I didn’t have time to blog when Jeff Jarvis posted about this verdict by a Federal German court concerning bans on hijabs (headscarfs) in German schools, so I’m pretty late in responding to his post.
Jarvis thinks that such bans are stupid and answers a French commenter’s defense of such bans thus:
Olivier: You clearly are free NOT to wear a headscarf or kibbeh or cross. But what of those who do? They are not allowed to? That is not freedom of religion. That is the imposition of secularity. We Americans left Europe precisely so we could have the freedom to practice — or not practice — religion without government interference. The mixing of government and religion is always dangerous. Aren’t we learning that lesson all too clearly right now?
Besides Jarvis’ charge that the ban amounts to an ‘imposition of secularity’ there also have been claims (I have forgotten where I read those, it has been some time, so unfortunately I have no links to those) that Europeans are basically picking on schoolgirls because they don’t dare to confront the Islamists directly.
These arguments against the bans are misguided, though. Unlike the cross or the kibbeh (which are not banned in Germany, unlike France), the hijab is not a religious, but a political symbol invented quite recently by the Islamists to indicate the subjugation of women under male dominance. Many Muslim women, especially those having grown up in Western countries, do not wear it voluntarily and only do so under the threat of violence by their families and ostracism by the wider Muslim community. There are girls who think that it is their religious duty to wear it, but that is their own business, and the result of religious and political indoctrination anyway. That doesn’t oblige us to tolerate this totalitarian symbol in our public institutions.
As to the concrete case from the article Jarvis was linking to: Fereshda Lusin, a teacher who sued for her alleged right to wear the hijab in school, quite obviously was doing so to make Muslim girls vulnerable to pressure by their families to wear it. For after the first verdict by the German Constitutional Court that made it possible to wear the hijab for a while longer (on the grounds that this is a state rather than a federal issue) the number of girls wearing it in school has risen dramatically. According to this TV program for women the girls’ male family members are telling them that they expect them to emulate Lusin and fight for their right to wear the hijab. Since Lusin’s initial success in court, women who oppose the hijab increasingly receive death-threats. Among them are Lale Akgün, a Member of Parliament and Fatma Bläser, a prominent author (Bläser’s family had sold her to the highest bidder when she was 17 and the family already was living in Germany, her book about this experience has become a bestseller).
The most important point in the whole debate is that the hijab is just the beginning. Should they manage to get an officially sanctioned right to force Muslim women to wear the hijab, the next items on the menu would be demands to tolerate forced marriage (and by extension honor killings, the usual ‘punishment’ for girls who refuse to comply). Forced marriage already is quite widespread among Germany’s Muslim population, but hard to fight since Muslims tend to isolate themselves from German society, and there is little that can be done as long as no report about the offense is made to the police. Political correctness has also frequently made the authorities look the other way, and supporters of group rights at the expense of individual rights also used this issue as a welcome vehicle for the advancement of their cause. This is gradually changing:
In Germany, a few extreme cases, like that of a Kurdish woman murdered by her brother in 2000 because she had a German boyfriend, garner media attention. But activists say law enforcement and politicians continue to look at forced marriage as a cultural issue, rather than a human rights question.
That might change, however, as Germany begins looking more critically at its integration problems decades after the first immigrants arrived. German state and federal politicians are promising to take action.
“We maybe missed out on this subject, or overlooked it,” acknowledges Christian Storr, who heads the office of the Immigration Commissioner and Justice Minister in Baden-Wuerttemberg. Storr’s office is responsible for drafting a bill that would jail those involved in arranging marriages. “Maybe it will be a signal to these families, that we are aware of [the problem], and maybe it will stop some from doing it.”
People are gradually getting aware of what is going on, and these statements as well as the proposed ban are quite encouraging signs. A few years ago both wouldn’t have been possible.
There still is some way to go, though:
Such a law is long overdue, says Seyran Ates, a Berlin lawyer whose lobbying on the issue, together with Terre des Femmes, a women’s organization, brought forced marriages to the attention of German politicians last year. German courts continue to tiptoe around the problem, labeling it as a something best taken care within the community. Judges have invoked “religion” or “tradition” in explaining why they were reducing the punishment for men who abused their wives in forced marriages, she says.
“They don’t see it as a human rights violation,” says Ms. Ates, who fled her traditional Turkish home at the age of 18.
Here is another article with some more detail on this:
Most often, it’s the female victims of forced marriage who are not even permitted to finish their school education. Many of these women are sexually exploited and financially dependent on their husbands. Yet the right to choose one’s partner in marriage freely is explicitly included in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Nonetheless, forced marriage is still a taboo subject in Germany. Here, most of the victims are Turkish or Kurdish, for these form the two biggest ethnic minorities in Germany. Also affected are women from the Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Albania, Iran and India.
Sultana (not her real name), a young girl from Afghanistan, was not yet 15 when she leapt from the first-floor balcony of her parents’ flat and made good her escape. She had no intention of returning to Afghanistan and marrying the cousin who’d been chosen as her future husband. For some time, his mother had already been sending clothes to Berlin – in her culture, as Sultan explains, a clear indication of the family’s intentions.
In December 2002, after a legal case that caused a considerable stir, Sultana succeeded in having herself taken into custody and removed from her parents’ care. Today, her legal guardian is Berlin’s Youth Welfare Office (Jugendamt).
A year and a half from now, Sultana will turn 18 – and she’s worried. What will happen when she comes of age and loses the protection of the state social workers? The Berlin lawyer Seyran Ates heard about Sultana’s case and now wants to help her.
Ates is a woman lawyer of Turkish descent who campaigns actively for women’s rights. Forced marriage is a topic she has to deal with on a daily basis, for almost every third client in her Berlin office is affected by it; and Seyran Ates’ own professional experience confirms the results of a poll carried out amongst female Turkish immigrants in Berlin in 1996.
This study showed that 28.3% of the women questioned had been married against their will. Seyran Ates herself managed to escape this fate; in her youth, she too had ended up fleeing from her own family. She had arrived in Berlin-Kreuzberg with her family at the age of six, and she grew up there.
There are so many Turks in this neighbourhood that it’s popularly referred to as “Little Istanbul”. Seyran Ates begs to disagree; for when she walks through Kreuzberg today, it’s usually with a feeling of oppression.
“I was born in Istanbul; it’s a big, open cosmopolitan city”, says Seyran Ates; and she feels that Kreuzberg is just the opposite. Here, she says, Turkish families have remained fixed in their ‘immigrant’ status, though many have now been living in Kreuzberg for 40 years.
This is background for the debate about the ban of the hijab. It will take a lot of time and effort to correct these problems. A complete overhaul of the German immigration policies will have to come next.