He often wears suits, has thick glasses and when he talks, he starts out in an informal, teenager-like tone but then quickly recovers into academic language. Othman El Hammouchi is on his way to becoming one of Belgium’s most prominent philosophers, but he’s still an 18-year-old college student. “My choice to study mathematics had nothing to do with politics,” El Hammouchi laughs when I ask him about his choice of study, amid his first-year exams at the Free University of Brussels. “I’m just interested in certain questions and how they relate to things like the relativity theory and Kantian philosophy.”
When he was 17, El Hammouchi won an essay contest for high school students and in his own words entered the “circuit” of writing opinion pieces, doing interviews and giving talks. Since then he has been featured in most of Belgium’s newspapers, and one of the country’s most important philosophers, Etienne Vermeersch, called him “brilliant.”
At first sight, his conservatism seems to be quite traditional. “For me, conservatism is a complete world view that places emphasis on traditional structures such as religion, marriage and hierarchy,” El Hammouchi says. Yet at the same time, he moves away from commonly held positions on the right, such as doubting the existence of man-made climate change. “As a conservative, you shouldn’t deny science,” he says.
THE TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE WAS A SORT OF CONTRACT IN WHICH THE WOMAN EXCHANGED SEX FOR STABILITY. YET THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION UNDERMINED THAT.
OTHMAN EL HAMMOUCHI
His most obvious clash with today’s right? El Hammouchi is a religious Muslim at a time when European conservatives are moving toward hard-line positions on identity, often critical of Islam. It’s not just far-right groups. A leader of the conservative New Flemish Alliance, Belgium’s biggest party, Bart De Wever this year told a local newspaper: “Muslims want a place in the public space, in education, with their external religious symbols. That causes tension.”
This kind of rhetoric, argues El Hammouchi, means “conservatives in Belgium are throwing away the votes of 7 percent of the population who are Muslim.” He rather argues for a “conservative grand alliance” between Christians and Muslims. “One of my goals is to take away this irrational hatred toward Islam,” he says. His work has elicited little reaction from conservative politicians, but recently he joined Doorbraak, a prominent publication in conservative circles, as a regular contributor.
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