Coverage abroad | In Islamic world, head scarves not always compulsory football equipment

The Ontario Human Rights Commissions said the decision regarding Mansour “strikes at the very heart of individual religious freedoms” (James Gordon, “Hijab Debate at ‘Very Heart’ of Freedoms,” Ottawa Citizen, Mar 7). The Muslim population in Canada amounts to 750,000 out of some 33 million, or slightly more than 2 percent.

Bowen writes that, from 2003–04, “the headscarf became a convenient, and prominent, symbol of external and internal dangers to France.”

Journalists, cultural critics and novelists have all put their minds to why the scarf worn over the head, “these bits of cloth,” in the words of John Bowen, author of Why the French Don’t Like Headscarves (Princeton, 2006), bears a symbolic weight out of proportion to the number of women actually wearing it. Bowen began his study after two girls, Lila and Alma Lévy, were expelled from a school in suburban Paris for wearing the hijab to class. The incident occurred on 10 Oct 03. By 15 Mar 04, the French government had passed a law prohibiting from state schools clothing that indicated religious affiliation.

The French, in the analysis from Bowen and others, were preserving the fiercely held national principle of laí¯cité—an extremely strong version of secularism. Politicians in Britain, meanwhile, are content to place such decisions in the hands of school governors.

From Turkey—especially in the writing of Nobel Prize–winning novelist Orhan Pamuk—one reads about another cultural paradigm that casts wearing of the hijab in a different perspective from that familiar in the West. Still bound to the reforming ethos of Kemal Atatí¼rk, founder of modern Turkey, yet also, especially in less urbanized areas, fiercely devoted to Islam, the Turkish polity—for the Islamic woman, especially—presents a confusing space. A woman’s removal of her head covering could variously be read as her casting off a yoke, or as a shocking offense. Persisting in wearing the head scarf, contrary to the rights implicit in wearing hijab in the West, could be read as a woman’s self-denial, or as an expression of supreme devotion running counter to the state’s desires.

The centerpiece of Pamuk’s novel Snow, presentation of the Atatí¼rk- and state-friendly drama My Fatherland or the Head Scarf, dramatizes these questions. Yet women in the novel, living in the far eastern city of Kars, where young girls have been wearing hijab in defiance of school rules, struggle with what wearing or not wearing the scarf might mean for the sense of themselves. Says one female character:

I can’t concentrate, I can’t imagine myself without a head scarf. Whenever I try to concentrate, either I turn into an evil stranger … or I turn into a woman who can’t stop thinking about sex. If I could close my eyes just once and imagine myself going bareheaded through the doors into school, walking down the corridor, and going into class, I’d find the strength to go through with this, and then, God willing, I’d be free. I would have removed the head scarf of my own free will, and not because the police have forced me. But for now I just can’t concentrate, I just can’t bring myself to imagine that moment.

We do not know whether such represents the thoughts of women footballers who persist in pairing their love of soccer—what some players, in Fulbright scholar Matuska’s research, refer to as their raison d’être—with religious observance. Mansour’s family, as of last week, was still focused on more quotidian concerns.

Said Maria, Asmahan’s mother: “I’m just trying to protect my daughter and keep her happy and confident.”

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