Thursday, December 11, 2003

You are what you wear

French Panel Favors Ban on Head Scarves

The power of symbols.

My first reaction is that while a person might wear a particular piece of clothing due to religious conviction, the piece of clothing itself is not the religion.

My second reaction is that conformity is not necessarily the way to show "respect of differences". If we expect a religious group to demonstrate tolerance toward other religious groups or non-religious groups (aka if "we" want "them" to behave around "us"), then they must receive the same type of tolerance.

The the discourse about Islam and secularism, there are those who pull hard on the far ends of the argument. However, I'm uncertain that forbidding the wearing of a particular style of clothing is in fact protecting "secular underpinnings" so much as it's "you are gonna look like the rest of us so we feel safe" or even an attempt to rip away identity from a minority. While the wearing of the hijab has negative connotations as witnessed in the cruel enforcement by the Taliban in Afghanistan, there are many Muslim women who want to wear it, both because of belief and because of self-identity, just as the Hasidim wear their prayer shawls and dark suits, or the Catholic Nun a habit.

It is sometimes true that a fanatic can be identified by distinctive costume or symbolic clothing. However, not all that wear a particular style of clothing are fanatics, extremists or dangerous persons, just as not all dangerous persons are going to conveniently identify themselves via their clothing. I do not believe that passing a law against wearing particular clothes or jewelry will do anything to promote either peace between groups, provide greater understanding, or protect the freedom and peace of the community at large.

Is it possible to create an egalitarian society by restricting freedoms like wearing certain kinds of clothing? Is this just a stab at the Islamic community? Is this possibly a good thing to require by law that persons surrender symbols of or styles dictated by their spiritual beliefs in all non-religious/private spaces? I'm trying to picture the kinds of complaints being issued. "She wore her scarf offensively" or "I could see the movie through her scarf"?

Interestingly enough, I feel that this case is not the same thing. This was a matter of being able to identify someone so that they could be accorded a privaledge. (Driving is not a right, despite the general American impression. Ask someone in Europe.) The condition for having a license in Florida is that one's picture appears on it, and that one's face is visible. A driver's license is a form of identification -- people use them to prove who they are. If you don't wish to be identified, you don't get one. This woman is not being forbidden to wear her scarf. She's just not allowed to get a license that doesn't have a picture of her face on it. While not being able to legally drive a car in Florida will limit her ability to travel around -- she will be dependent on others or on public transporrt -- she's not subject to descrimination because of it. Lots of people do not have driver's licenses or drive cars because either they have lost the priviledge by not complying with law or they have not chosen to do what is needed to obtain the priviledge.

Come on, someone discuss this with me. I want to get a handle on it.

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