Headscarves and neutrality

"It′s our decision!"

Teacher Fereshta Ludin was the first to complain about the headscarf ban in German schools. Here, she writes about her anger and disappointment over what has happened since – and what hasn’t

Dear supporters of the neutrality law, dear opponents of headscarves in schools, public services and elsewhere, it is really remarkable that the history of discrimination, exclusion and banishment of people with different appearances and beliefs in Germany has taught us absolutely nothing. For the last two decades, people have been saying "get headscarves out of schools", "headscarves out of the system", "teachers in hijabs out" – out of everything that might be seen as an imposition on our children, our customers, etc. "That bit of fabric": out! A blanket ban, for preference. Things that make us uncomfortable have no place in our cities or in our world view.

The Muslim woman underneath this bit of fabric stands for all that is lowly, inferior; she is oppressed, doesn't have equal rights, she's poor, in need of help, uneducated, old-fashioned, oriental, provincial, backward, fanatical and archaic. Everything from which you (or I) might distance yourself if you didn't want to be seen in the wrong light, as something peculiar and threatening.

We believe in the constitution – and in emancipation

Is a Muslim woman everything that makes you fearful? Have you all had traumatic experiences with us, then? Is an Islamic headscarf per se not in tune with our European world view? Is taking it off a sign of solidarity with you – and does that make wearing one a sign of enmity? And if we remove headscarves, will that be all it takes for you to acknowledge us as good, integrated public servants?

Why do you fight so hard to tear these scarves from our bodies?

Muslim women wearing headscarves in Munich city centre (photo: imago/Ralph Peters)
A plea for social diversity, acceptance and self-determination: "our bodies belong to us. How often do women like me have to say this before people will believe us: how much of our bodies and hair we reveal or conceal is something we ourselves want to decide. We want to decide whether we wear a scarf or not," writes Fereshta Ludin

We are human beings. Not cases and dusty files that a "neutrality law" can close and shred. We are human beings with a real desire for emancipation, dignity and liberality. We believe in democracy. We believe in the constitution. We believe in the fundamental rights it contains, which are granted to us, too and which were created for us, for you and me. Our bodies belong to us. How often do women like me have to say this before people will believe us: how much of our bodies and hair we reveal or conceal is something we ourselves want to decide. We want to decide whether we wear a scarf or not.

The threat comes from what is projected onto the headscarf

We women. It′s our decision, not yours! We believe that every woman has the right to a faith that they themselves have determined. And whether they cover their hair or show their legs and cleavage is their decision, too. Respect for people who think differently is something that should remain a characteristic of Germany. This country isn't white or brown, or colourless. It is multi-coloured! The people of Germany are multi-coloured. So are teachers. Each is a role model in their own way. In their appearance and dress. In their background and culture. In their hearts and the way they treat others. Multi-coloured in their identity.

We cannot reject, deny or ban the different ways that cultures have developed over human history, here or elsewhere. Banning their visible manifestations means denying all cultural and religious phenomena.

The threat comes from people and movements that only permit one thing, disputing and destroying diversity in the process.

The threat comes above all from the fact that a group of women, who as women already experience discrimination, are suffering further discrimination because they’re not allowed to work in a headscarf, whether their reasons for this are cultural or religious. And they are certainly not tolerated as role models or representatives of a country.

The threat comes from projecting so much onto a headscarf that the woman who wears it is no longer seen as a human being.

Muslim teacher – and named plaintiff in the headscarf controversy – Fereshta Ludin at the German Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe on 24.09.2003 following the controversial ruling (photo: dpa/picture-alliance)
The neverending story of the headscarf controversy: fourteen years ago, Fereshta Ludin argued in front of the German Constitutional Court for her right as a civil servant (teacher) in the pay of the State of Baden-Wurttemberg, to be allowed to wear a headscarf. The court decided that headscarf bans were permissible if founded in existing law. Following this ruling in 2003, several German states passed blanket headscarf bans. On 13 March 2015, however, in an historic move, the Constitutional Court overturned its controversial 2003 decision against Fereshta Ludin

I want my human dignity back

I and many others want this to stop. Once and for all. For years, we have been put under enormous social, political, media and cultural pressure not to be what we want to be.

We want to be seen as human beings. We want to be seen as feminine in our own way.

And one more thing: we ourselves have children, brothers and sisters who go to school, who come into contact with male and female teachers day after day. Female teachers wear long, short, tight, loose dresses, trousers and shorts. They wear roll-neck tops, low necklines, clothes made of thick or gossamer-thin material, thick and thin socks, shoes with high or low heels. Brightly coloured, monochrome, black and dark clothes, sober and joyful clothes. Why not scarves on their heads?

I would like my children finally to be able to grow up without feeling that their mother is not worthy to work in a school, or anywhere else.

I want to be given back my human dignity in front of my children. I would like to live and work with dignity, to be part of society with equal rights and contribute to it on equal terms. On a level playing field.

Fereshta Ludin

© Tagesspiegel / Fereshta Ludin 2018

Translated from the German by Ruth Martin

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