Have you guys heard yet about this incident: Georgia judge jails Muslim woman for refusing to take off her head scarf? It’s reminiscent of many similar episodes in the last couple of years all over the States and Canada. I’m only going to mention one of them, because I’m going to use it to make a point later on: the case of the 12 year-old Sikh student whose school didn’t want him to wear his kirpan to school (check out the in-depth file of the case on the CBC website).
My first question: why are we not allowed to wear headgear inside a courtroom? Is it a matter of security or a matter of protocol and respect?
From what I gleaned during my (limited) research on the matter (thank you, Google), it seems that each judge decides as to the details of the proceedings in their courtroom, including the matter of headgear. This means that the rules change from courtroom to courtroom according to the judge, and we know that decisions are in large part the results of not only individual characteristics but to upbringing and cultural traditions.
It does make sense that judges are allowed to make such decisions, since the courtroom is their ‘office’ – why are we allowed to choose how we function in our cubicles but a judge not be allowed the same? And, on a side note, one day I will figure out a way of sitting on a judge’s chair, pounding the gavel and shouting out ‘Order in the court!’.
If a judge feels disrespected because a woman is wearing a headscarf, maybe he should be given the chance to understand why she is wearing it and what it represents. I’m sure that any fair-minded person who understands the importance of the headscarf for the woman wearing it will not impose such a rule on her.
On the other hand, let’s admit it folks: prejudices against Muslims and Arabs has exponentially increased since September 11th 2001. In this context, the headscarf can become a symbol of misplaced anger. In such a case, can a judge’s judgment be trusted?
I personally don’t wear a headscarf, and, while I can appreciate why my friends do, I think the same goals can be accomplished without having to wear a headscarf. But I admire my friends for trying to become better, and we respect each others’ opinion.
But there are some situations in which this common respect isn’t as easy to achieve, as there are confounding factors such as security involved. Remember the kirpan issue I mentioned at the beginning of the post? Well, while a headscarf can’t potentially hurt anyone, a kirpan can. The young boy who took the kirpan to school was 12 years old. I’m certain his intentions were good; but we all know how high school can be.
Not allowing the young man his kirpan implies that other young men and women are controlled for similar objects, which can also be used as weapons. Were this young man going to a school controlled for such weapons, it wouldn’t be very fair for him to be allowed to bring a dangerous item, however symbolic it might be, to a controlled area, when no one else is allowed anything of the sort (I personally have a little Swiss knife I carry everywhere with me, and wouldn’t be happy about not being able to take to school).
However, in a school not controlled for such items, is it fair to demand that all Sikh youngsters divest themselves of their kirpans while other teenagers might be bringing whatever they want to school? And you know what… Even in a controlled school, if a teenager wants to create damage, he or she will find a way using whatever is handy.
The point that I am very clumsily trying to make is that policy makers seem to have forgotten about the causes behind violent incidents. Because of the shocking images that are high school shootings, they are trying to do what they can in the shortest amount of time possible to prevent such tragedies from ever happening again. But taking away objects that are obviously usable in such violent ways doesn’t keep schools safe; quite the contrary, as such actions prevent teenagers from acting out, they will only contain their anger for a longer while, making its explosion all the more dangerous.
So now the question that must be asked is: how are we going to reach out to these teenagers and help them channel their frustrations into something positive?