Thursday, August 17, 2006

No Headscarves Allowed

The blog Islam in Europe, translating a Dutch article, reports that the firing of Muslim female schoolteachers in Belgium for insisting on wearing Islamic head coverings in public schools has been upheld on appeal:

The two teachers who were fired from a municipal school for wearing a Muslim head covering will not be allowed back to work, according to an internal educational board of appeals.

The board has decided that wearing a veil goes contrary to the neurtrality of the municipal schools. It has also decided that school rules apply to teachers and not only to students.

The head of the school system would like to use this decision to start a dialogue with the Muslim community.

There are two ways to think about "separation of church and state". In one, the state, including the publich schools, is neutral toward all beliefs, including secularism. In this model, a teacher of any religion can wear a religious head covering in class. In the other, all religious expression is meticulously scrubbed clean from the public square. While people whose religions don't require head coverings, and people who reject all religious beliefs, are then free to exercise their religions, people whose religions require this sort of modesty are prevented from practicing these beliefs if they want to be teachers. Much of Western Europe has clearly chosen the second approach, and this will come back to haunt them.

The belief seems to be that observant Islam is an anachronism, and that Muslims in Europe should be dragged kicking and screaming into the twentieth century through forced secularization by the state. The European mindset supposes that this will persuade them to see the obvious truth of a post-religious time, but I suspect this will not be the case. Instead, this will mark another milestone in choosing sides.

Muslims in Europe can only be fully integrated when they are free to exercise as much or as little belief as they like, even when they are interfacing with the government. But of course Islam in Europe is sometimes (how often I can't say) a politicized rejection of what Europe is and an assertion that the future there belongs to Islam. The demographic facts in several European countries are such that they fear being overrun by premodern devout Muslims well before the century is out. If extremists, with their zeal and willingness to resort to violence, run the show this fear may be correct. And so secular Europeans feel they have to force Muslims there to abandon these beliefs, which in turn makes Muslims there feel under siege and become more devout. The Belgian "dialogue" with their Muslims does not appear to be much of a dialogue, if we take dialogue literally as two-way conversation. Instead it is essentially "Secularism, take it or leave it." In all likelihood they will leave it, angrily.


Post a Comment

<< Home