headscarvesIn February, the BBC World Service broadcast a radio program called “Looking for God at Les Minguettes” The 30-minute special features an interview with a young Muslim woman, Sami Hamaclouf, of Algerian ancestry but born and raised in Lyon, France, who, against the wishes of her agnostic parents, adopted the Islamic religion at the age of thirteen. She is now caught in the firestorm in France over the banning of headscarves, like the ones pictured at right, in schools, a ban vehemently supported by President Jacques Chiraq.

Sami has been repeatedly lectured by her school principals who say her costume reflects the subjugation of women, and is repugnant and intolerable in a country like France that prides itself on its ÈgalitÈ. Ironically, the young lady (she is now 22), immersed in French history and the classical teachings of Islam, not the isolated and restrictive variants of fundamentalist regions, is a staunch supporter of equal rights and opportunity for women.

But now, she explains in flawless French, women who want to wear scarves will be forced into private Islamic schools, and will lose the opportunity to teach non-Muslim French people what her peace-loving religion is all about. It would be like schools banning the wearing of a crucifix because that sysmbol was associated with the cross-burnings of the KKK. But because we don’t know enough about Islam, most Westerners strongly support the ban on religious adornments in schools, equating the headscarf with the dreaded, and dreadful burka and chador.

No amount of misunderstanding and intolerance, however, would make Sami into a religious extremist. She is 100% French, and loves the country she calls home and its fashion-conscious, liberal culture. She just wants people to understand that extremists do not represent her, or any, religion, and that one’s choice of clothing doesn’t always mean what we might assume from first impressions.

I’ve been fighting fashion Nazis all of my life, and I confess that I am revolted at the sight of a woman in a burka or chador, as I am when I see a woman walking behind her husband, or being publicly berated or otherwise humiliated by any man. Yet I have learned to accept headscarves, flowing beards, bizarre tattoos, depressing black robes, beanies, nose rings, saris, shaved heads, and a host of other religious and ethnic attire visible everyday in cosmopolitan Toronto. It is hard to know where to draw the line, how to differentiate a sartorial statement of personal belief or uniqueness from one of repression or brainwashing by others. Don’t judge a book by its cover, we’re told.

What do you think?

The program will be rebroadcast tomorrow, Thursday at 7:30pm ET on the CBC Radio One program Connections, and should be accessible live over the Internet at that time (though the live broadcast link doesn’t seem to work with Mozilla browsers). I cannot find a sound file or text transcript of the program online.

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11 Responses to VEIL OF TRUTH

  1. Marty says:

    I think that democracy is hard. Real hard. You have to be able to put up with things that make your blood boil in the name of personal freedom. That includes letting people wear whatever they want. If we’re going to ban something, let’s ban wearing baseball caps two inches to the left or the right.

  2. geo says:

    David,You write: “Yet I have learned to accept headscarves, flowing beards, bizarre tattoos, depressing black robes, beanies, nose rings, saris, shaved heads, and a host of other religious and ethnic attire visible everyday in cosmopolitan Toronto.” You left out the most obvious, and prevalent, example found in Western society – the crucifix (unless of course you meant to include that in the catch all “other religious…”). Another thing that gets me is the “fish looking thing” that people have on their cars, some with a cross in it and some eating a smaller fish labeled Darwin, etc. Anytime you do something because someone else told you to, without question, you’ve been brainwashed.

  3. It’s interesting that the Western media, and the Arab press have picked up on France’s decision to ban headscarves, whereas headscarves have been banned in Tunisian public schools for many years. Neither is praying in public allowed (that was the situation two years ago). At least France is a democracy where this, and any other policy, can be publicly debated.

  4. Dave Pollard says:

    Marty: You got it. We should also ban ‘bedhead’ ;-)Geo: Yeah, I thought that went without saying, including those that are deliberately worn upside down…Harold: Good point. The big challenge we’re facing here in Canada, of course, is the Kirpans — the ceremonial but functional Sikh daggers — in schools. I don’t think the debate on that one will ever end.

  5. Dale Asberry says:

    It’s wrong for any organization to dictate standards of any type because it eliminates choice – eliminates free will. It is particularly heinous for a government to dictate since they can wield unyielding force to remove choice.In the process of building community, the Muslim scarves (Christian crosses, etc) serve only as a symbol of exclusivity and prevent “real” community from forming. What purpose could wearing any icon serve other than as an indicator of exclusivity? Why not actually practice and display the traits actively and directly? If the icon is supposed to be a personal reminder, then how can a person possibly forget such a crucial part of themselves? Why not “be” the icon? …because using the icon is easy and doing is hard.

  6. Lou says:

    It should be noted that wearing headscarves IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS is banned. Anyone can wear them in the street or anywhere else. Unfortunately, people seem to be overlooking that, and making the ban into a much bigger issue than it really is.

  7. Jon Husband says:

    What I think ?1) What Marty said !2) Don’t judge a book by its coverCanada is interesting, in my experience … and having travelled a lot, there’s a lot I get frustrated with … the aping of corporatist US, the pettiness of some regional and federal politics, and so on … and then every once in a while walking down a street in Montreal, or Toronto, or Calgary, or Vancouver, I get a real flash of ‘wow, what a great country in some really interesting ways’, compared to much of what I’ve seen.I like Harold’s point as well … generally, from having spent a fair bit of time there, most of what I know of France suggests certainly more democracy than the US. There’s the small matter of 300 or so connected families and the graduates of certain schools occupying the commercial and governmental hierarchies, but that’s not all there is to democracy, of course. They are to a more visible degree responsible to more of the society than the current plutocracy and fundamentalist faction in the US. And France, imo, arguably has at least as much of a revolutionary trajectory against monarchy and excessive oligarchic control as does the US (many will no doubt argue with this POV and I don’t want to pretend to be right, just my subjective opinion).

  8. O RLY YA RLY says:

    Symbols are what you make them. I think dresscodes should be based on practical concerns. Do these things hinder the teaching process? Baseball caps apparently prevent the teacher from looking into the pupil’s eyes. Knives obviously cause other problems. That’s the kind of thing that can be debated. What it means to someone is too subjective to be useful. You just know someone will show up claiming they feel religiously attached to their AK47.

  9. I know that many people are in favour of school uniforms because they make all students equal – at least visibly. Is not the the French policy a similar attempt?

  10. Ahmed says:

    The French policy is to remove all forms of religious iconry from school- this stems from a long understanding that church and state must be absolutley seperate, and that all children must be treated in exactly the same manner. The ban has been in force for many years but the presnt headscarf case has merely highlighted it, and in theory the ban also affects crucifixes, Stars-of-Davids, turbans etc etc. From friends in France, I understand that the muslim community (which represents something close to 10% of the population) regards the ban as a smokescreen. The muslim participants are largely middle class Iranians and middle eastern expats, who are somewhat seperate from the bulk of the muslim community which is African in origin. I feel this is a devil vs deep blue sea scenario- the state can’t back down without reneging on some major philosophies behind its largely very successful educational system. The communities can’t back down without effectively encouraging variance with Islamic codes of practice. The fact that it is being discussed at all should be an indicator of an active democracy at work.

  11. Yves says:

    geo: “anytime you do something because someone else told you to, without question, you’ve been brainwashed.” – true, especially when you get caught into ideology based on some religious principles. when reached classrooms, it looks as a subtile and abusive political move. therefore, education is a serious stuff! it shouldn’t be intoxicated with opium, let it be from the vatican or the mecca! however, the messages from jesus-christ, allah, or buddha are true, simple and spiritual: we are all our own gods, the truth is hidden in ourselves, knowledge and meditation are paramounts to speak the unspeakable. so when we don’t want to become monks, we still have art, sport, literature, science, history and metaphysics at scool that can help us grow for the best, understand that we’re not much comparing to the sky and be ourselves… as explained by Chahdortt Djavann (French writer born in Iran, who seriously critisizes the current dangerous islamic drifting of muslim civilization) in one Charlie Hebdo’s interview about her book “Que pense Allah de l’Europe?” (No 640 – 09/22/2004), what’s at stake here? freedom of speech, plurality and secularity vs. brainwashing, segregation and proselytism? what suits you best? Religion fucking education and civil rights or clear distinction between the two parties? I bet for the second solution…

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