Tuesday, April 20, 2010

You Can Be Taught By A Nun But You Can't Wear A Headscarf

If, a couple of years ago, it was a school in Girona that provoked controversy for barring a Muslim pupil over the way she dressed, now it's the turn of Madrid. Najwa Malha, who attends a school in Pozuelo de Alarcón, has been barred from classes because she wants to wear a headscarf for religious reasons. The school insists that it has a regulation barring pupils from covering their heads and has not permitted Najwa to attend her lessons.

This is not even a case of someone being obliged to wear the headscarf against her will, Najwa has freely chosen to do it and some other pupils have also started doing so in solidarity with her situation. Today the teachers of the school have voted against any change in the application of the regulations and now the decision passes to the school's governing body.

The national government has made it clear that it regards the right to receive education as being paramount in this case, but the regional government of Madrid has not agreed; no great surprise there. An administration which dedicates much of its educational budget for the benefit of religious (Catholic) schools has no problem at all with pupils being force fed religion by the institution that is supposed to educate them. The crosses on the wall testify to that. If, on the other hand, someone practising a different religion chooses to wear a symbol of that belief then that becomes unacceptable.

18 comments:

Ferrolano said...

Graeme, for right or for wrong, the school in question has a standard policy which is to be maintained by the staff and followed by the pupils – end of story. It is rather like the school uniforms back in the UK, we all wore them and there were no arguments. We attended to receive education, not to make a fashion, or in this case, a religious statement. The fact that the nun may wear some head covering is mearly a part of her standard uniform.

Jan said...

I'm with Ferrolano on this. Back in the UK I was a primary school teacher and children were not allowed to wear jewellery, although of course the teachers were. Nothing wrong with that, they were students and had to abide by the rules.

Graeme said...

The school exists with one primary purpose, and that is not the imposition of arbitrary rules which can end up being used to discriminate. Their response is to say that Najwa can go to another school nearby, which is another way of emphasising just how arbitrary the rules are. We have enough segregation in Madrid's schools already.The reason I made the point about the nun was not so much for the way they dress, but to highlight the dominant position of a single religion in public education in Madrid. But since you raised it, what part of the nun's "uniform" isn't a religious statement?

Graeme said...

@Jan

I just don't think its the same to compare the wearing of jewellery, or caps for that matter, with the wearing of the headscarf or a Jewish skullcap. Did the rules of your school prohibit the presence of Sikhs if they wore turbans? The "rules are rules" argument always runs into trouble every time they change the rules.

Ferrolano said...

Graeme, I don’t believe that discrimination has anything to do with the matter, quite the contrary; it is to maintain a uniform standard. Again, referring back to the UK, I attended a local boy’s school which was C of E and we would see the local vicar once a week wearing his uniform, either in part or in full. Meanwhile, my sister attended a local girls’ school which was RC and consequently she would see on a daily basis the nuns wearing their uniform. In both cases, the dress code for the pupils was about the same and neither my sister nor I had any issue with that.

The basic decision as to which of the local schools we attended was in the first place prompted by our parents and I am sure that they understood the fundamental religious differences between the schools, the uniforms as worn by the teachers and the quality of education, when compared to other schools available. I guess that if we had attended a Jewish school, we would have seen a predominance of skull caps.

Spain, as predominantly a catholic country, I would expect to see that the majority of schools are biased toward the catholic religion. Although, I understand that as the quality of state education in Spain improves, the strong hold of the Church is diminishing. Separation of Church and State, another matter.

Graeme said...

Well in a context like the one you're talking about where there are separate schools for different religions, then the issue of it affecting uniformity doesn't arise. But that's not the situation we're dealing with here, and in a region where the concentration of immigrants in certain schools is already a controversial matter, the application of rules that just happen to exclude people on religious grounds can be discriminatory. Especially when the school down the road ends up taking those that aren't accepted by the first one. A bit of flexibility and tolerance, as well as giving priority to education, would allow Najwa to continue receiving lessons in the school she currently attends.

JANE said...

I'm with you, Graeme - the only way to foster tolerance and stop discrimination is to be tolerant and not discriminate. 'End of story', as everyone seems to say in the UK now. Also, non-Spanish residents looking in here may not realise that Spanish state schools don't have uniform, although they may or may not have a dress code. I have the impression that these teachers are making up the dress code as they go along. News footage shows kids turning up for this school wearing all sorts of things - as any IES in Spain. Schools are generally much less strict here about piercings and other more extreme fashions. So why not a headscarf? And come to that what if it actually was a headscarf - or a pirate-type thing a lo Johnny Depp. Would they object to that?

Lee said...

I'm a militant atheist (that's what Catholic school will do to you). But let the kid go to school. If the government really wants to foment democratic values, the best thing to do is let the girl attend school and mix with kids her age of all backgrounds. Then she can make up her own mind about things. But marginalizing her will only make her a martyr for the fundamentalists.

Troy said...

There are several things that are not being raised in this debate at all.

First of all, if the 'rule' is for children not to cover their heads. Does the rule state the percentage of the head that cannot be covered? As a teacher, I see lots of young girls wearing hair bands that cover approximately 90% of their hair. Shall we get rulers out and measure the hair exposed? Sounds a bit like Tehran to me when they start going on about 'bad hijjab' searches. In no way is the 'standard policy' maintained equally.

Secondly, I have heard crucifixes on the walls compared with the hijjab. For those who cannot see the difference between an institution of the government expressing a religious preference to that of a private decision by a citizen, well...discussion isn't even worth the time.

You raise a very good point Graeme when you mention Sikhs. To my knowledge there aren't many here in Spain, but it would be very interesting to see how people would react to a male covering their head because their celestial dictator has told them to do so.

Graeme said...

@Lee

Completely agree - it's what education is supposed to be about.


@Troy

Well those who are in favour of crucifixes on the walls of the schools rarely have a problem with kids wearing religious symbols....as long as its the right religion!

lenox said...

I expect it's to do with the - no doubt wildly erronious - Western idea that Muslim women do not 'enjoy' the full respect for equality and freedom from their menfolk that we have adopted in recent years. The headscarf that the women must wear seems to be a sign of forcefully imposed inferiority to us westerners.

leftbanker said...

“This is not even a case of someone being obliged to wear the headscarf against her will, Najwa has freely chosen to do it”

This just isn’t the case for many Muslim women. Try to freely NOT wear a veil in many Islamic societies. This is a thorny issue but I believe a state has the right to inculcate children with the values of that society and in the West this means that women are not obliged to cover themselves for the benefit of the men who make all of the rules. A state has the right to teach children that women do not have to follow the strict orders handed down to them from their male religious leaders.

ejh said...

So it does. But it also has the responsibility to allow them to cover their heads if they wish.

Graeme said...

@Leftbanker

I broadly agree with your sentiments but you have to be careful when you start talking about Western values....because it's one version of those values that means that many children still get (Christian) religion forced upon them. Surely education based on more tolerant values will be about creating an environment where children learn to analyse and think for themselves rather than simply being told what to think. You'll never achieve that by excluding someone from classes because they wear a piece of cloth on their head.

leftbanker said...

I think that banning the hijab is a way of avoiding more extreme versions of what is appropriate attire for Muslim women, namely the ghoulish niqab and burkah. As I said, it's a very thorny issue but at the heart of this matter is that these garments are not chosen by women but are chosen for them by the all-male clergy of Islam. A society would be doing an injustice if it didn't teach its citizens that they are free to do and dress as they please.

Graeme said...

I couldn't be more in agreement with your last sentence, but there is a very big difference between teaching children that they have choices and using the education system as a weapon to try and stamp out practices you don't like. I don't agree with you about the veil leading to the niqab or the burka - it sounds too much like the old "marijuana leads to heroin" argument.

leftbanker said...

I'm not saying that the hijab leads to harder drugs. What I mean is that if you allow the veil then will you allow the ghoulish burkhah in schools? How about bound feet? I don’t see much difference. And I would like to reiterate that a school-age girl is not choosing to wear a veil—that decision is being made by her male relatives. And yes, a society has the right and the responsibility to stamp out practices that they don’t like, like the disgraceful treatment of women in much of the Islamic world.

Graeme said...

I still think the best way to promote values of openness and tolerance is to allow children to attend classes rather than look for reasons to bar them. Having the right to do something is not sufficient reason for doing it, and banning the veil in schools will be the best boost any movement for confessional, Muslim only schools could hope to receive. The same applies to Jewish skullcaps and Sikh turbans. You don't win an argument by imposing your values. I think it's quite possible to draw a line between the veil and the burka, after all the vast majority of Muslim women do just that. Meanwhile the attention on the tiny numbers of women who do wear the burka in countries like Belgium and France is being led in many cases by some of the most illiberal and racist scumbags you could hope to find.