Rape of the Lock: Brown on Brown Hate Crime?

Our tip lines have been exploding about a New York incident involving a Sikh high school student who was assaulted; his turban was ripped off and then his hair, which had never been shorn, was cut against his will. Unfortunately for those of you who kept submitting the story, there were crickets chirping in the bunker this weekend. Our delay in blogging it was not a reflection of whether we feel the issue was important or not.

Here are the facts I have gleaned from the various links sent in:

  • The Sikh boy was trading “Yo Mama”-like insults with two others
  • Things got out of hand
  • He tried to apologize
  • He was informed that the only way to do so would be a haircut (WTF?)
  • That’s when he was dragged in to a bathroom and cut
  • Two other boys served as “lookouts”
  • All the boys may or may not have been friends
  • The teenaged defendant is a Muslim of Pakistani descent
  • Other desi students said this was anomalous for their school.

From the Queens D.A.’s press release:

District Attorney Brown said that, according to the charges, just after 12:00 noon on May 24, 2007, the defendant, armed with a pair of scissors, approached 15-year-old Vacher Harpal in the hallway of Newtown High School, located at 48-01 90th Street, and stated, “I have to cut your hair.” When Harpal asked, “For what, it is against my religion,” the defendant allegedly displayed a ring with Arabic inscriptions and stated, “This ring is Allah. If you don’t let me cut your hair, I will punch you with this ring.” It is alleged that Harpal initially refused to go into the bathroom with the defendant because he feared that the defendant would hurt him with the scissors.
Once inside the bathroom, it is alleged that Harpal removed his dastar while crying and begging the defendant not to cut his hair, which had never been cut and fell past his waist. The defendant is then alleged to have used the scissors to cut Harpal’s hair to the neckline and thrown the hair into the toilet and onto the floor. [link]

Is this a hate crime? Or just juvenile stupidity and roughhousing gone too far?

209 thoughts on “Rape of the Lock: Brown on Brown Hate Crime?

  1. You’re just explaining the obvious dynamics behind bullying and thuggery. It doesnt really add to our understanding.

  2. I should make one other point. The vast majority of Americans are very liberal when it comes to religion. Maybe its different in India, but that is irrelevent. You can’t expect an adolescent at some public school in New York to understand Sikh customs. Its not part of the curriculum. Not to mention, Sikhs are a minority here… sure, you could put them in a Hollywood flick, and people would quickly learn, but ahhh, there is no money-making potential in that – how many Bollywood films have you seen in which the main actor wears a turban? Don’t expect Hollywood to be different. Minus Hollywood, there is no way for American’s to know about Sikhs short of actually interacting with them. Again… I wouldn’t reasonably expect some immature pre-teen in NYC to spend his time becoming culturally sensitive. What I would expect him to do his play a lot of pranks, just as I did when I was his age.

  3. It doesnt really add to our understanding.

    Because there isn’t much else to be understood, other than that adolescent sensibilities don’t always border on the mature. Classifying that as a hate crime is beyond me.

  4. I appreciate the fact that some of you are at least beginning to consider the potential value of my “kids are just kids” logic.

    No. Nor do I have any interest in ‘understanding’ Person A. Person A should be given the most severe punishment that society deems permissible for his age and his crime…which in this case was definitely a hate crime (if it really happened as described).

  5. I should make one other point. The vast majority of Americans are very liberal when it comes to religion. Maybe its different in India, but that is irrelevent. You can’t expect an adolescent at some public school in New York to understand Sikh customs. Its not part of the curriculum. Not to mention, Sikhs are a minority here… sure, you could put them in a Hollywood flick, and people would quickly learn, but ahhh, there is no money-making potential in that – how many Bollywood films have you seen in which the main actor wears a turban? Don’t expect Hollywood to be different. Minus Hollywood, there is no way for American’s to know about Sikhs short of actually interacting with them. Again… I wouldn’t reasonably expect some immature pre-teen in NYC to spend his time becoming culturally sensitive. What I would expect him to do his play a lot of pranks, just as I did when I was his age.

    Inter-religious studies could help. I think a good time for that would be junior high. Having representatives from all of the world’s major religions come in and give some talks, and for the schools to implement the rule that at least 50% of the speakers should be women, especially for those religions where women are under-represented as representatives, such as Islam. This would force those religions to push their women forward more if such a curriculum were mandatory across all public junior high schools in America. Catholic nuns are common as public speakers, but Muslim women? Not. Time to change that.

  6. No. Nor do I have any interest in ‘understanding’ Person A. Person A should be given the most severe punishment that society deems permissible for his age and his crime…which in this case was definitely a hate crime (if it really happened as described).

    He shouldn’t be given any punishment at all. I say that because this sort of thing goes in thousands of schools all over the country. Its called BULLYING. In the military, its called HAZING. These are like rituals the uber-sensitive loner has to pass through. I’m guessing our Sikh friend wasn’t very popular… I can’t exactly imagine him in a group of kids with baseball hats and super loose jeans… thats why I went to the trouble of explaining cliques etc. Personally, I blame the Sikh kids parents for this. They should have prevented him from a turban at least to the primary school. Why isolate him for the sake of some religious beliefs? Their logic I imagine is that if he didn’t wear the turban from a young age, he would never be inclined to wear it. I don’t know about that. I think Sikhs should just try to assimilate more. If they can’t, then they shouldn’t expect to get away with harmful comments, when those from the dominant culture impose their own way of doing things. You do have to respect the turf your on. Happens in every society.

  7. The Sikh shouldn’t feel that bad about his hair being cut. The guy willingly took part in a fight he was not prepared to fight all the way. He already ceased being a true Sikh man by crying like a wimp and letting his hair get cut instead of letting his face meet the Ring of Allah. The hair is just part of the package of being that. Once the package is broken, who cares about the the other parts of the package such as the hair?

    Yes… he willingly took part in a fight. He was also outnumbered. No surprise the assailant felt a need to publicly humiliate him. And yes… the Sikh kid should have fought back. Thats how grade school works. I was punched quite a few times, but I did my own share of punching. Its all very silly in the end, but anyway, this is the culture of public education in the US.

  8. Personally, I blame the Sikh kids parents for this

    This is the source of your stupid comments on this subject. Someone punches and bullies your son or daughter, and it’s your fault? Pathetic. Cluelessness masquerading as realism and insight.

  9. I think Sikhs should just try to assimilate more. If they can’t, then they shouldn’t expect to get away with harmful comments, when those from the dominant culture impose their own way of doing things.

    So basically, you just hate Sikhs, and have the sneer of a bully and thug and bigot yourself? Why did it take you so long to say so, you should have come out with it at the start and saved yourself all that typing.

  10. LK1, basically what you’ve given us is an argument that comes straight out of your ass. Not only is your understanding of Sikhi completely nonexistent, your comments are offensive in the extreme. If YOU are too ignorant to understand the significance of kes in the Sikh religion, that’s your problem. Please don’t project your insecurities and ignorance onto “Person A” and the child who was attacked. You know nothing of the situation, nor do you know what happened. For that matter, none of us know the inner dynamics, which is why so many of us have reserved judgment at this point.

    For you to belabor your point — which has already been demonstrated to be ignorant and hateful –, you are intentionally ignoring the larger picture and delegitimizing a significant and worrisome incident. I don’t care if you don’t think a child’s hair is important to his faith or religious observance. What you think or feel is totally irrelevant. At the end of the day it IS an act of aggression against this child’s faith, and it is pretty clear that “Person A” understood this.

  11. In related news:

    http://www.rediff.com/news/2007/jun/02canada.htm

    “Two teenage boys face charges as police in Canada continue to investigate suspected racially-motivated attack on an Indo-Canadian couple in British Columbia.

    The two youths face charges for racial attack on an elderly Indo-Canadian couple, Gurmit Singh Tiwana, 79, and Surjit Kaur, 72, in the Fraser Valley city this week while on an evening walk.

    Tiwana said he was still trying to deal with the shock of the violent attack by four Caucasian teens while he was out on an evening walk on Tuesday with his wife Surjit Kaur.

    “They started throwing racial slurs on us as well as stones. We tried to escape, responding to them in no way. We had gone ahead of them and all of a sudden we saw them following us,” Tiwana said.

    The elderly Sikh said once the boys caught up to them, one of them threw a large rock that struck his wife’s ankle. He said she needed four stitches.

    Police arrested two teenagers, aged 14 and 18, not far from the scene of the attack.”

  12. Knowing how mean young kids would be, it’s parents’ duty to protect their kids as much as they can from that crap. Part of that is not sending your kid to school in something that is too far off from the norm. Whatever and wherever you may be. My non-Indian friends with kids in India don’t send their girls to school in tight jeans and spaghetti straps.

  13. Tiwana said he was still trying to deal with the shock of the violent attack by four Caucasian teens while he was out on an evening walk on Tuesday with his wife Surjit Kaur.

    Some of these people need to get an identity and a culture already. Stat. Wtf. How could they attack an elderly couple like this!?

  14. LK1: Stop being so obtuse. The kid who cut the hair was a Pakistani American kid. That area is full of Sikhs and Pakistanis. Surely, you dont believe that the Pakistani kid had no appreciation of the fact that the kesh is an article of faith for the Sikhs. Anyway, I am not going to waste my time with you. I was going to write you a long answer because I have personally handled some cases of religious discrimination and have some idea about how hate crimes affect a person. However, its obvious that you have a problem with Sikhs and my arguments will not be able to compete with your bigotry. I hope you can find peace.

  15. Part of that is not sending your kid to school in something that is too far off from the norm. Whatever and wherever you may be.

    PG, are you saying that Sikh parents should not send their children to school with long hair?

    If so, that is completely NOT analogous to dressing “conservatively” when in India. The two are not even comparable. Is it acceptable for teenagers to rip off another woman’s hijab, then, because it is “too far off from the norm”? And will a “norm” ever change unless there is greater information, exposure, and acceptance of differences?

  16. Camille # 116 ,

    I would’nt bother to reason with PG .By her own admission she never misses an opportunity to offend with unsubstantiated statements or sweeping generalizations

  17. [blockbuster] Once again, the parents are to blame for this. They put the kid in a bad situation. By suing the assailant, they are only making the situation worse. This is not the last time the Sikh kid will be bullied. Is he going to sue his classmates in college, if they snicker at him? Is he going to sue his co-workers, if they make a snide remark behind his back? Is he going to sue the women at parties who refuse to date him because of his headgear? At some point, the kid is gonna have to deal with all this, all by himself… he’s gonna have to learn the hard way the consequences that publicly displaying the turban bring. Now, wearing the turban itself is NOT a bad thing. What is BAD is if you can’t SUFFER in silence the ensuing persecution that may come along with it. And personally, most people can’t (myself included) which is why we choose to conform to the dominant ideals, so far as is possible. Those who can suffer in silence, however, are a unique lot, worth of much admiration. Of course, deciding to press charges/file a lawsuit just shows you are a COWARD at heart. There were MILLIONS of Indians who would have raised their guns or whatever weapons were available at the time, had Gandhi given the signal. I don’t think this Sikh kid’s parents have any REAL religious conviction at all, if they can’t show TOTAL forgiveness to the assailant and his family. [/blockbuster]

  18. Al Chutiya @115:

    Yes, its true that the assailant was a Pakistani Muslim. And a friend of this Sikh fellow -the only proof you need that this was not a hate crime. IMO: it was probably an innocent prank.

  19. For the record: I’m not a Sikh, but you don’t need to be a Sikh to understand that this was just a prank between two under-age school. I don’t follow the presumable logic of some on this thread that only Sikhs are capable of understanding what happened here. In 21st century America, most BOYS and MEN DON’T have HAIR that falls past their WAIST. If they DO, then, all motivations aside, it will invariably DRAW attention. I leave the CONSEQUENCES of that attention to the reader to judge for himself/herself.

  20. I leave the CONSEQUENCES of that attention to the reader to judge for himself/herself.

    You mean the tendentious ramblings and apologia for racist violence and spurious Lord of the Flies ‘realism’ that you squirt as justification for racist thuggery, violence and bullying? Basically, you’re an apologist for nasty nasty nasty bigots and violence because you share the prejudice and bigotry of those squalid little violent bullies. You’re not talking about the specifics of this situation, you’ve been making a general apologia for violent hateful attacks on Sikhs. It’s not only creepy, it’s cowardly and repulsive. Here’s the news — the general reader, (apart from a few possible tendentious half-wits in tune with your bigotry) does not share your bigotry and bully-boy charter and justification for violent attacks upon people, just because they look different.

  21. Well said (as always), Red Snapper. I loathe any insinuation that someone who was assaulted was “asking for it”.

  22. Of course, deciding to press charges/file a lawsuit just shows you are a COWARD at heart

    on the contrary, it shows that you have the conviction to not only stand up for your beliefs, but to not tolerate any disrespect of them. letting things go is far easier than making your voice heard, esp. when people do not always want to hear what you have to say. the civil rights movement won the larger part of the battle, but i think it’s a duty to all americans to also stand up when smaller violations come along. it’s a constant process, but things will never improve if the dialogue does not continue.

    as far as consequences of having long hair – only the rational/expected reactions should be tolerated. of course, people will always make comments – unnecessary, yet still tolerable. but physically violating someone’s person – intolerable. and quite frankly, LK1, that’s a slippery slope. and pretty ridiculous, considering that historically, the majorities have done quite despicable things – slavery, apartheid, empires, segregation. so i’d rather not rely on the ‘majority’s’ viewpoint without qualification.

  23. PG, are you saying that Sikh parents should not send their children to school with long hair? If so, that is completely NOT analogous to dressing “conservatively” when in India. The two are not even comparable. Is it acceptable for teenagers to rip off another woman’s hijab, then, because it is “too far off from the norm”? And will a “norm” ever change unless there is greater information, exposure, and acceptance of differences?

    They have a right to sue, however, commonsense says tells us that kids are mean (ever been to elemenatary school?) and it’s a parental instinct to spare your kids as much meanness as you can.

    I would not send my kids to school public school in tilak, though I wear it at home and amongst other adherents to my religion. However, if my imaginary kids wanted to wear tilak to school, so be it, but I would say “at your own risk”. More than likely I would not even put them in the American public school system.

  24. I would not send my kids to school public school in tilak, though I wear it at home and amongst other adherents to my religion. However, if my imaginary kids wanted to wear tilak to school, so be it, but I would say “at your own risk”. More than likely I would not even put them in the American public school system.

    So you wouldn’t encourage your children to express their individuality or their culture while in public in America? You would rather they walk and talk like everyone else so they blend in and don’t attract unnecessary attention? Wow. I feel very sorry for your imaginary children.

  25. I’m shocked how some people don’t see this as an hate crime. There a very good chance that the young pakistani kid who is being accused of this crime had to know, how important hair to this young sikh boy. He must have known the emotional effect that this would have had on the young sikh.

  26. Sonia # 126,

    While I wouldn’t dream of judging anyone for their religious beliefs, I can see where PG is going.Note : I mean this in general and not as a comment on this particular incident .

    At what point do you draw a line between assimilation in the country that you are bringing your children up in and pride in your origins and culture?

    This is a sincere question: As a parent, I go through this everyday. I want my son to be happy and integrated wherever he is and at the same time I find it so difficult to give up some ingrained cultural mores. But I will be willing to give up some of them if it means that he will be happier.

  27. Red Snapper, thanks. That was great. :)

    PG, you may consider a tilak optional. For a Sikh, and for parents who are raising their children as Sikhs, cutting your hair is NOT optional at all. We’ve had this conversation before – please look through the archives for the discussion there. Given that it isn’t an option, common sense dictates that society will have to learn to get used to it. This was not an incident of “meanness” — the “assailant” or whatever clearly targeted this child and his hair for its religious significance. Whether he understands why is unimportant. He knew that this was an attack against something the child places importance in. Should we also encourage Jewish children who wear a yamulke to avoid school? Tell children who wear the hijab not to bother to attend?

  28. what i find so interesting about this debate on integration is that many of the factions that make up the majority were once minorities, and themselves discriminated against. while we may laud the jewish, italians, irish, african american etc cultures, they were not greeted by the then-mainstream with the acceptance we see today. the first wave of immigration generally consisted of northwestern europeans, plus, of course, their slaves. in the second wave, it was mainly the irish (due to the famine), italians, and eastern europeans. and in the twentieth century, jews. all these minorities were discriminated against fiercely, yet they have not let go of their cultures, for the most part. a great example would be the jewish, who not only because financially successful, but did so while making it clear that their religion and cultural identity would not be compromised. why do we, as desis, think that we should be any different? yes, i am sure all these groups assimilated to some extent, but it seems there is some element of ‘shame’ – an apology for our culture(s) being so different from the mainstream, when it well might be that in the next 50 years or so, we will be as accepted as these other groups. but i think how or whether this will happen depends largely on how we deal with opour culture vis-a-vis the mainstream. i would hate to have desis accepted in the future, only to have completely diluted our culture along the way.

  29. [blockquote] Basically, you’re an apologist for nasty nasty nasty bigots and violence because you share the prejudice and bigotry of those squalid little violent bullies. You’re not talking about the specifics of this situation… [/blockquote]

    You want to view the actions of two immature adolescent boys from an adult perspective. The problem with your logic is that adults resolve disputes far differently. For starters, the motivation for an adult dispute is never a “your-mama” joke. Secondly, while it can be adult-like to resolve the dispute by means of public humiliation, the non-existant “hate crime” you are so desperately trying to imagine took place does not end with a haircuit. There is almost always some substantial bodily harm or vandalism or theft of property involved. Thats why its called a CRIME. The hate component is irrelevent. If we start judging every defendent according to their likes and dislikes, the criminal justice system will become meaningless. There needs to be some objective assessment… the degree of bodily injury, for example, is an excellent indicator. The last time I checked, getting a haircut was not considered a crime. Of course, it was a silly thing to do in this case, for the Muslim guy to do what he did, but what do you expect of two immature adolescent boys? Its for the same reason that those under a certain age are ineligible for the death penalty.

  30. <

    blockquote> as far as consequences of having long hair – only the rational/expected reactions should be tolerated. of course, people will always make comments – unnecessary, yet still tolerable. but physically violating someone’s person – intolerable. and quite frankly, LK1, that’s a slippery slope. and pretty ridiculous, considering that historically, the majorities have done quite despicable things – slavery, apartheid, empires, segregation. so i’d rather not rely on the ‘majority’s’ viewpoint without qualification.

    <

    blockquote>

    Wearing the turban will invariably invoke quite a bit of distaste. Not everyone has had the benefit of an immigrant experience, where adapting to two cultures simultaneously (hopefully) affords one a unique perspective. Some have been reared in sheltered, homogenous settings. You have the subcultures too, which may in certain cases restrict interaction with other groups. Of course, the vast majority of educated individuals will keep their feelings to themselves, as a matter of politeness. The danger is when that distaste factors into a potentially volatile situation. I really would rather not imagine this guy at a bar, for example. Sure, he has the right to be at one. Its just that in certain social situations, its best for everyone to try to conform, especially if they are unable to defend themselves against attacks. In the case of children, this is the responsibility of the parents.

    the majorities have done quite despicable things – slavery, apartheid, empires, segregation. so i’d rather not rely on the ‘majority’s’ viewpoint without qualification.

    When in Rome, do as the Romans do. We don’t have to adapt to every aspect of the dominant culture – in fact, some of our own ideals, such as the high emphasis on education – are superior. However, I don’t understand this need to declare 24/7 that “I’m a Muslim”, or “I’m a Sikh” – assimilate at least a little eh. Unless of course your whole life is actually centered around religion – for example, the Amish. But the Amish do their best to avoid the majority culture, which shows they do in fact have real religious conviction. They have fully rejected materialism. And they don’t file lawsuits either, when their children get murdered in senseless violence of the most brutal kind – far worse than a little haircut.

  31. The last time I checked, getting a haircut was not considered a crime.

    Are you even reading the responses that are being written to your outrageous comments? If so, you would have realized by now that this was not simply a “haircut.” I really don’t understand why you continue to write out the same old thing w/o reading the comments of Camille and others. In your opinion, a haircut is no big deal but bodily injuries are a big deal. Well, maybe you should talk to a Sikh since this whole issue concerns a Sikh boy, not a regular kid who gets monthly haircuts. My husband would rather have his body beaten up and bruised than ever let his hair be cut, so I think he would take issue with the fact that you think a haircut is no big deal. Stop looking at the world from inside a bubble and accept the fact that there are people out there who believe in different religions and will do anything to keep them alive.

    Oh, and in case you think my example doesn’t work in this case since my husband is a grown man and this issue is about a 15 year old boy, you should know that he felt the same way as a child much younger than 15.

  32. Are you even reading the responses that are being written to your outrageous comments?

    I don’t know how to respond to comments such as “you’re a bigot, racist” etc. I personally don’t care for such subjective nonsense.

    Well, maybe you should talk to a Sikh since this whole issue concerns a Sikh boy, not a regular kid who gets monthly haircuts.

    My friend, don’t let your emotions overcome your better judgement. Like I’ve pointed out, adolescents, in general, don’t rationalize on the same level as adults. You don’t need to be a Sikh to understand that.

    My husband would rather have his body beaten up and bruised than ever let his hair be cut, so I think he would take issue with the fact that you think a haircut is no big deal. Stop looking at the world from inside a bubble and accept the fact that there are people out there who believe in different religions and will do anything to keep them alive.

    If the parents of the Sikh boy did not sue, then I might take into serious consideration the possibility that this was a serious affront to their religious sensibilities. However, the fact that they sued and decided to press charges shows to me that they are in fact heartless, not least of all, money-hungry. I have mentioned the Amish already. When the Amish girls were murdered, not a single lawsuit was filed. Therefore, I find it rather amusing that these Sikh parents chose to sue, on the grounds of religious offense. You know one test of religious conviction is how forgiving you are – you can wear a turban, burkha, etc. 24/7, but if you seek financial reparation after a trivial incident, you are nothing but a hypocrite, and that little symbol you gleefully embellish to the outside world is meaningless. For the record, I am not religious, I just really despise people who pretend to be.

  33. For the record, I am not religious, I just really despise people who pretend to be.

    You are not the only non-religious person here. I am an atheist as well. I have some family members who wear the hijab and there is a way to have a reasonable debate about hijab/turban whatever versus issues of safety etc. You however are not interested in a reasoned debate but more interested in attacking the child, his parents, the Sikh community, the 10th Guru and everybody else. Also your ranting about seeking legal recourse is insane to say the least.

  34. LK1, what ails you man? Why do you have so much bigotry and hatred inside you for Sikhs? You’ve been biting your nails and writing abstract apologia for the racist bullying and violence against Sikhs for the last couple of days without respite or shame. Your ‘explanation’ amounts to something similar to saying that women who dress innapropriately deserve to be verbally and physically sexually abused. I have never read so much inverted moral imbecility in my life. And yet you do it constantly, consistently, hissing hate in the form of a warped apologia for racist bullying and violence and victimisation. It’s really pathetic.

    However I do think that reading your screeds has a kind of value, for explicating the mechanics and psychology and self-justification of the morally incoherent ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ mode of discourse that seeks desperately, twisting and breathless, to justify its own perpetual bigotry and moronic reasoning. Thanks for giving us a look into that mess, a jumbled spaghetti of chauvinism and prejudice. It’s important to know that minds like yours exist.

  35. Lots of love, again, to Red. Eloquent as always.

    LK1, it is clear that there is no point in discussing this with you. Not only do you fail to consider alternative views, you’re steadfastly convinced that your inconsistent and bizarre logic is prevalent and correct. You may feel that a haircut is just a haircut. In certain contexts, this kind of a haircut is tantamount to assault, which last time I checked was a crime. I’m not going to argue over whether or not you think this is the truth based on your warped view of what should be considered criminal and hateful and what should not in the U.S. Also, FYI, Sikhs did not just burst on the scene post 9/11 — we have been around for over 100 years in the U.S., and we have visibly practiced our faith throughout that time period. Just because folks like you have decided to pay attention now doesn’t mean that we, as a community, have not experienced this kind of consistent abuse before or this rhetoric of “assimilate or die.” I have never once heard someone (in contemporary society) say that the way to get by is to keep your head down and take whatever abuse comes your way. As Red said, the same logic is used to justify violence against women. The same logic was used in the south when the KKK and others were terrorizing Black, Jewish, and Catholic families as well.

  36. The French government has passed a law banning the wearing of Islamic headscarves in schools, which comes into effect at the start of the new school year on 2 September. BBC News Online examines the controversy surrounding the ban, which will affect millions of Muslims.

    Find out about different styles of Muslim headscarf

    In graphics

    Q: Why was a law banning the wearing of headscarves passed?

    The French had been debating this issue for two decades, but it intensified in the past couple of years, with dozens of girls expelled from secular schools for refusing to remove their head covering.

    Few things declare religious identity so emphatically. The visible Muslim presence has therefore added a pronounced religious dimension to rising French concerns about immigration and integration.

    In addition, many French people regard the headscarf as a symbol of oppression of women, as well as the embodiment of a political worldview that rejects secularism and even, for some, embraces Islamic extremism.

    And then there was a centre-right government under pressure from the far right National Front. The law was passed in March, ahead of regional elections. Polls at the time suggested that between 60-70% of the population supported the ban.

    Q: Why is there such sensitivity to overt religious symbols in a Catholic country?

    Secularism in France has a unique definition, more accurately expressed in the French term “laicite”. It underpinned the French Revolution, which among other things sought to end the domination of the Roman Catholic Church over the state. There ensued much conflict between the church and secular authorities, and an atmosphere of anti-clericalism emerged.

    The matter of public religious symbols has been ambiguous, however. In 1989, a court ruled that the wearing of religious insignia in state schools was permissible as long as it was not done with the aim of “pressure, provocation, proselytism or propaganda”. Much of the debate focused on whether certain symbols fell into these categories.

    Q: Did outrage at the ban really lead to two French journalists being taken hostage?

    The group allegedly behind the abduction of Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, the Islamic Army of Iraq, demanded that the law be overturned.

    The BBC’s Middle East analyst Roger Hardy says that while the headscarf issue has certainly provoked a negative reaction in the Muslim world, Iraq’s kidnappers have not previously linked their action to events thousands of miles away. There has been speculation the hostage-takers may have come up with this unusual rationale only after the kidnapping, when they realised the nationality of the hostages.

    The kidnapping of the men has baffled French public opinion, which is generally pro-Palestinian and strongly opposed the war in Iraq.

    Q: Will French Muslims be able to challenge the law in court?

    They will. There are clearly different interpretations of a French constitution that protects freedom of conscience, education and expression of religious belief. France is officially a pluralistic society and many Muslims argue that their rights to express their religious identity would be infringed by this law. Muslim women who wear the headscarf insist it is nothing to do with politics, but about dignity and obedience to God. Banning the wearing of it, they maintain, requires them to disobey their religion, or compromise their education.

    If a challenge in the French courts failed, they could also take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. Article nine of the European Convention on Human Rights enshrines the freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs, subject “only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.

    However, the European Court of Human Rights recently upheld a ban imposed by Istanbul university in Turkey on a student who refused to take off her Islamic headscarf.

    Q: Apart from the French Muslim community, are other religious groups also angry about this law?

    Yes, Christian and Jewish groups reacted angrily to the ban on “overt” religious symbols in schools. As well as having the biggest Muslim community in Europe, France also has the biggest Jewish one. While one Jewish group had no problem with the ban, the Grand Rabbi of France, Joseph Sitruk, opposed it.

    Others of no particular affiliation have argued that unity comes not through uniformity, but through diversity. Far from encouraging integration, they say, it will do the opposite, victimising Muslims in particular (most of whom are North African immigrants) and potentially pushing some towards political extremism.

    It will also probably lead to more private, confessional schools. There are hundreds of private Catholic schools, but the first Muslim school, a junior high school in Aubervilliers, outside Paris, opened only two years ago.

    Some Muslim groups have told girls to wear whatever they want and have pledged legal aid and private tutoring if they are expelled from school.

    Q: Can Muslim girls wear headscarves to schools in other parts of Europe?

    Yes, although the situation is very chequered. In Britain, Muslim girls are free to wear the headscarf. In Germany, there is a heated debate over the issue and some states are considering banning headscarves in schools.

    The most striking parallel with the current situation in France is Turkey. There, the secular republic banned headscarves in public institutions. That has led to many girls being excluded from the public system.

    In France headscarves are already forbidden for people working in the public sector, but that rule – which is not a law – is occasionally broken. A Muslim employee of the city of Paris was recently suspended for refusing to take off her scarf or shake men’s hands.

  37. America should follow the example of France. After all, American democracy was fashioned after the ideals of the French Revolution. Desi immigrants who come and abuse the cherised ideal of secularism are nothing but hypocrites; they can’t fix their own backyard (India) and they want to hold someone else’s to a higher standard?

    Anyway, education is an important issue. Religion should never be brought into the picture, except perhaps as a subject of historical analysis. In the same way as headscarves and turbans should be banned from schools, Christians should not be allowed to form private prayer groups in the school perimeter, nor should the Bible be read/studied. Except for the wearing of hijab/turbans, the other principles have already been long enacted, as far as public education is concerned.

  38. What’s really needed is LEGISLATION, such as there was in France, banning the headscarves. The French finally realized, after 20 years of futile debate, that thats the only way to conserve securalism. Because some people just aren’t interested in secularism, which brings me to my next question: why bother immigrating to the West in the first place? Its so much easier to practice your religious traditions in your native country. Yes, diversity is good for the West, but exactly what kind of diversity… you don’t see Hindus putting their religion on public display 24/7… what you see are Hindus striving for the highest ideals in education and service. Thats the kind of diversity you want, not this, where women who come to this country don’t even work, for religious reasons.

  39. What a comedy of errors your contributions to this thread have become, LK1! Carry on —- I am enjoying this squirming half wittery..

    And we are blessed, because at least in your last post, whilst you affix your colours to the standards of the French and American Revolutions, you did not reiterate your apologia for racist bullying, violence and hatred of those who fall outside your remit of bigotry. The French and American revolutions are safe in that isolation (for now!) from the shit throwing of your justification of violent thuggery. Hooray! Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite! (sans racist violence against those LK1 the bigot hates, for the time being!) Vive la revolution!

  40. As long as headgear does not interfere with learning, why ban it?

    Because it does not promote learning. Maybe the French realized this; they have a much better system of education. The American public (free) educational system is largely worthless, it has enough problems already, the last thing it needs is to become the model of religious tolerance.

  41. you don’t see Hindus putting their religion on public display 24/7…

    I remember when I was a kid and my cousins from Long Island stayed with us one summer holiday, being told all about the Hindu women being attacked by racists in New Jersey by ‘dot bashers’. I remember my mother and father being ‘Paki bashed’ when I was growing up. I remember being racially abused over the years having provoked them with my brown skin. We deserved it. Hindu women in America and Britain deserve it for wearing saris, visiting mandirs, wearing bindis.

    Hindus occasionally provoke people too LK1. Let’s be honest, even though Sikhs and Muslims and occasionally blacks are the main culprits by provoking others by existing, we are also to blame for the occasional violence, which some religious people will try to say is racist.

    As a community we need to weed out those in our Hindu diaspora who cause trouble by walking out in daylight and provoking these kinds of things.

  42. Sorry, I completely disagree with you on the headscarf thing and a lot of other things that you say—– and I don’t think that will ever pass in the US with our First Amendment, thank god.

    France’s ruling isn’t secularism from where I stand. It is ethnocentric and xenophobic — the way most French Christians practice their religion doesn’t require any prominent displays of their religious affiliation. Their law reflects that and is completely inconsiderate to the other French people who come from religions that practice their religion in other ways. The law fits mainstream, white French culture. They are worried about oppression of women? The hijab isn’t the cause of oppression, as many friends I have who where the hijab know. I know there are some Muslim feminists who disagree with my above stance, but I know too many open-minded women who where the hijab.

    And if the French are saying that the families are forcing these girls to wear the hijab…that’s slippery slope when the law dictates what a parent can force their children to do, when it doesn’t cause bodily harm to the children and or the rest of society.

    I’m sure in the US that law would be unconstitutional.

  43. Hey LK1, I think you are into this ‘banning headgear’ jive just because you hate Sikhs and Muslims, and are a bigot. After all, for the last couple of days you’ve been writing gleeful justifications for the racist bullying and victimisation of innocent Sikhs and presumably Muslims too. I think in reality, you’re just a chauvinist and a bully.

  44. Hindu women in America and Britain deserve it for wearing saris, visiting mandirs, wearing bindis.

    Hindu women wear sari’s to the workplace? Really? That is fascinating. Visiting mandirs is just fine. Build as many religious places of worship as you want; in the Constitution, this is defined as the “right of assembly.” Secularism does not imply atheism. Let’s differentiate between the two, because the difference is worth noting. A bindi is a small thing. It doesn’t go 3 or 4 feet in the air and come in 5 or 6 different colors. It also doesn’t come with a beard attached. Now why don’t Indian guys just wear dhoti to work in the summertime, eh? I’m sure it would be far more comfortable.

  45. France’s ruling isn’t secularism from where I stand. It is ethnocentric and xenophobic — the way most French Christians practice their religion doesn’t require any prominent displays of their religious affiliation.

    Which religion really requires a prominent display?

  46. “Because it does not promote learning. Maybe the French realized this; they have a much better system of education”.

    Why?

    Why stop at banning the headscarf, have everyone have the same haircut, same colour eyes, have them wear steel toe cap boots so they can kick anyone who is different.

    Schools give the best chance for people to have tolerant views, understanding of other cultures and mainly other people. You start restricting them at an early age, you send into a really small world.

  47. At this point, LK1 is just enjoying watching us all squirm. Red Snapper summed up his warped attitudes very well. In a different era, under different circumstances, he probably would have supported the Nazis (I know, they say the discussion is over once you bring up the Nazis). I say let’s forget him now.