Teenager sparks debate over use of Islamic veil in Spain
A Madrid high school’s decision to ban a 16-year-old for refusing to take off her Islamic headscarf has caused an uproar in Spain.The decision to ban a 16-year-old girl from a Madrid high school for refusing to take off her Islamic headscarf sparked an unprecedented debate Wednesday in Spain over the use of the veil in public schools.
The school board, made up of teachers, students, parents, municipal representatives and non-teaching staff, voted by a margin of 15-2 to maintain its internal regulations which bar "the use of hats and any other article of clothing that cover the head".
The decision means Najwa Malha, who was born in Spain to Moroccan parents and who began wearing the veil in February, will no longer be able to attend classes at the high school at Pozuelo de Alarcon.
"I feel discriminated against, I feel bad," Malha told daily newspaper El Pais after the board reached the decision. She was banned from attending classes last week.
The regional government of Madrid, led by the right-wing Popular Party, backed the high school while Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's cabinet appeared divided over the issue.
"In many high schools, young women wear the Islamic veil and that does not cause any problems, neither for them, nor for the rest of the students," Health Minister Trinidad Jiminez said, adding there was no need to "ban or regulate" the use of the veil.
But Equality Minister Bibiana Aido said she was "personally" against the use of the veil.
"This debate however must be held with respect and dialogue, taking into account that it is very complex," she said.
The issue is a relatively new one for the mainly Roman Catholic country which has seen the number of immigrants living within its borders soar from around half a million in 1996 to 5.6 million last year, out of a total population of 46 million people.
Moroccans make up one of the largest immigrant communities.
There is no nationwide policy on the use of the Islamic headscarf in Spain, with each school allowed to decide its own rules.
"Spanish society must not remain on the margins of this controversy and instead confront the issue decisively in order to avoid future problems," the conservative daily ABC wrote in its editorial on Wednesday.
"The Islamic veil has nothing to do with religious freedom, but is instead related to a tradition whose origins are based in the submission of women to the will of their parents and husbands," it added.
AFP / Expatica