Creative Destruction

October 16, 2006

Expecting Muslim Employees to Do Their Job: “Bigotry”

Filed under: Current Events,Political Correctness,Race and Racism — Robert @ 1:51 pm

Jill is up in arms regarding Aisha Azmi, the Muslim teacher’s assistant in Britain in danger of being let go because she refuses to teach without a headscarf if there could be men around.

Ordinarily I would side with Ms. Azmi. Although I hold no brief for Islam, and my response to the idea that we need religious diversity is “why?”, she’s a citizen (I assume) and so has the same right to religious expression as any other Briton. (Unfortunately, that quanta of rights is apparently diddly-squat if you want to wear a cross. But there OUGHT to be such a right.)

However, Ms. Azmi teaches English to immigrant children. Anybody who has ever learned a foreign language can tell you that being able to see the mouth of the person teaching you is critical to the process. Language acquisition is partially visual. Being able to see the face of your teacher is a bona fide occupational requirement for teaching English.

Jill either doesn’t know this (which, given that her source for the story is another feminist blog which reports Azmi’s assertion that no student has complained but leaves out the statements by the school that students have complained, is not impossible) or she doesn’t care because “evil Western civ oppresses defenseless Muslims” is already congruent to her views. (Or, although I’m reluctant to think it, Jill participates in the surreptitious liberal racism of lower expectations for Others.) Either way, bad show.

(Updated: removed an unfairly generalized “standard” prefix for liberal racism and replaced it with “surreptitious”.)

30 Comments »

  1. Anybody who has ever learned a foreign language can tell you that being able to see the mouth of the person teaching you is critical to the process. Language acquisition is partially visual. Being able to see the face of your teacher is a bona fide occupational requirement for teaching English.

    I disagree with that statement. I took Spanish for three years and Japanese for two. The bulk of my language acquisition came from hearing my teacher repeat the words over and over again (and listening to spanish and japanese music). I admit I do not know much about this particular area of linguistics, but I do not think seeing mouth formations is critical for acquiring a language. Most blind people have decent language skills (as decent as anyone else’s) and they do not see the person’s mouths moving. Also, aren’t most methods of learning new languages done via audio cds or cassettes?

    Comment by toysoldier — October 16, 2006 @ 2:15 pm | Reply

  2. Toysoldier:

    It kind of depends on a person, both the teacher and the student. Some are more visual, and in particular, blind people tend to have highly developed other senses (and thus might even be better at nonvisual forms of communication). If the speaker speaks quietly (not an issue with audio types where one can adjust the volume), or has her voice muffled by something (like say, a veil) then seeing lips can be rather important.

    Also she teaches small children for whom it is imperative to learn the language very well, not just as a second or third language, and therefore I don’t think it’s unreasonable to demand that her teaching includes all senses.

    Critical, I don’t know, but pretty important nonetheless (for many). It sounds that you are in particular a hearing-oriented person (as you by your own admission learned language much by music*).

    * I might add here, that altough I’d like to think my written English is pretty good, I still can’t figure out about the half of the stuff English-language songs are about. I’m all about visual pattern recognition.

    Comment by Tuomas — October 16, 2006 @ 2:35 pm | Reply

  3. And on the article by Jill, what really tires me is the constant looking out of hypocrisy* from your opponents (hence the anger that some unnamed right-wingers supposedly think that religious symbols are only OK when they are Christian) while refusing to own up to hypocrisy of the left in regards of Christianity vs. Islam (or on freedom of speech/religion issues in general)).

    BECAUSE OF THE HYPOCRISY, like a certain neoconservative classical liberal would say.

    * This may not  be the best example of that, though.

    Comment by Tuomas — October 16, 2006 @ 2:41 pm | Reply

  4. […] About that feministe…. Following Jill’s previous post covered by bobhayes here, I’ll make some pointers on the headscarf debate matter. Or rather, a single extended point. It is pointed out that wearing a hijab frees religious women to act on the public sphere and: What we shouldn’t do is support policies which, in the name of “modernism,” only serve to limit the mobility and the public rights of certain women and girls. […]

    Pingback by Who Is Oppressed By The Hijab? « Creative Destruction — October 16, 2006 @ 3:26 pm | Reply

  5. Tuomas, I see your point. I did not think about the different learning methods.

    I might add here, that altough I’d like to think my written English is pretty good, I still can’t figure out about the half of the stuff English-language songs are about. I’m all about visual pattern recognition.

    You must have a ball watching rap music videos.

    Comment by toysoldier — October 16, 2006 @ 4:06 pm | Reply

  6. I should acknowledge that “critical” is probably too strong a word. “Important”, instead.

    Comment by bobhayes — October 16, 2006 @ 4:10 pm | Reply

  7. Anybody who has ever learned a foreign language can tell you that being able to see the mouth of the person teaching you is critical to the process.

    So werde ich nicht sagen. Mir war es viel wichtiger die LehrerInnen zu horen als zu sehen. Es ist viellicht Kritisch fuer einige Leute der Fremdesprache lernen wollen, aber nicht fuer alle.

    On the other hand, I’m clearly not fluent so what do I know about what the best way of learning a foreign language is?

    Comment by Dianne — October 17, 2006 @ 4:11 pm | Reply

  8. I might add here, that altough I’d like to think my written English is pretty good, I still can’t figure out about the half of the stuff English-language songs are about

    Neither can native English speakers. Misinterpreting song lyrics is a favorite pasttime in the US.

    Comment by Dianne — October 17, 2006 @ 4:14 pm | Reply

  9. So as long as a teacher is only handicapping some of her students’ ability to have a successful life, it’s OK?

    Comment by Robert — October 17, 2006 @ 4:46 pm | Reply

  10. So as long as a teacher is only handicapping some of her students’ ability to have a successful life, it’s OK?

    Our favorite punkassblogger is arguing that it actually helps the kids to not see her face, because they will then develop greater skills in reading people’s faces to compensate, and besides, she can hold a conversation while watching scooby doo, therefore seeing face isn’t important.

    (comment #4  #5 #6 [Doh])

    I am at loss for words.

    Comment by Tuomas — October 17, 2006 @ 4:52 pm | Reply

  11. So as long as a teacher is only handicapping some of her students’ ability to have a successful life, it’s OK?

    I didn’t say that nor did anyone else. If it’s really a problem for a signficant fraction of the students then her refusal is interfering with her ability to do her job and she needs to either find a way to work around it (ie wear the veil only in the hall) or get another job. IMHO. But I object to Tuomas’ sweeping statement that anyone who has tried to learn a foreign language would see a problem. Some might, others not. But that doesn’t make it ok for her to ignore the needs of those who do.

    Incidently, the bit about the flight attendant not being allowed to wear a cross…Sounds goofy to me. Why shouldn’t she wear a symbol of her religion? Unless she was in the habit of clutching it and yelling “Save me Jesus” every time the plane encountered turbulance or something.

    Comment by Dianne — October 17, 2006 @ 5:38 pm | Reply

  12. But I object to Tuomas’ sweeping statement that anyone who has tried to learn a foreign language would see a problem.

    That was Robert.

    Comment by Tuomas — October 17, 2006 @ 5:41 pm | Reply

  13. Oops. Apologies all around.

    Comment by Dianne — October 17, 2006 @ 5:44 pm | Reply

  14. If it’s really a problem for a signficant fraction of the students then her refusal is interfering with her ability to do her job and she needs to either find a way to work around it (ie wear the veil only in the hall) or get another job.

    Well, then, we’re done! The school says it’s a problem, and they are the ones who would know who has complained, so she’s out. Next case!

    Comment by Robert — October 17, 2006 @ 7:05 pm | Reply

  15. Incidently, the bit about the flight attendant not being allowed to wear a cross…Sounds goofy to me. Why shouldn’t she wear a symbol of her religion? Unless she was in the habit of clutching it and yelling “Save me Jesus” every time the plane encountered turbulance or something.

    And just what is wrong with her exercising her constitutional right to free expression and the practise of her religion?

    Comment by Daran — October 18, 2006 @ 3:43 am | Reply

  16. And just what is wrong with her exercising her constitutional right to free expression and the practise of her religion?

    Scaring the living @#$@#* out of the passengers is inconsistent with the job description of a flight attendant. Plus it’s bad theology: Christians are supposed to pray in private and not make a big show about their religion. Which, arguably, makes the whole cross wearing thing a bit anti-Christian, but I’m not up enough on Christian theology to be sure if that argument makes sense or not. Also the flight attendant in question is British and I don’t think the Brits have a constitutionally (or otherwise) protected right to freedom of religion. Isn’t there a state religion?

    Comment by Dianne — October 18, 2006 @ 11:45 am | Reply

  17. The school says it’s a problem, and they are the ones who would know who has complained, so she’s out

    Touching faith in the ability of the school’s bureaucracy to always get things right and act without the slightest hint of prejudice or other unjust sentiment…However, assuming that on examination of the case, the school is right, it would still be a bad policy to simply fire her for at least two reasons:
    1. There’s already a lot of tension between Muslims and non-Muslims in Britain and you will never convince a significant percentage of the Islamic population that the firing was for just cause.
    2. Good teachers aren’t so easy to come by.
    3. She was being asked to do something that was, for her, pretty weird. Suppose you moved, for whatever economic, social, or political reason, to a country where people traditionally didn’t wear pants or underwear. They might tolerate your covering of your bottom under most circumstances, but nonetheless think it a strange sort of prudery. Suppose you took a position as a teacher, maybe of gymnastics (assume, for the sake of argument, that that’s the profession you were qualified for and more or less the only one you were immediately qualified for in this context). You might be told that it is critical for the children to see your lower body so that they can tell what you are doing when you demonstrate moves to them and that, therefore, wearing clothing on your lower extremities was inconsistent with the position. Would you happily shrug and disrobe? Well, you might. I probably would, but I’m a fairly immodest sort. A fair number of people, I suspect, would find the requirement difficult, however. And while the school might reasonably conclude that those who refused to uncover themselves couldn’t teach gym, they might, if they were interested in helping newcomers from more prudish countries integrate, want to help find a job where the clothing was not an issue.

    Instead of simply firing her, why not try to find a position where her choice of clothing wouldn’t interfere with her work? Could she teach another subject? Perhaps english to native speakers for whom the ability to see the speaker isn’t critical? Math? Help her find a job at an all girls school?

    Comment by Dianne — October 18, 2006 @ 11:59 am | Reply

  18. Dianne:

    Scaring the living @#$@#* out of the passengers is inconsistent with the job description of a flight attendant…

    Pearls before swine…

    Comment by Daran — October 18, 2006 @ 1:31 pm | Reply

  19. “Being able to see the mouth of the person teaching you is critical to the process.”

    Presumably, this is why Ms. Azmi removes her headcovering in front of her class. Talk about jumping to conclusions. A closer persusal of the articles about her, and any reference article commonly available to us Westerners, would reveal that the niqab/hijab/burka are worn by women to maintain their privacy from the gaze of unrelated adult men, not children.

    Ms. Azmi happens to wear her niqab in the corridors of her school, and quite understandably feels neither compulsion nor a need to wear it in front of her schoolkids, during lessons behind the closed doors of a classroom.

    Wearing a niqab is a social custom, and and its wearers are no less capable of common sense and balance than wearers of hats or parkas.

    If Ms. Azmi does not wish to be gazed upon by adult male strangers, and uses a sartorial device commonly available in her culture, surely that is her own and only her own business, not to mention perhaps also her right?

    Comment by Mz — October 19, 2006 @ 2:57 pm | Reply

  20.  Mz:

    From BBC article:

    A Muslim woman has been suspended by a school in West Yorkshire after she insisted on wearing a veil in lessons.

    Bilingual support worker Aishah Azmi, 24, was asked to remove the veil after pupils found it hard to understand her during English language lessons.

    Headfield Church of England Junior School, in Dewsbury, said she could wear the veil outside the classroom.

    Ms Azmi refused and was suspended pending the outcome of an employment tribunal, Kirklees Council said.

    The tribunal heard the case in September and is due to announce its decision within the next two weeks.

    “There is no religious obligation whatsoever for Muslim women to cover themselves up in front of primary school children”

    (my emphasis)

    By all means, provide a reliable link about her removing the niqab in front of her class. An assertion is not enough.

    If she does remove the niqab while teaching, there is no problem, but nothing suggests she does that.

    Comment by Tuomas — October 19, 2006 @ 3:39 pm | Reply

  21. Ps. Did you have something to say about jumping to conclusions?

    Comment by Tuomas — October 19, 2006 @ 3:45 pm | Reply

  22. Instead of simply firing her, why not try to find a position where her choice of clothing wouldn’t interfere with her work?

    Yes, that should be the focus. Rather than concentrating on getting the mission done (educating children), the school should see itself as a social service counseling agency for unassimilated immigrants.

    Comment by Robert — October 19, 2006 @ 3:52 pm | Reply

  23. Yes, that should be the focus. Rather than concentrating on getting the mission done (educating children), the school should see itself as a social service counseling agency for unassimilated immigrants.

    Because, of course, letting teachers know that they will be tossed out like used tissues at any time is a sure way to attract good teachers. Plus you wouldn’t want the kids to get the idea that “unassimilated immigrants” have any rights. We are the Borg…

    Speaking of which (school officals, not the Borg), didn’t the officials who hired this woman notice that she was wearing a veil at the interview? If this is such a huge problem, why did they hire her for the position in the first place? I suppose she might have lied and said she would not wear it in class, in which case I withdraw any sympathetic comments I have made, but otherwise this problem is as much the school’s screw up as the teacher’s, which is all the more reason to not make her solely responsible for clearing it up.

    Comment by Dianne — October 20, 2006 @ 11:28 am | Reply

  24. Speaking of which (school officals, not the Borg), didn’t the officials who hired this woman notice that she was wearing a veil at the interview?

    She told the BBC that she didn’t wear the veil at her interview, even though there were men present. In regards to your post #7, Dianne, it’s important to point out that the niqab is not traditional Pakistani dress – there’s a good chance that Ms. Azmi is the first woman in her family to wear it. As Galloise Blonde (pretty much the only commenter with first-hand knowledge of British Pakistani mores)pointed out at feministe, the adoption of the veil among young British Muslims is evidence of radicalisation, not reclamation of traditional custom.

    Comment by Amba — October 20, 2006 @ 11:52 am | Reply

  25. Because, of course, letting teachers know that they will be tossed out like used tissues at any time is a sure way to attract good teachers.

    I’d be MORE likely to seek a job at a school that I thought put student interests ahead of political correctness. You seem to have gotten the idea that this woman is some kind of noble victim, beign Cruelly Oppressed by the man. It’s pretty clear from the press accounts that in fact she’s a radical, or a tool of radicals, who came to the school under the false pretense of being willing to make the cultural accommodations needed to work in a school but in fact intending to make a demand for absolute subordination of the bona fide needs of her students to her political agenda.

    Comment by bobhayes — October 20, 2006 @ 1:48 pm | Reply

  26. I might add here, that altough I’d like to think my written English is pretty good, I still can’t figure out about the half of the stuff English-language songs are about. I’m all about visual pattern recognition.

    What makes you think that people who speak English as their first language have any idea what most English-language songs are about?

    Comment by Glaivester — October 20, 2006 @ 5:21 pm | Reply

  27. Neither can native English speakers. Misinterpreting song lyrics is a favorite pasttime in the US.

    What makes you think that people who speak English as their first language have any idea what most English-language songs are about?

    Heh. Good points.

    Maybe songs are not the best example… But then, I usually prefer subtitles (in English if Finnish is not available) in movies and TV series (and with DVD, that’s easy).

    Comment by Tuomas — October 20, 2006 @ 5:48 pm | Reply

  28. She told the BBC that she didn’t wear the veil at her interview, even though there were men present

    Do you have a link or reference?

    Comment by Dianne — October 20, 2006 @ 8:05 pm | Reply

  29. Here.

    “British-born Mrs Azmi, originally from Cardiff, was appointed to the post, which involved helping non-native English speakers with English and maths, in September last year.

    She attended the interview without her veil, even though a male governor was present, and did not wear it for teacher training days on taking up the post.”

    Comment by bobhayes — October 21, 2006 @ 1:31 am | Reply

  30. it’s sexist…i mean to wear a Hijab or Burkha, and it’s not relli 10% becoz of religious reasons, a gurl said islam women actually getta choose if they are willing to wear it or not

    Comment by Izzie — February 28, 2007 @ 7:00 am | Reply


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