i heard the interview this morning on radio nz regarding the sydney council that has rejected an islamic school. one of the interviewees denied that the decision had anything to do with racism/bigotry. yeah right. the reasons given for the rejection were as follows:
Mayor Chris Patterson said the council's decision was based on concerns surrounding the impact on traffic flows, loss of agricultural land, highlighted in the planners report and not on religious grounds.
please excuse me if i take this with a grain of salt. i say so based on the experience of obtaining consent for the mosque here in hamilton. we faced objections too, and they came from particular christian groups. we had no doubt about that - the objections were public documents. but not one of them objected on religious grounds. no, they went to the expense of paying for a traffic consultant , and objected on the grounds of impact on traffic flows. which meant that our cash-starved and small community had to incur a similar expense to prove otherwise.
having said that, i'm not sure that i agree with the idea of a separate school. i can see the positives. there is the protection against this very bigotry that makes life very uncomfortable for so many children of minority groups in public schools. at a segregated school, the children can be in an environment where they don't have to be ashamed of who they are, or to hide their religious practices.
classes can be organised around prayer times, and the food will always be halal. and all the many hours i've spent teaching my children at home, as well as the invaluable input of my parents, would instead be part of their daily curriculum. it would certainly take a lot of pressure off me.
there are other little things as well. for example, some of the teachers like to have the radio playing in the classroom. i have a problem with that: i don't want my kids to be listening to "hit me baby one more time" or any number of other misogynistic lyrics while they're doing their school work. it's something that i've not felt strong enough to complain about at any of the schools my kids have gone to, but at an islamic school i wouldn't even have to worry about it.
so yes, sending my children to an islamic school would certainly make my life so much easier. but on the other hand, if minority kids aren't mixing with other kids, what chance is there of changing attitudes? the segregation involved, while protecting the minority kids, means that the other kids won't get to learn about their cultures and religions. there won't be the opportunity to break down stereotypes, or to increase the feeling of belonging for the minority children. bigotry decreases with interaction. to deny that interaction is to ensure that bigotry will continue to exist.
the other issue for me is the kind of messages my daughters might get at an islamic school. would they provide restrictive choices for the girls? i don't want them to be going to a school where they were denied opportunities, or were told that their proper place is in the home.
while motherhood is highly valued in islam, and i would consider it the greatest role in my life, i hate the kind of attitude that says this is all there is for women. as if to want something more is a betrayal of your children or of your very nature. it's the kind of attitude that makes women feel guilty for wanting a career or opportunities for achievement outside these "traditional" roles.
i'm reminded of a visit i made to the mormon centre just out hamilton at the end of last year, at their invitation. they gave us a tour around the place, and showed us the religious classes as well as the books used to teach mormon children. i had a quick read through the book used for girls (there was a separate one for boys, of course), and sure enough, it talked about the joy of domestic chores and how these were fulfilling in themselves. women were home-makers and should be proud to take on that role. i felt sick reading it.
which is one of the reasons why i get so angry when people say that women are treated as equals in this country. i bet i could go into a number of other schools around nz and find the same sort of messages being given out. if not in the schools then in the prayer halls, under the guise of family values, the same message that good girls stay at home and look after their families. if they are not happy in that role, then there is something wrong with them. this is going on today, in our country.
in an islamic context, it makes me extremely angry because the lives of early muslim women were not like this. these women were warriors, they were businesswomen, they were religious scholars and they were leaders. they were highly educated, they were politically active, and they played an active part in building the community. to have my children being taught something different under the guise of religion would not sit at all well with me.
so on the whole, i don't support segregated schools in that i wouldn't send my own children to one. however, i do support the right of people to build and attend such schools. i don't support bigots who'll use whatever means possible to prevent it from happening. if we're not happy with what may or not be taught at such schools, the best option is dialogue, interaction and social exchange. hostility breeds hostility. bigotry breeds resentment. i hope that the people of south western sydney might think twice about the consequences of this decision.