Monday, October 08, 2007

Veiled Criticism

The case of an 8 year old Muslim girl who was refused admission to her school in Girona for wearing a hijab has provoked plenty of debate in the last week. A lot of comparisons are made with the situation in France which famously passed a law on the issue. In the end the Catalan regional government has ordered the school to readmit the girl, affirming that the right to education overrides their internal regulations.

Cases like this tend to make for very strange bedfellows as sections of the non-religious left line up with right wing bigots who are more than happy to see religious symbols banned as long as it is not their religion. I think the decision that the right for this girl to continue receiving schooling takes priority over the issue of how she dresses is undoubtedly a correct one, whatever the good intentions are that lie behind the regulation in this case. The education system should help to give pupils the ability to make their own decisions about things which affect their lives, but it’s not there to be used as a means of imposing a solution. I say this as someone who believes very strongly in keeping religion out of the education system.

I don’t think anyone seriously believes that the moves in countries such as France would ever have happened in the case of Christian or Jewish kids alone; the law was introduced because of Muslim girls wearing the veil or the hijab. It’s mistaken to think that you can lift oppression by edict in this way, families can also be oppressive for all sorts of other reasons that have nothing to do with religion and we can’t reasonably expect the educational system to offer the solution for all these different problems. It’s particularly ironic to see such debate about the issue here when the Catholic Church is still receiving enormous subsidies from the State to run schools. If we want to take religion out of education then maybe that is where we need to start?

8 comments:

Natalia said...

My opinion about this matter, as expressed in several places, is that the hijab has never to be accepted inside the schools, but not for a religious reason, only because is so unpolite to be covered indoors

Aurèlia said...

Totally in agreement with you, Graeme. Greetings from Barcelona.

Graeme said...

Thanks Aurèlia, welcome to South of Watford.

Natalia, whether it's polite or not is open to debate - but I can't help feeling that we should judge peoples politeness by their behaviour rather than their way of dressing. I'm not saying its good that she wears a hijab, just that it shouldn't be a reason to exclude her from school.

Natalia said...

Graeme. I'm not suggesting that we let the children out of school, what I was trying to say is that we, as a society, must have some rules about "what you can do and what not" and that for me, and for the mos of the people in our "culture" wear a cap, a hat or anything covering your head (and sometimes even half of the face) inside is showing a lack of respect for the other people. Same way I have to tell you that if I go to a muslim country I'll jave no problem in covering my head as a sign of respect for their culture, and same goes If I have to visit them at home even if it's here in Europe.

leftbanker said...

If the hijab is allowed, what about niqab? When I was in school you weren’t allowed to wear a hat in class. This seems like the same thing. I followed this issue fairly intently in France. Part of their reason against religious (read Islamic) dress in public schools was partly to instruct the young women that they are able to make their own choices in a democratic society. This eight year old girl is not choosing to wear the hijab; religion is forced upon children by their families. Part of the function of public education is to inculcate children in the values of the country, something that may possibly be hindered by such a visible display of the Islam’s different treatment of the sexes.

Graeme said...

I don't really buy this comparison between wearing the hijab and wearing a hat, it's not comparing like with like. If someone comes to my house wearing a hat I might find it a bit strange if they sit down still wearing it (although being British I probably wouldn't say anything except maybe to ask if they were cold). If a Sikh comes to visit me I would be very surprised if he came in the door and started taking his turban off - the reason Sikhs wear a turban is not the same.

I'm completely in favour of people being encouraged to make their own choices in life, but let's not confuse that with issuing rules that attempt to force them to make those choices. I'm not convinced that forcing an 8 year old Muslim girl to discard the hijab is going to make her see the light, it often has the opposite effect.

leftbanker said...

I wasn’t comparing a hat to the hijab; I was simply pointing out that there are existing rules that forbid Islamic dress without creating new ones. Do you think that young girls should be allowed to wear niqab? What if Muslims demand a separation of sexes in public schools? Holland now has state-sponsored Muslim schools to accommodate their Muslim immigrants. It’s a thorny issue and will not disappear simply by allowing children to wear the hijab.

Graeme said...

Leftbanker, there is an ocean of difference between showing some pragmatic tolerance over how pupils dress and giving in to religious demands on the structure of schools or the education system.

I certainly don't favour Muslim state schools, but then this brings me back to the point I made in my original post; because if you allow massive public subsidy of schools run by the church or religious orders then you are hardly in a strong position to deny the same to other religions.