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Forbidden fashion

Banning political and religious statements is a difficult balancing act.


[23. June 2006] This week, the Directorate of Education opened for Norwegian municipalities to introduce a ban on facial veils in schools. Hijab, chador and abaya are still as law-driven as your grandmother used. But students with niqab and burka can now be banished from the classroom. These have veils that cover the entire face, often so that only the eyes are released through the narrow opening. Norway thus becomes the third country in Europe to allow such a ban. In principle, there is little difference between prohibiting and ordering. But in this matter, the practical considerations are the highest.

There are more veils in the Oslo school than before. Veil is fashion, but also a political and religious expression. The number has increased proportionally with the focus on religion.

A hijab does not bother anyone and should be protected during religious freedom. No one should be punished for his faith. But sometimes different rights stand up against each other. A child's right to education is also a human right. For us, this is about the extent to which the veils are a real barrier to learning.

In a multicultural society, it is more important than ever to make it easier for people to be different. Communication can take place in many ways, and the removal of veils should preferably take place voluntarily. Still – it is not difficult to imagine situations where teachers might want to see the whole face of the student. In language teaching where a terper on pronunciation, seeing how the student moves lip and tongue can be crucial to provide good guidance. And when the city council chose to raise the issue of a ban, it was because Oslo Handelsgym did not want to approve the school certificates of two girls who wore the niqab on their passport photos. In these cases, we see the value of the school being able to ask the girls to remove the veil.

It is now open for bans and this will be implemented in Oslo. City Councilman Erling Lae calls the ban "common sense." We hope that schools will make every effort to use this new power with caution. Now teachers and students must engage in dialogue about why some of them want to hide their faces. Then the teachers will learn as much as the students.

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