Thursday, April 02, 2009

Opinion about headscarves-in-school controversy

In recent years, there has been a trend among Bulgarian ethnic Turkish and Muslim women and girls to wear headscarves (I've mentioned this in one of my earliest posts, Headscarves in the lecture room). Media report that Islamic foundations support in different ways headscarved women and their families and organize summer schools to teach girls why a good Muslima must wear a headscarf; and the local people, unaware or unwilling to believe that the only free lunch in this world is the cheese in the mousetrap, happily bite the bait. Right now, emotions are surging because of the elections scheduled for June.
While headscarves definitely aren't my favourite sight, my personal opinion is that they must be allowed in mainstream secondary schools. The reason is that it is most likely the parents who insist on the headscarves, not the girls themselves. And if we forbid a schoolkid to attend public school with her head wrapped, we are likely to infuriate the pious Muslim dad and, as the Bulgarian proverb says, to pick out eyes instead of putting makeup on eyebrows (i.e. to cause harm instead of good). It is quite likely that the father will force his daughter to drop out of school as soon as this is allowed (under Bulgarian law, this means at age 16) or even earlier. Hence, the efforts of government to give students counterweight to their fundamentalist families are likely to have the opposite effect, making the young women even more powerless by depriving them of high school diploma. It is also possible that the father will transfer his daughter to a Muslim school where headscarves are allowed. There, we expect less science and math and more Islam to be taught. Is this what we want?
On March 30, Lyd (who tries her best to see Islam as good) wrote a post titled Religious symbols at school. Her thesis is that banning these symbols is pointless because religion is so deeply ingrained in culture and history that many schools are even named after saints. Commenter Klei then wrote something that I find worth being translated and posted here, though it differs from my own opinion:

"Suppose that headscarves are banned not because they are a religious symbol but because they are a type of hat. Here, we are touching a thing called "discipline" which, to my opinion, is among the most useful forgotten inventions of ancient people.
The school has the task to prepare children for life outside school, and not only by giving them knowledge but also by training social interaction types "equal to equal" and "small unimportant student to big important teacher". The ability to protect ourselves from bigger boys who mock us is much more important for later life than, say, the information in which regions of Bulgaria apricots are grown.
Hats are not allowed at school, period. Children must learn that RULES exist. In this case, it doesn't matter how important the rules are, how useful they are and whether there is some deep reasoning underlying them. This is _school_. It has two functions - forcing you to use your brain and at the same time putting you into the socially acceptable frames.
If somebody insists on wearing a headscarf despite the ban on wearing hats, he shows that for him the artificial pointless limits imposed by religion are more important than the artificial pointless limits imposed by his society. THIS is dangerous, and not only for the individual in question.
I value freedom much, but it must be deserved. And it is deserved by accepting the values of the society you are forced to live in - or by moving to another society which has values closer to your heart. If somebody insists on keeping his wife at home, hiding her from the world and stoning her, and if she doesn't mind it - let them go to a suitable country. THIS one here is a secular one. If you are religious, be religious only within the norms allowed by society. And stop crying and demanding these norms to be expanded."


lyd said...

That's a really pragmatic point, Maya! I have made it so many times :)

I have seen so many head-covered girls wearing school uniforms in London. UK policy demands schools to provide time and space for religious worship for all their students.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, if the child's parents are fundamentalist Muslims... or fundamentalists of any kind, it probably won't make a difference whether or not they get mainstreamed or not. Their parents' brainwashing is more than enough to mess up their minds.

Maya M said...

In many cases, yes. But I wish to believe that not in all cases, so the child deserves a chance. After all, not so long ago all people were what now we call fundamentalists.