There is an old saying in the history of Ireland that relates to the waves of immigration our island nation has witnessed, a saying that many Irish people take a quiet pride in. Describing the invaders, colonists and settlers that have made our country their home it is said that they became, Níos Gaelaí ná na Gaeil féin “More Irish than the Irish themselves”. It says much for the flexible character of Ireland’s indigenous culture that it took the customs and traditions of others and added their uniqueness to its own. Assimilation, uniting old and new while retaining the richness of the former, has been a dominant feature of Irish history. Where it was blocked, the bloody conquests of the Cromwellian era or the genocidal century of the Ulster Plantation, conflict and enmity has always ensued. The north-east of Ireland is a warning of the dangers of encouraging ethnicity, language, culture and religion to become the hallmarks of separation. So it is with some alarm, and sadness, that I read this report in the Irish Times:
“Muslims in Ireland are not interested in assimilation, according to a new book to be published next Thursday. Titled Islam and Education in Ireland, it is written by Dr Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Dublin’s Clonskeagh who is also a lecturer at Trinity College Dublin and the Mater Dei Institute.
In the book he says that “the Muslim community in Ireland expresses its interest not in assimilation but rather in integration and unity.”
One might well ask what is wrong with “assimilation“, the voluntary absorption of the new immigrant population by the existing indigenous one? Especially when “integration” is simply being used as a code-word for what is otherwise known as “separate but equal“. That is not a united society. That is a Balkanised society. Dr. Selim goes on to make some fair points in relation to Muslim dress.
“Where the wearing the hijab by Muslim girls in Irish schools is concerned he says this “shouldn’t cause any more debate than other religious symbols worn by either male or female students in Irish schools do.””
He is quite correct and the banning of the hijab or burqa in some European nations is reprehensible. Yes, the latter does represent the demeaning of women, whether worn voluntarily or not. It signifies their lesser status and fallacious arguments by traditionalist Muslim scholars does not change that fact. However the state should not dictate people’s modes of dress, whatever their reasons for doing so. Let societal pressure make such judgments and such behaviors unacceptable not the law. However there then follows something that to me is deeply troubling and quite hypocritical.
“He continues: “school is a public place, where no one has the right to dictate or impose their views or beliefs on another.”
More generally,and where Muslim parents in particular are concerned, Dr Selim points out that “when it comes to shaking hands with members of the opposite sex, most Muslims are reluctant and many of them may refuse. This behaviour does not imply a lack of respect or that the other person is not clean.”
For some Muslims to do so would be “a clear breach Muslim teaching” or “is inconsistent with their culture.” Similarly, “Muslims do not believe in eye contact between members of the opposite sex.” This was “significant for teachers when dealing with Muslim parents.”
Also, and “from a Muslim perspective, members of the same sex can stand very close to each other” but members of the opposite sex are to be kept “at arm’s length. Apart from facial features, the entire body is still. Body language, in this case, is limited to facial features.” This too was “significant when dealing with Muslim parents,” he said.”
I’m sorry but it is utterly unacceptable to suggest that certain citizens, solely on account of their gender, should be subject to some bizarre form of spatial discrimination because of the arcane religious beliefs held by some members of the community. Worse follows in a related article also from the same newspaper:
“…there is “a clash of values” also between Islam and “traditional ways of teaching PE”.
Where schools were “persistent”, they should “employ a female PE teacher and provide students with a sports hall not accessible to men during times when girls are at play. They should also not be visible to men while at play.”
Also, Muslim girls would resist changing clothes in a communal area.
When it came to music some Muslims would see it as prohibited but “if music is performed using non-tuneable percussion instruments such as drums, most Muslims will have no problem”.
On school plays Dr Selim points out that “physical contact between members of the opposite sex who can be legally married is forbidden in Islam” and that “gender role-reversal is not permissible”.
Acting “in a way that may arouse sexual feeling or give sexual hints causes objection.””
This a recipe for quasi-apartheid based not upon supposed differences of race but upon faith or sex. We are all citizens of this republic, regardless of our gender, sexual orientation, religion or ethnicity. We are all equal, none superior or inferior to the other. In Ireland we have lived with the diktats of theocracy, irrational or otherwise. However the dark days of church and state are behind us and we have no wish to see them reimposed, whatever the source. Education is the responsibility of the government and it is one that has been shirked for far too long. The days of faith-based schools and schooling must end. Patronage by vested or partisan interests with the connivance of the state is incompatible with a modern republic. We no more desire Muslim schools or influences in our schools than we desire it of Christianity, Judaism, Mormonism, Scientology or any other organised religion. Belief is a private affair not a public one. Let our children be educated as free citizens of a free republic. Or as we would have it:
“The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.”