You can have any colour you like . . .

I watched Question Time last night (that happens sometimes - it's not all Norman Wisdom films and mucky programmes with bosoms in for me). The arguments against Shabina Begum being allowed to wear the jilbab to school struck me as a bit, well, lame (if you didn't see Question Time, and can't see the Question Time video on the BBC site, they were nicely summed up in everyone's favourite reactionary rag a couple of weeks ago).

There seem to be five main arguments against Begum, and they go like this:

1. The school has a uniform, and anyone who doesn't want to wear it can bugger off.

2. "[...] many Muslim girls may find themselves under pressure to adhere to a dress code they might not want" if the jilbab is allowed.
3. Other forms of Islamic dress are permitted in the school, so her right to freely express her religion were respected.
4. There are other schools in the area where she could have worn the jilbab and she could have gone there, so right to an education wasn't restricted.
5. The court case cost a lot of money.

All five are dirty pants. And here's why:

1. Uniforms and laws get changed to accommodate religious dress all the time. Sikh policemen who want to wear a turban are allowed, and Sikh bikers can wear a turban in lieu of a crash helmet if they like. It's no big deal. The school itself allows different kinds of Muslim dress but just not this one, which kind of destroys the idea that it has a uniform that must at all costs be stuck to.
2. This is the lamest argument of the lot. To stop Muslim girls from being pressured to adhere to a dress code they may not want, they should be pressured to adhere to a dress code they may not want? That's logical.
3. No they weren't. She was only free to express her religion if she did so in a way that didn't express her religion in the way she wanted to. And you can have any colour you like as long as it's black.
4. If someone gets turned down for a job because they're black, it's not an acceptable defence to say that they weren't discriminated against because they could have gone for a similar job in another company that was hiring up the road. Why is this any different?
5. This doesn't necessarily have to be Begum's fault. The whole court case would have been unnecessary had the school just allowed her to wear the thing.

There is a sixth argument, seen in the Question Time comments on the BBC site. Here it is:
"The issue of tolerance MUST be international - when Christianity is tolerated, with free expression in Arab countries, then we should wholeheartedly agree to accepting Muslim school uniforms (and others) within the United Kingdom education system. - David Mulvagh, Worthing"
No it mustn't, you plonker. To get all fancy and use Latin words and that - that's a tu quoque fallacy, that is. Either it's right to respect free expression of religion or it's not. Doesn't matter what anyone anywhere else is doing.

There's a horrible smell about some of these arguments - especially the last one. They all assume certain things about the case and about Muslims that are a bit unsettling. Digby Jones, in an aside, said the issue was more "insidious" than wearing a crucifix. David Laws said that the school, "did their best to respect the legitimate religious concerns of Muslim pupils at the school". So Begum's concerns are "insidious" and presumably "illegitimate". Boris Johnson's colummn in the Telgraph says all sort of nasty stuff, but in among his lame ad hominem attacks and baiting and switching with the definitions of words, the main argument seems to be that Shabina Begum is not behind this, but bullying evil Muslim types who might lynch him.

So it all comes back to the lame old Islamophobic arguments we've heard before: Islam is monolithic, so any concession to any Muslim is a concession to all Muslims. These brown types will get all worked up if you let them express their religion how they want and they'll only end up in competitions to see who's more devout, so they need protecting from themsleves. And they might lynch people.

Does anyone making these arguments realise that they're playing into the hands of the very people they're arguing against? The extremists now have a lovely martyr as proof that we in the West are afraid of their ideas. We're exposed again for preaching tolerance and respect while displaying nothing of the sort. I wish I'd watched the mucky programme with bosoms in now.

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