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THE CROSS, THE TURBAN AND THE HIJAB
January 21, 2004
 
"Hello," I say as I get in a taxi. He had his "out of service" lights on and stopped anyway, so he has already won my heart in this cold. "Cold out there. Nice in here."

We drove along in silence for a while. The radio was playing some music I didn't recognize; I knew it was Sikh music, though, as he was a Sikh.

"Punjabi folk music," he said, seeing me listening.

"I like it very much."

He turned it up a little. "I am from Punjab."

"I have visited India, but not Punjab." That was enough of an opening to talk about India, about the ceding of important Punjabi cities to Pakistan, about his family, about his journey to New York. About American immigration law, about the president's initiative to soften it somewhat, about whether it would do American Sikhs any good. About the bombing of the World Trade Center and what has changed for him since then. A Sikh's turban looks nothing like the headgear Osama bin Laden wears, but some people aren't very observant.

"In France, they want to forbid the wearing of the turban in public buildings," he says. "Very difficult."

"Very crazy, " I say. "And they want to forbid the wearing of the hijab."

This is so France can be a secular state, is the argument. Something about that sounds a little fishy to me. Disingenuously, the proponents of the ban say it also bans the wearing of large Christian crosses -- are large crosses a big fashion item in France these days? How large is large? Three inches? A foot? They're not going after people wearing crosses. Muslims are the target of this law. They are the ones whose faith mandates their dress. There are Muslims who will not be able to walk the streets if such a thing comes to pass. Sikhs, too. Orthodox Jews.

As important as it is that people come to terms with modernity, they can't be dragged into it. They must be invited into it, and enter it at their own pace. If it is right and good for them, they are usually not too stupid to see that. If ever there were a recipe for radicalizing the Muslim population of France, banning the turban and the hijab is surely it. This morning we heard that an amendment is afoot to add the banning of beards grown for religious purposes to the list of banned fashion in France. Good Lord.

In a state that treasures freedom of religion, all religions ought to be free. People should be able to wear the hijab even if other people think it's a sign of oppression. Those other people don't have to wear it if they don't like it.

God is immense. God speaks in many places in the world -- not just in its Judeo-Christian neighborhoods, but everywhere. God speaks in the secular culture as well -- every good thing doesn't have to have a cross on it somewhere. God expects us to use our mind and discern the good, and not to assume its presence or absence before we've done any homework. And the homework we must do is to understand the breadth of the good in this world, where it has shown itself, and how.

Even more, our homework is to understand where it has shown itself besides in our own milieu -- we must look to the stranger, and understand him, if we are ever to have peace in the world. We're naturally motivated to understand ourselves and our own culture. It is the stranger and his world from whom we shrink. But I cannot be called wise if all I have is a very thorough understanding of Christianity coupled with a complete lack of interest or even a hostility toward any other faith.

Nor is utter ignorance of religion a sign of secular enlightenment. There is a secular fundamentalism as damaging to the fabric of common life as any fanatical religiosity. People are injured when the spirit is denied. We have recent enough memory of enough totalitarian secularist regimes that we should have learned that already. Repression is never a tool of human progress.
Copyright © 2018 Barbara Crafton
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