In the Head or On the Head

Harry at Harry’s Place on the Shabina Begum case.

Those who blame the judge for not making a political decision or who attack the Human Rights legislation for this ruling miss the point. It is clearly Britain’s lack of secularity, the absence of a written constitution and the religious character of our schools that have allowed such a verdict by creating the conditions in which it has been taken. But as long as we are allowing religions or beliefs to be displayed in schools then it is simply unjustified to discriminate. Those of us who would prefer schools to be free of such religious battles and identity conflicts, need to be aware that we are fighting a losing battle unless the fundamentally unsecular nature of the British constitution and its institutions are changed. Which, given the state of our major political parties, all busy enthusing about ‘faith schools’, is highly unlikely.

And Mona Eltahawy says some very good things.

I felt like screaming with anger and frustration when I heard about Shabina’s case because once again a Muslim woman is in the headlines only because of what she wears…Shabina chose to go beyond a uniform that was deemed acceptable for the other Muslims and denied herself the ability to continue attending her school. She claimed that her school’s refusal to allow her to attend classes in a jilbab was a result of post-9/11 bigotry. I assert that Lord Justice Brooke’s ruling is a classic example of liberal guilt over the ugly Islamophobia that many Muslims have faced since 9/11. Instead of standing up to a growing conservatism among some Muslims, many liberals will simply give in rather than appear prejudiced. Sadly, most of the points they give in on have to do with Muslim women. This is nothing short of the racism of lower expectations – they expect Muslims to be extreme, they expect Muslim women to be covered. The Guardian newspaper, which I reported for from the Middle East, committed a grave error in reporting Shabina’s story. It did not interview a single Muslim woman who could have told them there is more to being a Muslim than a jilbab and that such a jilbab was over and beyond what is deemed modest.

That error sounds very familiar. The BBC did a pretty limited job of interviewing people for that article I commented on the other day.

I wish Cherie Booth had defended a Muslim girl’s right to complete her education against a family who was pulling her out of school early to get married, which happens even in Britain. I wish she had defended a Muslim girl against violence at home – a suffering that is too often ignored by the Muslim community in the West because it would prefer girls and women suffer in silence than bring shame to the community by speaking out. And what does Shabina think she has achieved? She told The Guardian that the Court of Appeal verdict would “give hope and strength to other Muslim women” and that it was a victory for all Muslims “who wish to preserve their identity and values despite prejudice and bigotry”. My response to Shabina is thanks but no thanks. I wore the hijab for nine years from the age of 16 to 25 and do not feel my identity lies in a piece of cloth. I gain my hope and strength by sharing the excitement of ambitious young Muslim women like my sister Noora who loves her university studies. Noora wears the hijab but she knows that it is what is in her head, not what is on it that is more important.

Exactly. And Shabina Begum hasn’t done much to remind people of that perception, I don’t think.

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