ARTE – a sort of Franco-German cooperative education channel – has been talking about the headscarf debate tonight. It’s a bit weird to watch. First, they showed a documentary about a school in Germany with a large Muslim community. Clearly, it was a relatively poor neighbourhood. The bulk of the documentary seemed dedicated to listening to teachers complain about the extra-workload all these students involve – language problems, parents forbidding their daughters to take swimming lesson, or requiring them to wear swimsuits that aren’t quite the same as the others. For a big chunk of it, we saw the teachers trying to organise a school trip to Berlin when the parents didn’t understand that the boys and girls would be staying entirely apart and would be chaperoned at all times or that they could request that the fee be waived if they were poor.
The teachers seemed to be mostly annoyed that the parents weren’t behaving the way they expected. Frankly, it looked to me like a normal day in the Montreal school system. I wasn’t really impressed by the complaining.
Then, they interviewed an imam of a fairly conservative mosque who pronounced on this and that for them, and pointed out that they could be more Muslim in Germany than in Turkey. But the parents they talked to seemed a lot less motivated by religion than a simple Archie-Bunkeresque sort of traditionalism. In one case, the father of a girl who wasn’t allowed to go on this field trip explained that he was a mostly secular second generation Turkish German and that it was the mother – a recent immigrant from Turkey – who insisted on this relative conservativism.