A hijab, tae kwon do and an insensitive rule

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The following is an editorial which appeared in the Globe & Mail on April 18 which sums up my position is this whole “Muslim women and their attire” rather nicely.

When young Muslim girls were barred from a tae kwon do competition Sunday in Longueuil, Que., because they wore a hijab (head scarf) under their helmets, the province looked ridiculous. The incident showed how the passions a-swirl over minority religious observances are leading to a rejection of harmless differences. People, get a grip.

The Muslim girls, from 10 to 14, were hardly adherents of an extreme, Taliban-like vision of the world in which girls and women live under severe constraints. Far from it. The girls were part of the province’s mainstream, competing in martial arts (which involves a great deal of kicking) against other children of all faiths. These girls are not passive or cloistered. They are, as the children themselves might have put it, “out there.” This is a good thing. It ought to be encouraged.

And was the hijab a safety risk to them or their competitors? It is hard to imagine how. The hijab, which is soft, is worn under the helmet. Nor does it confer an advantage on the one who wears it. In other jurisdictions, wearing a hijab in tae kwon do competitions does not seem to have been a problem. Tyseer Aboulnasr, a former dean of engineering at the University of Ottawa, is a black belt in tae kwon do, and competed for more than a decade without her hijab’s becoming an issue.

As if all this were not silly enough, the competition involved a foreign import; tae kwon do is Korean. Quebeckers, like others worldwide, have taken the sport to heart. There’s an obvious irony in insisting on the purity of a foreign sporting tradition at the expense of the religious freedoms of Canadian girls and their families.

Some Quebeckers are loading far too much emotional and political freight onto the issue of the reasonable accommodation of religious minorities. Sometimes a head scarf is just a head scarf; it does not put Quebec’s culture and values at risk. It is a personal and private choice.

But the passions in Quebec have become unmoored from common sense. This winter, an 11-year-old girl in a hijab was barred from a soccer tournament. The province’s Chief Electoral Officer, in the face of violent threats, reversed his position and announced that women could not wear the niqab (veil) while voting, even though Quebec has rules in place that give voters other ways to prove who they are. A small community, Hérouxville, passed a resolution against the stoning of women, as though the presence of Muslims in Quebec made this an imminent threat. Mario Dumont, head of the Action Démocratique du Québec, praised Hérouxville’s “cry from the heart,” and within weeks rode from obscurity to Leader of the Official Opposition.

Not every private choice by a minority group is harmless. Genital mutilation, honour killings, prearranged marriages of pubescent girls, even the wearing of turbans instead of bicycle helmets by children — all these go against the grain because they cause direct harm to the vulnerable. The public’s outrage should be reserved for these extreme expressions of difference.

Those in Quebec who reject minor differences such as hijabs on young athletes are acting against the province’s interests. Quebec will not unite its people by these rejections. It will drive them apart.

2007 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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3 thoughts on “A hijab, tae kwon do and an insensitive rule

  1. What a load of shit. The two hijab incidents were pre-existing rules in the international rule books of the sports in question, and in the case of the soccer player, it was enforced by a muslim referee. While it did stir debate, they should not be launching points for someone who wants to accuse Quebec of some type of inequality.

    I think the rules are unfair, but it isn’t a Quebec issue, it is a western issue.

  2. The article was ok (even though I don’t agree with the opinion, it was well stated) but there was one part that I found came flying in from left field and detracted from the article as a whole.

    “Mario Dumont, head of the Action Démocratique du Québec, praised Hérouxville’s “cry from the heart,” and within weeks rode from obscurity to Leader of the Official Opposition.”

    That makes it seem as if Dumont was some nobody (apparently nobodies can get 18% of the general vote as he did 2 elections ago in 2003), praised Hérouxville for adopting that law and then suddenly became massively popular because of it. It’s complete crap and putting in such a weak attack against Dumont into an otherwise good editorial just makes the whole less convincing.

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