Interview with Fatima Elatik, Expats Magazine November 2001
SPEAKING HER MIND
©2001 Jonette Stabbert
People with preconceived ideas about Muslims in general or submissive Muslim women obviously haven’t yet encountered Fatima Elatik. An attractive 28-year-old woman with exotic features and a headscarf, Fatima doesn’t particularly attract attention - until she opens her mouth. Then people sit up and take notice, and hopefully, really listen. She is articulate and outspoken about her opinions.
Fatima is the only Moroccan city councilwoman (PVDA) in Amsterdam . Of the 45 city council members, approximately 13 are women.
“I’m struggling to be an equal citizen. I’ve always seen myself as a part of this society and I belong here, but I find this society is not prepared for people like myself. As long as there are others who don’t accept me as a fellow Amsterdammer, I have to fight for it. That’s my struggle.”
Born in Amsterdam to Moroccan parents, Fatima studied biology at the HBO and was involved with student organizations and politically active during her student years. She’s been in the city council (gemeenteraad) since 1998, and currently works at the Ministry of Justice in The Hague .
“I became involved in politics because I’ve always had the feeling that I have something to contribute to this society. It’s so easy to have critical opinions, but more difficult to actually take responsibility to do something. I’ve chosen to be critical AND take responsibility, so that’s why I’m in politics. I am driven!”
Asked if she or other Muslims view her as a feminist, she replies, “I don’t like all those stamps. I’m not struggling for equal rights between men and myself; I’m struggling for equal rights between Dutch women and myself. I’m trying to obtain a position in society. I’ve built a lot of credit in the community. I’m not considered a feminist, just a good Muslim woman who is very active in her society and tries to change things around her. A good Muslim is someone who lives with dignity in full awareness of the connection between himself, the creator and the surroundings.”
Fatima is very involved with the foreign business community and seems to know everybody. She’s been associated with GIVING BACK for three years, and is now their female ambassador. Giving Back is a foundation that provides mentoring programs to high school students and motivates ethnic immigrant youth. As a member of the city council, she networks heavily to establish good relations. Attracting new businesses means more money and more jobs, so it puts the economy in better shape.
Since the horrific events of September 11 th, the renowned tolerance of the Dutch has been tested and largely found lacking. Muslims living here are now treated less as part of a multi-racial society and looked upon as the possible enemy.
“When the ETA or IRA does something, we don’t point the finger at all Catholics,” Fatima says.
She was disillusioned to discover just how far intolerances go. In Dutch society, people are told they have the right to speak their minds.
“Freedom of speech is not for me. If I say something controversial, then I’m not a politician anymore; then I’m a Muslim and an Arab.”
Fatima proudly lifts her head, and she reiterates her mission.
“It’s always about them and us. I’m sorry, but I’m not a part of them, I’m a part of us! I was born and raised in Amsterdam and nobody’s going to call me a them, or is going to make me belong to a group called them”, she says fervently. “It’s us or it’s nothing.”
She keeps working towards change and is running for re-election.
“If you stay positive and keep working in the background, you can influence people to see things differently. I put my hopes in that – just touching people, letting them see that the world doesn’t always look the way they think it looks. Try seeing it from another point of view.”
Fatima loves Amsterdam and Morocco , where she visits family every year.
“I believe in going back to your roots - it’s so important, re-establishing who you are.”
Asked about her personal life, she says, “I have very close friends and I love it when they come to my house in the weekend, because we can all stand together in my kitchen and cook something – it’s my way of relaxing and closing off the week. I also like to read inspirational books for my personal development.”
Then, her eyes take on a wicked sparkle and youthful laughter erupts.
“I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t gamble. I have one obsession: I’m crazy about As The World Turns – I’ve been watching it for 12 years.”
Vivacious, intelligent and not afraid to speak her mind, she’s one of a new generation helping to make this city, and the world, a better place. There’s much more to Fatima Elatik than can be told in this article. You’ll have to meet her some time; she just might change your life.