|In 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.