herald

Thursday 19 October 2017

I want my daughters to have the legal right to wear hijab to school

Herald writer Terry Prone said Liam Egan was wrong in saying the state oppressed Muslims . Nobody had suppressed his family's rights in any way, she said, and the Government's decision not to legislate on the hijab was the essence of democracy. Here he takes issue with her.

TERRY Prone played the 'one size fits all card' by suggesting modern Ireland should not provide for difference, but seek to force a homogeneous culture on all its citzens. Such views, especially when stated by such a widely respected figure, are a shame. Unfortunately, she is not alone in holding them.

The issue of the hijab clearly defines how modern Ireland treats its minorities. Irish Muslims deserve the right to dress how they wish and be as Irish as everyone else when doing so.

Continued official prevarication and the ill-informed criticism that has met this call is an indication that sensible social policy needs to be enacted. It seems strange that some people are so clearly offended by others' religious needs.

Modern Ireland can do better for all its citizens.

Some schools allow the hijab while others do not -- and this disparity in practice has necessitated the intervention of the Equality Authority.

Integration Minister Conor Lenihan naively states that there "are no examples of schools where it has been an issue. But there are plenty examples of where it has been accommodated," a statement that is both illogical and untrue.

There are cases of Muslim girls suffering discrimination based upon their religious dress across the country. Indeed, emboldened by Government inaction, a number of schools have explicitly banned the hijab since the new term this year and the Irish Hijab Campaign is following up on further reports.

One such school in the Dublin area, when called, insisted that there was no issue, but failed to mention that one family whose daughter had studied at the school had been forced to leave because this school would not allow the hijab.

This is a terrible indictment against a country that has seemingly progressed so much in such a short time.

This has never been about my daughter, who is fortunate to be studying in a progressive school. That fact, however, does not mean that we should not support other people as they battle injustice.

DEMOCRACY

Democracy calls for all of us to stand up and be counted, not to be cowed by the negative aspects of some of our national media nor some politicians who crave the wrong sort of support.

We can pretend that there is no issue, as Mr Lenihan, a public official who should represent all his constituents, would have everyone believe.

The failure of the Government to uphold the constitutional rights of Muslims to practice their religion by legislating for the hijab -- in whatever way it manifests itself -- and mainstreaming it in Irish society, is simply a green light for the continuance of 'divergent practices' and discrimination

The recent gardai announcement that banning the hijab while insisting that they are maintaining an impartial stance is further evidence of this institutionalised discrimination.

No public space is culturally neutral, and insistence on maintaining a dress code that reflects our past homogeneity simply marginalises and subordinates the values and norms of minority groups. When equality ignores relevant differences and insists on uniformity, it leads to injustice and inequality. It is not merely the case of one uniform for all; it is a hegemonic cultural imposition and should be reconsidered in light of the plurality that is New Ireland.

As stated previously, the hijab issue will not go away until the media learn to respect Muslim women instead of encouraging a climate of fear, and politicians legislate to protect all Irish citizens. Those are indeed the inclusive principles upon which the Irish State was founded.

With proper leadership and integrity, I hope we can return to them.

The measure of a truly progressive society is how it treats its minorities. In this respect the issue of the hijab will remain.

However, let us not forget about other concerns such as burial space, prayer space, religious accommodation in the workplace, proper inclusion in the political process, the lack of Muslim schools, mosques, etc.

All of these point to inequality and must be addressed if Muslims are ever going to feel that they 'belong'.

I believe we can all build a better Ireland based on equal respect; an Ireland where we can all play a positive role.

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