Saturday, February 09, 2008

Of Burqas and Headscarves

I've been watching this issue for a very long time. First in France, now in the Netherlands. At issue is whether wearing a headscarf or a head-to-toe burqa should be banned. The theory is that this will make Muslims integrate into society. My guess it will do just the opposite.

I have a litmus test for this kind of emotionally sensitive issue. If I was an Orthodox Jewish male and someone told me I could not wear a kippah (skullcap) to work, to school, on public transportation, how would I feel? The kippah represents more than just a piece of cloth. It's a connection between me and The Eternal. It reminds me that G*d is above all mankind and is part of my acceptance of the 613 mitzvot (commandments).*

So back to the original question. If I feel compelled by my religious beliefs to wear a kippah and someone said, "Can't do that," how would I feel? I'd be angry. If the decision could not be reversed, I've got a nasty choice in front of me. Some may abandon their kippah, scarves, burqas. A good many won't. If I was truly committed, I'd go somewhere where I could wear my kippah, amongst other like-minded folks. Which means the "we'll make them integrate into our society one way or another" strategy won't work. As we've learned, isolation breeds fanaticism.

I admit that trying to see the face of a woman in a full burqa is very difficult and the full covering is rather unsettling. If I was around women wearing burqas more often, that unease would disappear over time. Is it possible that one of them is toting a belt of bombs on a bus? Sure. Is it possible the guy across the aisle on the bus with the REI backpack has a bomb? Sure. Welcome to the 21st century, folks. It's not much different than the 19th when the anarchists were Irish and suitcases and parcels were exploding across London.

Most of this phobia is push-back at the high Muslim immigration levels. It's hard to see the landscape change in ways you can't understand. Which is the root problem: going out of our way to understand the other folks. My rabbi in Iowa was a very wise fellow. He frequently talked to high school classes and other civic groups. His theory was that once they'd met a Jew it would be harder for them to hate one. Stereotypes only exist in a vacuum.

Let the ladies wear their religious garb, whether that be a cross, a kippah, a headscarf or a burqa. Let the men wear their particular garb, be they Jew, Sikh, Muslim or Christian. Bring them together in community groups to talk to one another. Learn why they want to wear that headscarf, that burqa, why Orthodox Jewish women always wear a wig when they're in public. Find out what's behind the external religious symbols. The answers may surprise you.

As the rabbi said, it's harder to hate once you've shared your story with other person.

*Source - Wikipedia

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