Question 3: Should the hijab or the burka be banned in schools?
An interesting response to this once again “should or should not” question, would probably originate from Brian Barry and the thin liberal argument that he makes in his book, Culture and Equality, that current multiculturalism (read: inclusionary and accommodating) policies have failed to reconcile a need for a more universal and egalitarian understanding of citizenship. Because a critical response to Barry’s argument has already been provided as part of a separate assignment, I will not recycle my concerns, but briefly restate them.
Barry’s campaign to universalize and standardize is imminent throughout his monograph. As I argued in the past, his project is just as likely to “fail” as the current status-quo. The fixation with the Enlightenment and the simplification of multiculturalism policy, if only to be vulnerable to other “problems,” is no prophylactic. However, his is sympathetic of the argument that “particular contexts, needs and interests” should not be alienated from the democratic process of decision-making (page 301). Special treatment should not be permitted just because the entity in question is part of a minority, “whether culturally defined or not.” Furthermore, the utilitarian premise behind many of Barry’s assertions predispose him to the controversial consequences of his doctrine.
If someone stands in opposition to a particular taxation system and is in the minority, then that person is silenced, to the extent that they do not take up either violent or non-violent means of making their voice heard and actually succeed. This is exactly the problem with the utilitarian modus operandi. As long as someone feels part of a particular community, then the majority slash utilitarian argument may suffice. However, when certain citizens (read: minorities), do not readily associate themselves with the majority, then certain tensions arise and certain heterogeneous communities may resort to more violent means of resolving conflict. I stress here that this potential violence is not as a result of immigrants being in any way less human or less “liberal,” but a result of a failure on behalf of Barry’s “majority” to find meaningful and appropriate ways of allowing for difference to exist, albeit vis-à-vis traditional but nonetheless socially constructed, paradigms.
The debate of whether the hijab or the burka should or should not be banned in schools is not a debate at all, but a systematic display of state coercion and repression, so as to create standards that a la the Enlightenment, allow for more efficient control. That those who are being acted upon to achieve this control are framed as being irrational or undesirable is but ‘spin,’ intended to offer justification for these state endorsed actions.
The hijab or burka don’t fit very well within current social constructs of standard public behaviour. I am also conscious of the argument that by failing to oblige schools to enforce a burka and hijab free environment, what we are in fact doing is perpetuating the subjugation of women to men and male-centric religious prerogatives. This may or may not be the case. However, while the freedom to choose is somewhat complicated by obvious power relations that exist between family members, this is not to say that other religions (read: not Islam) do not force their members to do certain things or that non-Muslim families are impervious to the pathologies of top-down, parent-child relationships. To answer the question then, the decision to allow or not allow citizens to wear these specific items of clothing, comes down to the extent to which those in positions of control and power feel that their monopoly over control and power is threatened.
*The latest media-blow-job, the “burkini.”