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“Just as students must show respect for the school and its staff,” he writes, “the school must also show respect for each individual.” Never mind that the whole idea of the niqab is to rob Muslim women and girls of individuality in the eyes of everyone other than their families. The veiling issue is highly sensitive, Nordström writes, because it’s “about religion and culture” and also “about clothes that may be impractical in different contexts and that can also make it harder for the teacher to communicate with the student.” Nordström either is unaware, or unwilling to address the fact, that the niqab is also – is, indeed, primarily – about the subordinate position of females in Islam.
The editors of the Swedish newspaper Dagen are also pleased by Skolverket’s ruling. They congratulate Skolverket for finding “the golden mean,” and describe its guidelines as “balanced and considered.” They feel that it’s “right to let the practical aspects determine whether the veil should be taken off,” and insist that it would have been “absurd” to impose a total niqab ban in the schools.
Indeed, Dagen‘s editors wax poetic about the importance of religious freedom – which, they maintain, takes on meaning “only when it can be put into practice,” even if it’s practiced in ways that may “seem arcane or unsuitable to the situation.” That freedom, they insist, “must apply to all, including those whose beliefs differ from the majority.” There seems no awareness on their part – or, at least, no willingness to acknowledge – that every time a Muslim girl appears in public in niqab, it is an affront to the very idea of individual freedom.
To be sure, there are some people in Sweden who see through all this madness – though, alas, few if any of them are in a position to do anything about it. For instance, a blogger for Norrköpings Tidningar asks why Swedish schools should adapt themselves to “extreme manifestations of religion” and notes that while some people in the Middle East are fighting the niqab, Sweden is embracing it.
In an opinion piece for Skånsa Dagbladet entitled “Indulgence of the Cultural Oppression of Women,” Lars J. Eriksson cuts to the chase: “Most Muslim women do not cover their faces. Many do not even cover their hair. It is even doubtful whether the niqab and the burqa can be seen as required by religious edict. Instead it is about a cultural tradition in societies where the woman’s value is lower than the man’s.” Erikssen laments that while women are fleeing male oppression in Muslim lands, Sweden is giving a friendly nod to primitive Islamic patriarchy.
Skolverket has, then, made crystal clear its determination to pretend that niqab is simply a matter of religious freedom and that it should be prohibited only in “special” circumstances for purely “practical” reasons. And the powerful Swedes who have embraced Skolverket’s ruling have done so with a palpable relief at having managed to avoid confronting the incompatibility of yet another aspect of Islamic culture and belief with day-to-day life in a Western country founded on freedom and equality.
The editors of Dagen, in their self-righteous editorial, puff on about how the freedom of religion is rooted in the Swedish constitution and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But virtually nobody with authority in Sweden, it would appear, is prepared to publicly address the very real issue that niqab raises, and that speaks to the very essence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I am referring, of course, to the right of a young girl living in Western Europe in 2012 not to be forced to attend school in a dehumanizing garment that could hardly be improved upon as a symbol of a belief system that mocks every value the post-Enlightenment West stands for.
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