Friday, March 09, 2007

The Hijab continues to make headlines

Girl’s ejection from soccer game touches a very sensitive nerve

Last week,Asmahan Mansour, an 11-year-old girl from Ottawa, was ejected from a youth soccer tournament in Montreal for wearing a hijab on the field. The event got front-page headlines across the country, proving that the hijab is a sensitive issue.

Photo: CBC news

The event made headlines in countries from Europe to Australia. A Written Words reader sent the following:

Egypt shows yellow card over hijab ban
Several dailies in the English-language press report that Egypt has warned of "mounting signs of racism and intolerance in Canada" over the recent game expulsion of an 11-year-old soccer player for wearing her Islamic headscarf. The article quotes the Egyptian Foreign Ministry: “The question of wearing the headscarf should remain a part of individual freedoms, so long as it does not harm security, public order or the values of a society.” However, the articles note the Egyptian ambassador to Canada, Mahmoud El-Saeed, has downplayed his Foreign Ministry's comments and said the criticisms levelled against Canada were only reflective of Egypt's "concern for the status of Muslims around the world." It is noted Mr. El-Saeed said he discussed the case with his government and assured them the incident was an anomaly in Canada. Mr. El-Saeed states: “I explained to Cairo that the situation in Canada is different -- it is a very tolerant place...This was just one soccer match and one province...I explained to Cairo that this was one incident, that the referee who made the decision was reported to be a Muslim himself ... and that this does not reflect the position of the [Canadian] federal government."

Meanwhile, soccer’s world governing body has failed to make any definitive statement about this issue.

While mainstream media tries to be neutral about this, shockwaves are spreading. Some Muslims, understandably, see the ban as symptomatic of the clash between secularist Western and Muslim values. Others see it as “Islamophobia.”

There is a lot of Web traffic on the issue, with the predictable number or ravers on all sides talking about discrimination and reverse discrimination and people taking advantage of Western freedoms to try to enforce an “alien” value on Western cultures. What that shows us is that the event has touched a very sensitive nerve.

We need to work out a way to talk about the conflict between the West’s ideas of religious freedom and freedom of expression — which support anyone’s freedom to wear any religious garment — other cultures’ ideas of religious duty, and Western concern over the freedom of individuals within cultures, such as Islam, to not be forced into religious observances if they don’t want to.

And for the record, I can’t see why a girl shouldn’t be able to wear a hijab when she plays soccer — it can’t interfere with other players.

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