On my way to Hamburg, the driver’s girlfriend was from Iran, her name was Layla. I was curious and asked her what she thought about her home country. Layla came to Germany when she was 11 years old, so she has an insight in both cultures. Last year, there was a lively debate about a German school teacher who refused to take off her head-scarf (Hijab) during lessons in a public school. The school argued that the scarf was a symbol of cultural discrimination and thus also a political symbol and therefore couldn’t be worn in the school. Laizism demands the separation of church and state, but there are also the questions whether the scarf is actually a symbol at all (Muslims in Germany argued that it isn’t) and there’s also the basic right of free exercise of religion. The Federal Constitutional Court left the decision to the jurisdiction of each federal state, also the court didn’t percieve the question of the scarf being a political sign or not as relevant.
Layla visited Iran four years ago. In her opinion, there are two different “lives” not only women, but especially them, live in Iran. The private life resembles a western, individualist lifestyle: They wear what they want, a scarf is not mandatory, except in religous families, they have boyfriends and listen to modern music – in short, it is not different from other countries. Individualism is no stranger to them. The public life is regulated though: Layla wears a scarf, but personally, she didn’t feel it as being forced upon (see explanation below), although it is required. There’s a difference between tourists and locals, too: She had a short skirt, but nobody cared about it and she wore make-up and nobody told her to take it off. Her sister in contrast was asked to remove the finger nail polish – to Layla’s surprise, she even had a polish remover with her and did as asked. The authocratic rule controls many aspects of life, but it is only the public life they can influence on. The public life is regulated and collectivism is expected and achieved through exterior parity.
The reason why Layla doesn’t feel the scarf as being imposed on her was (in my opinion) a rather personal view on the issue: Women who wear a Hijab are protected in a certain way. Women who wear it are talked to in a respectful way and men know that she expects not to be flirted with – and they adhere to this (symbol?). I was surprised by that explanation. Since I didn’t have the chance to exchange views in that matter yet, this was new to me. Conversely, her argument implies that women who don’t wear a Hijab are unprotected from (sexual) advances, can be talked to in a disrespectful way or such women perhaps want to be hit on. I don’t think that can be generalized, but her argument as well as the reverse doesn’t seem right. I don’t argue (and don’t mind) though that Layla looks at the head-scarf positively, that is of course her choice. The problem in my opinion begins when the choice is made by a small group of people and imposed on everybody. A rather western view, I am aware of that.
I mentioned that during the recent debate about the head-scarf I read an article from a women’s rights activist from Morocco. She was angry that in Germany and other countries, considerable parts of society argued for and against the head-scarf. The former group she accused from interfering in things they never experienced and don’t understand. From her perspective, the women – in her country – have to fight hard for the right to choose whether they want to wear a head-scarf or not (among other things). For her the head-scarf is indeed a symbol, a rather negative one and thus has to be rejected. In Europe, the situation is of course different. But the way our governments deal with this issue will be noticed in other countries, especially in Muslim countries. The Muslim minority in European countries is still a minority and will stay one in the next two or three decades, but the difference of the birth rates will change the social proportions. Germany has been founded on a strong basic law which ensures many rights and freedoms. History will judge how well we integrated minorities into our society.