goransson was over a ban on veils in public schools, which Goransson and other council officials enacted in December. The decision angered many educators, and Aissaoui is among those leading the pushback.
“Move away if it annoys you,” Aissaoui said during a TV debate after her opponent said she disliked seeing little girls wearing the veil. “This is my country, too.”
Both women are Muslim and of immigrant background, but have opposing views on what the headscarf represents and whether it has a place in modern Sweden. During the debate, Goransson said people could not expect to “come to a country that is secular and equal and live with medieval values.” She sees the controversial piece of clothing as a tool of oppression and sexualization of little girls, and not as a symbol of purity and goodness, as Aissaoui does.
The televised clash over the Skurup controversy was a microcosm of a larger debate over immigration in Sweden. The rapid influx of migrants put a strain on the country’s welfare system and a surge in crime as ethnic gangs wedged their way into the shadow economy. There is also a strong sentiment among many Swedes that the newcomers have no intention of integrating culturally and would rather isolate themselves in their own communities than adopt the customs of their hosts.
But talking about the negative side of welcoming droves of asylum seekers is a challenge, since Sweden has long hailed its open-door policy towards refugees as a matter of national pride, which opened a window of opportunity for politicians, who previously remained on the margins.
The Skurup headscarf ban was pushed by the right-wing anti-immigration Sweden Democrats (SD) party, which used to be a political pariah, but saw a rapid surge in popularity over the past several years. The SD has a majority in the municipality council and has found allies in people like Goransson, who is a member of the Moderates, to enact the headscarf ban.
Others became vocal opponents of the ban. Mattias Liedholm, the headmaster of Skurup’s largest school, declared the ban illegal and said he would not enforce it. His uncompromising position however was not shared by as many fellow Moderates as he probably hoped, so last week he announced he was leaving the party.
The SD’s suggestion to people not happy with the policy is remarkably similar to that of Aissaoui.
“If you find it so important to wear a headscarf, you go to Saudi Arabia or Iran. The police are happy to lend a hand if you forget that headscarf,” said Lars Nystrom, a Skurup council member for the SDs.