Chokri Ben Chikha is a young Tunisian author, actor and singer. Ben Chikha was born and raised in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking north of Belgium. He has written a play and dance act about cultural differences to draw attention to the difficulties of young immigrants who are discriminated against by the natives.
The play is called “Our Lady of Flanders” (Onze Lieve Vrouw van Vlaanderen). The premiere is on 29 October in Brussels. The Brussels magazine Brussel XL asked the author: “Some of the dialogues are interspersed with antisemitism. What exactly is the meaning of that?” Ben Chikha answered:
“Antisemitism is alive amongst North Africans, whether you like it or not. It has to do with the Palestinian question. I am convinced that you have to talk about antisemitism. I am not going to solve it, but I have to show it. Moreover, not only the Arabs dislike Jews. My stepmother, a Polish woman, is very antisemitic as well. I think one should be able to laugh at anything, even at antisemitism.”
The latter sounds like a contradiction to me. He is not laughing at antisemitism, but at Jews. However, until I have seen the play I cannot judge. Perhaps the antisemitism is funny.
The poster for the play is probably meant to be funny too. It depicts the virgin Mary with a howling child and a bowl of blood. She is barebreasted and is sitting next to a shield with the arms of Flanders. As a muslim immigrant Ben Chikha is apparently allowed to use such images, which make fun of the Flemings and ridicule the religion many of them adhere to.
Contrary to what Ben Chikha says there are things that one had better not laugh at, such as Islamic religion for instance. Some time ago a Dutch artist showed the backs of naked women with verses from the Quran written on them. This was considered blasphemy. A Muslim extremist ritually slaughtered the artist, Theo van Gogh, in broad daylight. That, certainly, is a cultural difference worth noting.
Ben Chikha need not fear being murdered in the street. On the contrary, his play is being subsidised by the Ministry for Culture. After the performances in Brussels it goes on a six-month tour through Flanders. The government encourages schools to attend.