As most of you know, I started a new job a few weeks ago. New school, totally new area, totally new colleagues (who generally rock). One of those, a woman about my age who also freshly started on the job, is a Muslim woman who wears a hijab. This particular woman is ethnic German and converted to Islam via her first husband. She studied English and German and after finishing the second part of the training (we instantly bonded over how horrible that was) went looking for a job.
While I am no fan of hijabs, I am much less a fan of policing women’s bodies. Since her Christian German family would probably be very happy if she ditched her headscarf and she was divorced and a single mum before meeting her second husband, we can be very sure that nobody is forcing her in any way to wear her headscarf so it’s none of my personal business. On a professional basis I’m actually quite happy about teachers like her. She is the best role model our Muslim girls can have, showing them that they can be independent women who go to college and have careers outside of the home and Muslims at the same time. And she’s good for our Muslim boys because she can “teach those little Pashas to respect a woman in a hijab” (her words, not mine). She’s also good for our German kids and their parents, for pretty much the same reasons.
For those of you not intimately acquainted with the German school system: almost all schools are public schools, only very few are private. Almost all hiring of teachers happens on a state level via the ministry of education. Now, with women wearing a hijab, there’s apparently an extra rule: the ministry has to treat them like everybody else, but individual schools can reject them, so when she was looking for a job she was twice rejected by different schools, with some of the most outrageous comments.
At one school she got told that they were an open and tolerant school with many kids from many different backgrounds and with many different religions, and she would disturb the peace. At the other school they told her that “somebody like her couldn’t teach German”, so apparently she changed her ethnicity and origin and complete culture along with her religion.
Those remarks and attacks were made in the name of liberalism, in the name of tolerance. Those attacks on Muslim women (I don’t know, can Muslim men teach German even if they pray five times a day?) come from the middle of society. Their headscarves get seen as a sign of Islamism, the whole discourse is such that a woman with a headscarf is automatically seen as suspect, as having an agenda, a meaning that is imposed on her by actual Islamists and Islamophobes alike. It’s in that same vein that the German women’s organisation Terre des Femmes is asking for a ban on headscarves for girls.*
That they’re only getting support from right wing organisations should tell them something, but I guess it won’t. The further stigmatisation of hijabis isn’t going to do anything for their integration into society, yet should they complain they get told that Islamophobia doesn’t exist anyway and that they’re just hiding behind the word to avoid “legitimate criticism”, in this case the further policing of women’s and girls’ bodies.
*The organisation has been criticised in the past for racist tendencies and sex worker exclusive positions, in short, your run off the mill White Feminist organisation. Their Swiss sister organisation split from them over those issues.