Sunday, June 06, 2010

Why the Bans on Hijabs?

In Europe, this is a huge issue.  In France, Spain, and the coastal countries, legislators have begun to make laws to ban the hijab in the public arena, making it illegal to wear in courts, government offices, and schools.

Why?  Is the hijab, which, after all, is similar to the veil or babushka traditionally worn in pre-WWII Europe by many woman, so offensive to the modern-day European?

This touches on several factors:
  • In some countries, due to the Enlightenment rejection of clericalism, all religious symbols were banned in official offices.  This was done to limit or eliminate the influence of Catholic clergy in governmental affairs.
  • France is most involved in the school ban; every French child wears a uniform to school.  It is considered VERY important to have every child in a uniform, and no deviations are permitted.  This is a long-standing cultural issue; adherence to this policy is one of the ways that France has integrated its ethnics into the French culture.  In France, in every location, the curriculum is absolutely rigid; every 3rd grade student will be on the same page of the same book on the same day.  Likewise, all aspects of school are regimented, and the dress code is one of those aspects.
  • There have been robberies and terrorist attacks by men wearing the hijab or burka.  Because of that, the momentum for banning the distinctive dress has grown.  However, the native uneasiness with the clothing preceded the illegal activities.
  • In some European countries (notably France, Sweden, and Norway), any woman NOT covering up is considered fair game for rape.  The sharp increase in rapes in those countries is almost all due to attacks by Muslims on uncovered women.
None of these issues have been a major problem in the US.  The use of hijab has become more common in many cities, but is spotty.  As a teacher, I've seen girls wearing hijab, but also wearing regular teen clothing, as well.

Burka has been resisted in schools and courts.  In schools, teachers have been told not to wear it, due to difficulty communicating while veiled (one of them was a teacher whose job was to teach the children English - her speech was muffled while veiled).  In courts, our tradition of facing our accusers was the stopping point.  If veiled, verifying identity is a problem.

Most normal activities are hard to perform while heavily veiled.  Driving can be dangerous.  Even walking has its hazards, as sights and sounds of approaching cars can be limited.

In hot weather, the burka would be nearly intolerable, and, for those nearby, the odor of a sweaty women would be unpleasant.  Getting sufficient vitamin D while veiled requires supplementing; deficiencies are common in veiled women.

There have been legal challenges in the US to have access to public swimming pools during specified times "women-only".   This limits the freedoms of our non-veiled citizens to pools they paid for.

Girls participating in sports have sued to keep wearing the hijab, despite the potential for injury during contact.

I'm on the side of banning the burka.  It's an unnecessary limitation on women's freedom, and the potential for using it during the commission of a crime is not solely theoretical.  Additionally, it makes it easy to cover up domestic violence under the bag.

In sports, I'm in favor of letting the leagues set their own rules for dress, as they currently do.  In schools, the hijab causes no problems (so far), but authorities should be on the lookout for students experiencing discrimination or bullying due to NOT veiling.  I see no problem with schools altering their dress code to allow a single color and style for hijabs, if desired.

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