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Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Huzzah for Secularism, II

Here's an update on the French anti-free-exercise case.

Of course, there is an actual reason behind the French argument. There have been instances such as "women fulfilling national defense duties refusing any rescue operations with men." That, I believe, should not be tolerated under the excuse of free exercise. What I don't understand, though, is why things that hamper the function of society, such as that example, or such as the woman I know with the State Department in India, who was moved from Saudi Arabia because men there refused to meet with a woman, should be lumped in with wearing yarmulkes and headscarves:
A Muslim employee of the city of Paris was recently suspended for refusing to take off her scarf or shake men's hands.

True, the headscarf and the segregation both have as their reason an interpretation of religious diktats. However, telling men that you do not wish to associate with them is different from wearing a large cross.

On the headscarf question, the French might do well to look at India's army: that army would be decimated if Sikhs were kicked out. So, the Sikhs get to stay in. But what about their hair-regulations? Easy: compromise. They've got special "regulation" turbans as well as combat ones with helmets inside (I was shown one once; they're nifty!); if men's hair gets too long/thick to have it under the helmet-turban, they have to trim it, but they don't have to be crew-cut. Same with beards: they don't have to be clean-shaven, but they do need to keep them trimmed enough to be out of the way. Nobody wants you tripping over a four-foot-long beard. But what about wanna-be hippies? What about the scraggly appearance of the army when everyone goes without regular haircuts? Well, you can only grow your hair long, as a man, if you keep it out of sight under your turban.

There is one very good point at the end of the Excite article, however: the law, however well-intentioned it may be and however evil and repressive headscarves may be, may well have the effect of further radicalizing and militarizing disaffected Muslim youth. That is a risk France really should not be taking.


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