The Western world is caught up in a flux. In london, the law lords today overturned a previous court ruling that Muslim teenager Shabina's human rights were violated when she was banned from wearing a Jilbab -- a full gown -- at her school. The French have an open ban against wearing the Hijab. Belgium and Germany are considering doing the same. The Dutch recently introduced strident measures for probable immigrants, failing which they cannot live in The Netherlands.
The European motivation for the ban is draped in references to their secular tradition. Public schools -- they argue -- form a privileged closed universe which emphasizes the values of male-female equality and mutual respect. So no overt symbols of religosity, please! No head-scarves. No body-covering. Point taken, monsieurs.
I think there is something profoundly hypocritical in banning religious symbols in the name of secularism and gender equality -- while the French government continues to subsidize private education for the globally influential misogynist religion -- the Catholic Church -- at a higher rate per pupil than public schools. Wearing the hijab is "a sort of aggression" Jacques Chiraq, the lank French Prez says. An aggression by choice, I surmise.
The choice to don a scarf or wear a beard or put on a cross should be the sole liberty and right of an individual. I -- for instance -- won't like my girl friend to wear a scarf. However, if she wants to wear one, either out of religious reasons or as a matter of choice, I would not mind. I reckon modern states must have no business telling school-children how not to dress. If the Dutch do not feel intimidated by a topless girl walking out of a beach -- I would sure enjoy that -- do they really need to fret at a frail girl covering her hair. The mere comparisons are outrageous.
It is about cultures. Hijab is to many muslims what a turban is to a religious sikh. Take a hat away from a cowboy. Take a yarmukle off a jewish head. Take a kimono from a Jap. Baloney! Globalisation was supposed to blur these distinctions. So we see western tunics being worn in public schools in my homeland India and elsewhere. If wearing denims is okey and I believe it is, so must be the Hijab. We can't claim to be liberal while go about banning cultural symbols.
It is about race. The Europeans have practiced it. The Brits, the French especially. When the français needed their erstwhile subjects to lay train roads or dig tunnels for them back in the 1940's and 50's they got them to work like mules. The immigrants significantly contributed towards french nation building*. Only when their second generation grows up in Paris suburbs and starts attending schools, you go cold in your feet. It smacks of racism.
The Europeans practice an absurd, extreme form of secularism which has indeed come to rubbish everything that secularism stands for. We seem to be at such a point in history where we care too much about the rights of birds, beatles, trans-sexuals and squirrels. When governments enmasse abolish something that is central to the belief of so many people, the cherished human rights go up in flames. Like Jeanne d'Arc. That was 1431. This is 2006.
* As the major colonial power after Britain, France could call on a potential workforce from what is called the Maghreb (North-West Africa: Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia), certain countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (Senegal), Indochina (South-East Asia: Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos) and the DOM-TOM (Départements d'outre-mer and Térritoires d'outre-mer) like Guadeloupe, Martinique and French Guyana (in the Caribbean) and Reunion Island (in the Indian Ocean).
The vast majority of these were from Algeria, the jewel in the crown of the French colonial empire. (Source: The University of Sunderland)