Veiled threat

Source: The Ottawa Citizen, 26 Sep. 1994

Are students in Algiers allowed to wear shorts? Is poutine on the menu in school cafeterias in Tehran? Are teachers allowed to walk the hall of Montreal's private Islamic schools without a head-scarf? The answer to all of these questions is: No . Why, then, in our concern for intercultural openness, should we allow students to wear the Islamic head scarf , the hijab, in Quebec schools? There's no question that we are for religious freedom. But we also believe in freedom from the imposition of our neighbor's religion. In Canada, official multiculturalism has given rise to all sorts of situations, from the wacky but harmless to the most hateful brand of reverse racism. Sikhs can wear their religious head-gear in police forces, while Jews have never requested any such rights.

And natives can impose their religious ceremonies on any happening they please, including the Commonwealth Games as well as constitutional. But, nowadays, would we ask the archbishop of Quebec to bless a meeting between Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Premier Jacques Parizeau?

Let's get serious. People who leave their country have no fundamental right to bring along their political and social baggage, nor to transfer their national or religious quarrels here.

A Montreal school recently sent home a student whose parents insisted she wear the hijab. The teachers union opposes that move, even though, in theory (and despite the contradiction) it supports secular schooling.

Most Muslim families agree to play the game by the rules. Flying in the face of that trend, the fundamentalist minorities want to impose their presence. In some areas of Algeria, fundamentalists recently ordered all the schools that don't teach Muslim law, the sharia, to be closed.

Where do open-mindedness and tolerance for different beliefs lie? In Iran , in Saudi Arabia , in Sudan? The hijab is a political as well as a religious statement and there is no place for politics in the classroom.