Ali was born and raised in the Schilderswijk. Through his studies philosophy of law he became more critical towards the rule of law, regulations and the government. Religion is and will remain his primary compass. And being both a philosopher of law and Muslim? That can be done exceptionally well.
You will be surprised by the amount of knowledge and wonderful scholars there have been.
The Schilderswijk is part of my identity. It played a huge role in my childhood and has made me the person I am today. Whenever I arrive at The Hague Holland Spoor it’s like coming home. Both my parents were born in Turkey, but the Netherlands is my homeland. Being Turkish is mainly a thing of cultural identity and has played a role in my upbringing. I consider it a piece of history that I carry with me in my DNA and in the relationship with my parents. I am bilingual, thus that includes a piece of Kurdish identity as well.
It felt as if I was three-nil down. I attended a school where white Dutch kids could be counted on one hand. Subsequently, I arrived at secondary school with a huge language deficit. I then had to work harder than I’ve ever worked to finish my pre-university education. I was the elder in the family; therefore I had to figure it all out by myself. Soon I came to realize that I did not have the same privileges, institutionally, as my fellow white students. I have always resisted and continued to fight, afraid of the paralysing effect of performance anxiety. The feeling that you are not good enough, or that you are being given a hard time.
The strength I receive is partly from faith, the trust in Allah. However, I also went looking for help, for people who could possibly mentor me. I have always received a lot of support from my family, and tried to choose my friends wisely.
During my studies I have been the biggest outcast imaginable. I studied philosophy of law in Leiden and some of my teachers did not shy away from telling everyone they were right-winged. Multiple times I experienced – during classes or debates – that my religion was being demonized or marginalized. However, I survived unscathed. I graduated cum laude and consider it to be one of the most instructive years of my life.
During my master in philosophy of law I had to call into question many things. I was mainly concerned with the question of ‘why’. I have become more critical towards issues such as the rule of law, regulations and the government. I have learned to see things in perspective. During my master I learned to think outside of certain frameworks, yet I was aware of the fact that this was within the context of the philosophy of law. I can also think about God and the creation of man philosophically, but that forms the essence of my faith and that I do not doubt. Otherwise, it would not be faith. Religion is always my primary compass, and I believe you can be both an excellent legal philosopher and a Muslim at the same time.
I do not believe that democracy, the rule of law and/or the ideals of the Enlightenment are undisputed. What I took from my education is that criticism must at all times be possible. The wonderful thing about faith – not just Islamic faith – is that certain ideals arise that originated well before the Enlightenment. You will be surprised by how much overlap there is between age-old scholars and philosophers from the Islamic faith and western ideals. It is a shame we do not delve into Eastern scholars more. We tend to dismiss them right away due to geopolitical tension. I can give you a list right away of Islamic scholars, thinkers and philosophers who inspire me. Think of Rumi, who is a great figure within Islamic traditions but who has also been able to inspire many non-Muslims. Sometimes I find it strange that Muslims do not know their own tradition’s heroes. You will be surprised by the amount of knowledge and wonderful scholars there have been.
Jan is museum curator at the Gemeentemuseum The Hague and lives in the Schilderswijk. He perceives culture – like his identity – as something dynamic. And art? Art can help us perceive the world in an open and curious manner.
Religion being one’s first label of identification is something I can’t imagine. I wouldn’t say it is weird, though. Recognizing your work as your first identity is so to say also a bit sad. Part of me feels Dutch, but I might as well thrive in Germany. My worldview and ideas can to a large extent be characterized as Western European. I feel at home here, but that is something not specifically related to a neighbourhood, city or province. I find that fascinating about Ali, that he has a very strong bond with the Schilderswijk.
In the museum – during tours, lectures or evenings with relations and benefactors – I have very nice conversations with others. Often, these are highly educated people who are fairly successful, in any case financially. They believe themselves to be very open and progressive, since they are connected to art and look at the world in a critical way. However, their gaze is often quite inward looking.
Culture is something very dynamic, something that is constantly evolving. Culture is oftend linked to traditions, yet these are often constructions of some kind. We must protect ourselves from becoming too rigid towards culture, and beware of strong opinions about phenomena outside of one’s own world.
All good art shakes you; it makes you question your worldview. Good art ensures that you delve into a subject or issue yourself. In that way, art fulfils a very important role in society. As a museum you try to appeal to the society at large, yet ultimately 90% of what you do is a reflection of only a certain part of society. You must try your best to make everyone feel welcome. However, you should also not force these things. This was also a discussion point during an exhibition consultation. Should we actively and deliberately incorporate themes that play a role in society, or should we act regardless of that and see whether current social themes fit within the program? There is no doubt that museums are now trying to relate to society more consciously.
Although I can’t really tell from my own point of view, I do believe I am critically nuanced. I am quite lenient. I believe my mild attitude comes from experiencing certain privileges. There have been times I had to prove myself – at soccer club, in school and at my first job – but I never had to overcome a bias. That is a tremendous luxury. People who are faced with prejudice due to their cultural background or appearance are one nil down. This, I can also tell from Ali’s (duo partner) story, and that is painful.
The hipster started out as someone who, very emphatically, embraced and tried to pursue a certain kind of authenticity, an authentic lifestyle. However, in the end it is diluted to mainly physical appearance – a pseudo-authenticity or pseudo-consciousness to alter your identity. Both hipster and Muslim follow the truth of their existence, yet I believe the religious motives are much more passionate and sincere than the average hipster ones. A hipster can make his own sausages coming from a pseudo-environmental awareness, yet catch an airplane three to four times a year. That is quite a paradox. I have never really felt like a hipster, even though I do meet many of the clichés: I own a fixed gear bike; I like certain elements of the lifestyle. Nevertheless, the intellectual hipster should be the first to realize that it is a bit of a fake attitude. That is how I have always tried to relate to it.
There have been times I had to prove myself but I never had to overcome a bias. That is a tremendous luxury.