Accessibility links

Breaking News

Threats to Her Employer Force Belgian Muslim to Resign

A Muslim woman who has been hailed in Belgium for standing up to racist threats has resigned from her job in a food processing plant after her employer received a new death threat.

Naima Amzil is a young Moroccan-born Belgian citizen who speaks French and Flemish as well as her native Arabic. She has worked for the past eight years at a factory in northwestern Belgium that produces packaged gourmet foods.

But Naima Amzil's life changed last November when her employer, Rik Remmery, began receiving a series of anonymous letters threatening him if he did not dismiss Ms. Amzil because she wears a headscarf.

One of the letters put a $340,000 price on Mr. Remmery's head and arrived with a bullet in the envelope. Another contained a threat to burn down his factory.

Ms. Amzil offered to resign, but Mr. Remmery would hear nothing of it.

"It was scaring me a lot, especially the bullet…I can guarantee that. But I will not change my mind because of one sick person. No, I don't do that," he said.

In an effort to minimize risk to her co-workers, Ms. Amzil decided not to wear her headscarf at work and began covering her hair instead with a safety bonnet.

But the letters kept coming, even after Mr. Remmery and Ms. Amzil were received by Belgium's King Albert in a show of royal support for their refusal to cave into intolerance. The pair also received letters of encouragement from tens of thousands of Belgians.

This week, though, the pressure became too much for Naima Amzil. Another anonymous letter arrived in the mail for Mr. Remmery. This one contained two bullets and warned that he would be executed and that his food products would be poisoned.

Ms. Amzil submitted her resignation despite Mr. Remmery's pleas for her to stay on.

Although police have been investigating the threats, they have been unable to come up with any leads.

The case of Ms. Amzil is only one story in a complex struggle under way throughout Europe. Many Europeans worry that the influx of Muslim immigrants threatens their national identities. Conservatives demand that the immigrants give up their distinct cultures and traditions. Immigrants, on the other hand, argue that mainstream society does not really want them to assimilate and that they will always be victims of discrimination.