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This originally appeared at FreeWriters.
You may have seen it, you may have heard about it: the most recent discrimination case being fought by Muslim woman, Bushra Noah. Now the story goes a bit like this, Bushra Noah (19 year old hijabi) goes to Sarah Desrosiers (32 year old hippie) for a job as a Post Options hairdresser. Desrosiers tells her that her appearance (hijab-clad Muslimah) doesn’t quite fit with the image of the salon’s, and tells her that she will only give her the job if she removes her ‘head-gear’. Noah, distraught, after being rejected for around 25 jobs (including this one), refuses and takes her case to court instead, suing Desrosiers for the sum of £15,000 – for religious discrimination.
Now, ordinarily I’d have to say that discrimination is unacceptable under any circumstances. But this, well, I must admit, this is a little more complex. On the one hand, what Desrosiers asked Noah to do was purely a marketing strategy which unfortunately (and coincidentally) meant that Noah would have to take her scarf off – I don’t actually think it had anything to do with her religion. Desrosiers seems to have tried to implement a strategy I have often seen many retail companies and beauticians adopt. I myself admit that I would never go to a beautician whose skin was full of scabs and spots (no offence to anyone!) But the reality is that image sells; and in this case, the product, or rather service being sold involved Noah’s hair.
On the other hand, if Noah was good at her job, then who cares what she is wearing? I mean, when you go to the dentist you don’t say “open wide doc, I wanna see what your gnashers are like before I get in the seat” do you? By the same token I don’t ever recall asking any of my lecturers what qualifications they had before joining their class – I just relied on their knowledge blindly, that if they are where they are, it’s because someone, somewhere thought that they had the ability to teach me.
One blog site, The Freethinker, dubbed the story as “Boo-hoo, another Muslim’s feelings are hurt – and only cash will ease the pain”. While I admit that these were (surprisingly) my own sentiments when I first read the story yesterday evening, I do think that in this current climate it has become only too easy to point the finger at the whole Muslim community (yet again) and brand her with the rest of the Aishahs, Shabinas and Aneelas we have seen over the past three years. Instead, we must be mindful that each case must be assessed on its own merits – the specific details of this case are different. On this occasion though, I don’t think it is a religious issue – it is an issue about clothing, pure and simple. What if this had been a Sikh man or some random bald woman? Would we be making such a fuss of it then?
By making a claim on religious discrimination grounds, Noah has further fuelled discontent towards Muslims today, but by refusing to employ her because of her clothing, Desrosiers has gone against a basic right we are all entitled to in this country: freedom of expression. So let’s stop turning everything into a religious issue and put our heads back on the right way around!