They smash gender norms, they challenge entrenched beliefs: Welcome to Day 4 in our 'Refugee Women in Politics' series. Today we are taking a closer look at Özlem Cekic, a Danish-Turkish ex-MP and Muslim, who is confronting racism head-on.
Originally from Ankara, Turkey, Özlem Cekic moved to Denmark as a young child and grew up in Copenhagen. Cekic is one of the first ever Muslim MPs to be elected to parliament in Denmark.
At 20 Cekic entered a marriage arranged by her parents, but at age 26 she decided to divorce and raise her child alone. She is now remarried and is a passionate advocate for equal rights, having recently been made the government spokesperson for gender equality.
(via her official website)
Cekic has always spoken up when it comes to racism and racial prejudice within Denmark. In her autobiography 'Fra Føtex til Folketinget' ("From Føtex to Parliament"), Cekic recounts experiences from her early life when she was singled out due to her refugee status- quite mundane incidents that really serve to highlight how pervasive this problem is. Cekic recalls a teacher at school telling all the immigrant children that they will "never achieve anything", or how during her 23-hours labor, her Danish midwife refused to address Cekic by name because it was 'too hard to pronounce'. This type of discrimination may not seem particularly acute, but it is ubiquitous within many societies and subtle enough to be difficult to eradicate.
Nowadays, Cekic has bigger fish to fry- by that I mean, 'bigger racists to confront'! Her appointment as MP, and candor about issues to do with racial discrimination and refugee rights has made her a target for trolls. But, instead of being silenced, or simply ignoring the trolls, Cekic has responded to their tweets with an invitation: "Come and talk to me".
THE YOUTUBE STUFF
Yes, Cekic has adopted a radical approach to dealing with online abuse. She welcomes any trolls to come and speak with her and try to resolve any differences face-to-face.
The clip below shows one such meeting with a troll named Stefan, who expresses his deep anger and mistrust against Islam, and by extension all Muslims, including Cekic. In Stephans aggressive tweets he has used derogatory terms such as 'vermin', 'pigs' and 'monkeys' to describe Islamic refugees:
“..disgusting Isis vermin and disgusting carrion (...) I hate you and everything your kind stands for”.
By meeting with people like Stefan, Cekic tries to explore their opinions through reasonable discussion, in the hopes that they will start to recognize their similarities of thought and their mutual values.
It is an unorthodox method but extremely effective, allowing viewers to listen to both sides, and judge for themselves. The videos are not made for the purpose of shaming or argument. More, as a way for Cekic to try to understand these people, and equally so that they can meet her and connect as human beings.
“How can we sit here one metre apart and still be so far apart from each other? I’m sitting here thinking it’s crazy you think you have the right to talk like that just because I’m Muslim.”
Cekic has written a number of books, most recently the book 'Hvorder hader han dig mor' (Why Does He Hate You Mummy?). As the title suggest, this book explores the deeply ingrained racial prejudice and hatred that Ozlem has experienced, as a result of her background.
Özlem Cekic is not just a refugee rights and Muslim rights campaigner, but a keen advocate for wider social changes and policy reform. She has voted against her party, the Socialist People's Party on a number of occasions, including on tax reform bills.
In that particular vote, Cekic received pressure from her own party to vote for the motion, or to abstain from the vote altogether. But Cekic insisted on casting her vote saying,
"at some point you have to decide whether there is a limit to all the compromises you have to accept."
Cekic argued that the proposed tax reform would benefit the wealthy at the expense of the socially marginalized:
"I oppose the part of the agreement that takes money from people on disability pensions, social security and early pensions to give tax reductions to the rich."
Her courage in speaking out earned her a lot of respect within her party, and at a subsequent internal vote, she received strong support from constituents, becoming the fourth ranking candidate in the Copenhagen constituency.
In another incident, Cekic refused to support her party's decision to prevent unaccompanied refugee minors from entering Denmark. This decision was then repealed at a later date, validating Cekic's original stance.
Cekic's Party, the Socialist People's Party, lost 9 seats in the recent election, and Cekic was not re-elected. However, she continues to be a flag-bearer for equal rights and refugee rights, an outspoken critic of governmental bills that penalize immigrants or seek to block refugees, a public speaker and author.
We hope you enjoyed the latest installment in our 'Refugee Women in Politics' series. Join us tomorrow for article Number 5! In the meantime, check out our previous posts on Golriz Ghahraman, Ilhan Omar and Clara Zetkin :)