Rebuttal to John Moore on the "Soccer Girl Hijab" (National Post March 2, 2007)

In Thursday's Comment section. radio host John Moore argued that wearing we shouldn't make a big deal of the soccer-hijab story — after all, Moore writes, a hijab is just another type of hat (to  read Moore's column, click here). Below, Barbara Kay rebuts John Moore's column:

John Moore writes as he speaks: in a voice that is smooth, articulate, mellow, reasonable, and – on first reading - persuasive: It’s easy to find yourself falling under his beguiling spell. You have to remind yourself that beguiling discourse can also be wrong. And so it proved with yesterday’s column, “Why is it Always About the Hats?”
The subject under discussion was the now famous 11-year-old Muslim girl from Nepean, Ontario, Azzy Mansour, who was ruled ineligible for play in a soccer tournament (by a Muslim referee) because she refused to remove her hijab. A hue and cry was raised ‘round the country, and Azzy immediately became the poster multi-culti victim for high-minded liberals.
Amongst whom John Moore. “What precisely,” John cajoles, “is the community giving up in allowing a little girl to wear a kerchief? For that’s what it really is, a kerchief. Minus the religious significance it bears to the wearer herself, it’s no more than the scarf our mothers [wore] on windy days …”
Um, John, the trouble is we cannot subtract the religious significance. If a player chose to embroider a big ol’ Star of David on her jersey and refused to remove it on the order of a referee, should we give her a pass on that, since after all, what’s a star of David but a kind of – you know – ornamental design?
Obviously, if it were just a “kerchief,” there’d be no story here. It is precisely the religious significance that is the issue. Some people think religious symbols are appropriate anywhere and some think they aren’t. Some people – like me and many other Canadians – think religious accessories are just fine at home, in houses of worship, in the public square, but not in publicly funded secular schools and not in school-related activities, particularly those specifically designed with uniformity of appearance as an integral and significant feature for its purpose.
There is nothing sacred about the hijab. Some Muslim women wear it, some don’t (in Little Mosque on the Prairie the mother doesn’t wear it, the daughter does). Wearing the hijab isn’t a “rule,” it’s a custom. So there is nothing sacrosanct about it. Indeed in Muslim Turkey, the state jumps through hoops to make sure the hijab doesn’t appear in public institutions. And in France the hijab is – rightly, in my opinion - banned in public schools.
But for the sake of argument, let’s say little Azzy considers it sacrosanct. We have a choice. We can say she has to choose between her religious principles and soccer, or we can change the rules of soccer to accommodate Azzy’s beliefs. Liberals like John say Azzy is entitled to be different wherever she wants, and that includes places where everyone else conforms to traditional rules.
Now we’re on that old slippery slope. For some girls the hijab doesn’t quite cut it, chastity-wise. Some might want their legs and arms covered too. Not just Muslim girls. Ultra-Orthodox Jewish girls are obliged to cover their arms and legs, for example. So, following the same logic, hey, what precisely is the community giving up in allowing a little girl to wear a pair of tights and long sleeves? They’re not a danger to anyone.
But wait. What about, for boys, the kirpan and the turban on the soccer field? Uh oh, new problem, a turban can impede an opponent’s line of sight on the field. And it isn’t a danger, but it could help in head-butting the ball, so it certainly could change the outcome of play. Do we allow the hijab, then, and not the turban?
But wait again. What about that sweet little Jewish girl whose religion doesn’t permit her to play sports on Saturday? Or that cute little Christian girl who won’t play on Sunday? Isn’t the observance of the Sabbath kind of like a hijab? I mean, if she can’t play on days when games are scheduled for religious reasons, isn’t that the same thing as making Azzy remove her hijab? Azzy’s teammates all walked off the field with her in protest of the referee’s decision. Would they all decide not to play on the Sabbath if one of their teammates couldn’t? How far do we go here for solidarity?
So it’s not about the hat (or the hat envy of Christians, as John facetiously suggests). It’s all about – all together now – “reasonable accommodation”: how far various communities – in this case the sports community – should go in changing cultural norms and traditions to accommodate the beliefs and practices of minorities. But John says the real issue is Azzy’s “otherness,” visual signs of which “have always been a threat to North Americans.”
John, really. Does it always have to be about the Islamophobia of political conservatives? This particular story is not about feeling threatened, but about sports uniforms. There is a reason why rigid apparel conformity is a common denominator of all international team sports – it’s the same reason that soldiers’ uniforms are identical. It is because the mission – to win – is best accomplished when group bonding is accelerated and intensified. This is in turn best facilitated with a uniform, which de-individualizes team players, and embodies the team as a machine with each player but a cog in it. Any distinctive item of clothing or colour on an individual player is a distraction to the eye, which in turn can break other players’ concentration. A loss of concentration can materially affect another player’s focus. It therefore un-levels the playing field.
Ironically this situation would never have arisen if hijabs were banned in public schools, as all religious accessories should be. As I concluded in a column some months ago, in school and in all school-related activities, including the sports field, cultural anonymity should reign; “children should meet and greet each other stripped of all identities but their common youth.”

Barbara Kay
National Post