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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: July 25, 2008 @ 11:53 am

    Let’s not get heebie-jeebies over the Hijab

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    Two days ago I visited St Luke’s Hospital in south Dublin for a check-up. Last year I had radiation therapy there for prostate cancer and, thanks to the excellent treatment I got, the tumour seems to have disappeared. I say “seems” because you still need to see your specialist every few months, “to be sure, to be sure”.

    The news in my case is good. The method of examination is not for the squeamish but all the indications are that the malignancy has gone, hopefully for good. Would that everyone could be so lucky!

    While I was waiting I noticed a leaflet on display, for a company selling headwear — “turbans”, scarves, bands, bandanas, nightcaps — described as ”suitable for persons prone to hair loss”. As a follically-challenged male, I belong in that category myself but all the illustrations were of women or girls. The usual price was around €35.

    What you are really talking about here, in a place like St Luke’s, is women who have lost some or all of their hair under the rigours of cancer treatment, especially chemotherapy. When I visited St Luke’s every weekday last summer for my radiation “zap”, it was customary to meet women patients who had lost their crowning glory. The battle against the Big C can be something of a free-fire zone at times but every effort is made to minimise the side-effects and the hair loss is usually temporary.

    It was touching to see these brave women coping so admirably with the situation they were in, especially given the years and even decades many of them would have spent combing and shampooing and drying their beautiful shining tresses before rushing off to a dance or a party, blissfully unaware of what lay further down the road.

    All I can say to anyone facing that challenge is to keep your heart up, medical science can and does work wonders nowadays and the chances of coming out the other side with a good result are so much better now than they used to be.

    But the pictures in the leaflet reminded me of a current issue on the Irish political and social scene. They could have been women wearing the Hijab, the Muslim head-covering that is the subject of controversy at the moment.

    It would be a strange thing if one schoolgirl was refused the right to wear the Hijab in school when another pupil came in wearing the exact same kind of headgear to cover up the effects of cancer treatment.

    Minister of State for Integration Conor Lenihan has written to 4,000 schools all over the State on this issue, seeking their views. It looks as if the only practical and just solution is that the Hijab be permitted but that schools should be in a position to insist that it match the colour of the uniform if they wish.

    Teachers’ unions say every school should be allowed to decide its own policy and due regard must be given to their considerable wisdom and experience. But if some schools were to ban the Hijab they could leave themselves open, despite good intentions, to the charge of being anti-immigrant. We don’t want a two-tier situation and guidelines from the Department of Education would reduce the likelihood of this happening.  What authority and force the guidelines would have is unclear however.

    I am old enough to remember a time that most Irish women covered their heads when they were out on the street and virtually all women wore headscarves in church. So it is nothing new.

    The full-face covering — the Burqa – is another matter. There are serious security issues here, for example. In this age of hijacking and terror, it is unreasonable for someone to seek to board an aircraft without verifying that her face is the same as the one on the passport. And how is a teacher suppose to know a lesson is getting through, without seeing the pupil’s face? Some Islamic countries insist on Western women conforming to the dress customs when they come to visit and the reverse should apply in a sensitive and reasonable manner to Islamic women in the West.

    Islam, despite some criticisms I would make, is a great religion which has contributed enormously to human civilisation. But nothing is good if taken to extremes, as we know from our own religious history in Ireland. Wasn’t it John Hume who advised, “Moderation in all things except moderation”?

    Deaglán de Bréadún (on vacation to August 18th)

    • Deaglan de Breadun:

      “I am old enough to remember a time when most Irish women covered their heads when they were out on the street and virtually all women wore headscarves in church. So it is nothing new.”

      Yes and a lot of them wore shawls too.

      It does seem reasonable to allow the young girls to wear the hijab, but I would draw the line at allowing their genitals to be mutilated, here in Ireland, or having them pushed into forced marriages.

      We have our own ethnic and cultural values too.

      Let us make sure that we protect them as well

      Slan is beannacht!

    • Basbousa says:

      Genital mutilation of females has got nothing to do with Islam, as it is an old African tradition, also practised in Ancient Egypt.
      As for forced marriage, that’s forbidden in Islam too. Unfortunately people (even Muslims themselves) seem to get mixed up between culture and religion.

    • Tim says:

      Basbousa, surely genital mutilation of males is equally wrong? Remember the boy who died from it last year?

    • Conor Lenihan T.D., Minister for Integration says:

      I liked Deaglán de Bréadún’s piece on the hijab issue. It seemed quite balanced. My report on the issue is now complete and hopefully will be published with its recommendations in the next week or so. I have consulted with the Minister for Education Batt O’Keefe on the matter and the controversy itself has in many ways shown that there is a practical commonsense in Ireland on these issues that does not necessarily tilt to either the knee-jerk illiberal viewpoint nor indeed the default liberal response. Thanks – Conor Lenihan T.D., Minister for Integration.

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