Britain’s highest court has recently ruled on a case that would help to decide just how much of a right a community would have to set its own standards. The court has sided with the majority stakeholders; the people themselves.
Handing down a decision that would have shaken the Canadian multicultural justice system to its knees, Britain’s House of Lords has decided that one individual should not be able to upset the applecart. What a concept. One can only hope that our own Supreme Court will find some tidbit of usefulness in the decision, its reasoning, and its conclusions.
Shabina Begum is her name. She is a muslim student and while attending school in Luton, she decided to begin wearing the traditional muslim garb known as the jilbab and until the high court’s decision was handed down on March 22, 2006, she was a pawn in a game of political chess. What right have I to conclude this? Probably none, but if one looks into this affair, which is similar in substance and nature to so many that have cropped up in our own courts in recent memory, one can not avoid finding the many similarities and within the argument itself, its many inconsistencies.
Shabina is a muslim who until a few years ago attended Denbigh High School. During her time there she willingly complied with the school’s dress code which required her to wear a tunic and a pair of slacks. The uniform’s name is technically known as the shalwar kameez. Stating that she had reached a far deeper understanding of the tenets of Islam, Shabina made a personal decision to begin wearing the much more modest jilbab. She contends that it was a decision of faith and that she ought not be denied entrance to her own school because of that very personal and religious conviction.
On the surface, one would be hard pressed to argue with that reasoning. While many will erroneously draw the conclusion that Shabina’s rights have been grossly violated, a deeper look at the story will reveal many more facts with which one can draw a much different conclusion.
The present uniform, which has been widely accepted by all students at Denbigh, was not simply concocted by a few stuffy Englishmen who in some fit of prejudice and bigotry decided to make it intolerable for practicing muslims. In fact, a great deal of work was done to ensure that it included that specific group of individuals. This was entirely necessary as up to 80% of Denbigh’s students are none other than muslims.
The uniform in question was adopted by the school as a way of creating an atmosphere of inclusiveness as opposed to divisiveness, and until this case erupted in May, 2004, it had achieved the desired effect. It must be noted also that the uniform was adopted while the school was being run by a muslim headmaster and was also approved by the mainstream muslim community and is regularly worn by all other muslim students.
So what happened?
Shabina, who has lost both of her parents, states that she had become more interested in her religion and believed that she should be wearing a jilbab. That alone, she says, is the reason why she showed up for school in September 2002 dressed in a jilbab. Previous to that school year, Shabina had complied happily with the present dress code. She then stopped attending Denbigh High School.
In May, 2004 Shabina and her counsel launched an action against the school stating that their decision was in contravention of her human rights and that it was depriving her of an education. I don’t know about you, but I have to ask myself three questions, with the first leading to the other two.
If Shabina was so sure that her rights had been violated, why did it take almost two years for her to launch a challenge? Was she coaxed into it by somebody who had an ulterior motive, such as a political agenda? Is there any truth that she is under the control of her brother who is a devote muslim and who may feel that her not conforming to Shariah law is placing their family in dishonor?
For those of you who are not familiar with strict Shariah compliance, many nationalities undergo what are known as honour killings where a male member of a family will murder a sister, daughter, or wife who they feel has brought dishonour to the family through an act that is contrary to Shariah law.
Shabina’s brother belongs to the radical muslim group Hizb ut-Tahrir, whose goal is to see Britain under Muslim law. It was after being counseled by this group that Shabina began to assert her right to undermine the authority of the school leadership, the agreement of its students and faculty, and even of the spirit of harmony that existed there.
We have seen many ground breaking court cases in North America that have been executed by one or two individuals. These individuals sometimes act of their own volition but many times are recruited by political causes who simply need a poster child to attain the desired result such as undermining the present culture and religious harmony of a nation. It is equivalent to social warfare and in this manner we ourselves have seen tremendous changes to the social and moral fabric of our societies.
Britain’s highest court has proven itself still worthy and in no need of wisdom in this matter. It has seen the truth and that is that the school has a uniform policy to do the exact opposite of what Shabina and her cohorts claim that it does. The policy seeks to provide an atmosphere of equality and harmony through the spirit of inclusiveness, and that is precisely what it does for everybody. Everybody, that is, except for Shabina and her sponsors.
For now, the dress code will stand. Shabina has one more avenue to seek redress for her alleged hardship and that is the European Union Human Rights machinery. She has stated that she has had enough and that she will not pursue the issue any further, nor will she demand any damages. Let’s hope that those who are helping her make her decisions feel the same. Only time will tell that tale.
On a positive note, it is refreshing and energizing to see a high court forget the politics of a case and for it to see through the rhetoric to the base reasoning involved. That is why sanity has prevailed. While some extreme muslim organizations are crying foul, many will agree that English common sense has once again triumphed.
I wonder if they export that stuff?