Bowing to threats in Belgium, Muslim quits her job

BRUSSELS – In a discrimination case watched across Belgium, a Muslim has resigned from her job in a food processing company after a series of death threats against her employer from a shadowy extremist group because she was habitually wearing a head scarf on the job.

The case has gained notoriety throughout Belgium since the first of seven threatening letters arrived in November.

The woman, Naima Amzil, and her employer had been called heroes for refusing to cave in to demands from a group calling itself New Free Flanders.

Even King Albert II received Amzil and the company owner, Rick Remmery, at the palace to show his support.

Amzil, 31 years old, is originally from Morocco. The authorities say it is unclear why she was singled out by the extremists.

“I can assure you that we put all means at the disposal of the investigators to catch the perpetrators and the investigation will not stop until the moment we catch them,” Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said.

Intolerance toward Muslims in Western Europe has sometimes turned into violence as the popularity of the extreme right continues to rise.

Amzil decided to quit Wednesday when she heard of the latest letter, which contained two bullets and warned that “the execution is being prepared again.”

It added that Remmery’s products would be poisoned.

“Now it has become too much,” she told television news. “I can’t take it any more.”

Remmery, who employs 50 people in rural West Flanders, pleaded with Amzil to stay but said “the pressure had become too much for her.”

She promised to return to work if the case is resolved.

“If the perpetrator gets caught, I will certainly return to work,” she said.

The equal opportunities minister, Christian Dupont, said she understood Amzil’s decision.

She added: “It is a scandal that the person making these threats remains comfortably at home.”

Filip Dewinter, leader of the anti-immigration Flemish Interest Party, also condemned the threats, saying that Amzil’s resignation showed “democracy loses to blackmail.”

Unizo, the union of independent employers, which gathered over 25,000 signatures in support of Amzil and Remmery, also expressed its disappointment.

“This is a bad signal,” said Ronny Lannoo, a Unizo spokesman. “The people behind this will now see that it works.”

But he added that everyone understood the emotional duress Amzil was under.

In the letters, Remmery has been threatened with arson and murder. One put a price of ˆ250,000 on his head, or nearly $350,000.

Remmery refused to dismiss the worker or demand that she remove her head scarf.

One morning, Amzil removed it herself, saying she did not want to endanger her colleagues. Still, the letters kept coming.

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Associated Press; Agence France-Presse, via The International Herald Tribune, France
Mar. 4, 2005

Religion News Blog posted this on Friday March 4, 2005.
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