Dave of Though Cowards Flinch disagrees with my thoughts on Sikh knives being allowed in schools.
I appreciate the need to try to respect pluralism and to accommodate the individual beliefs and cultural attachments of pupils. As a vegetarian I appreciated not being forced to eat meat at lunchtime and having the veggie option available. I’m aware that my dietary choice was ‘eccentric’ when compared to the majority and that I personally benefited from a certain flexibility in school rules and administration.
I’m not sure, however, that I’m comfortable with Dave’s line that everyone should be allowed to wear their own symbols as long as they don’t harm others. Would swastikas be tolerated in Dave’s classroom? [EH-ERRR. Yes I know, the sound of Godwin's law being broken!] On the face of it, a swastika is less harmful and intimidating than a knife.
Also: I don’t really see why Dave has come up with this:
“Thinking secularists would surely defend the right of anyone to do anything, provided that it was unlikely to result in harm or the coercion of any individual.”
That seems more like a summary of liberalism or libertarianism to me than secularism. Dave then gets in a huff about my concern that religions are being granted exceptional status in the law and seems to suggest that this shouldn’t be relevant to secularists. He writes:
“…You could exclude non-Sikhs from wearing the kirpan on the same basis as excluding someone who claimed a shotgun was part of their worldview; blatant opportunism, rather than serious conviction.”
It is an odd sort of secularism that gives religious affiliation a priviliged position; when religious people are allowed to engage in behaviour clearly outside mainstream norms simply because they are religious.
As I say, I understand that Dave as a teacher presumably presiding over a classroom of diverse individuals wants to maintain some sort of happy compromise, but I can’t see how Dave the secularist can be satisfield with rewarding those with “serious conviction” with behavioural exemptions.
Sunny over at Pickled Politics also disagrees with me, thinks schools should be allowed to let Sikh kids carry kirpans if they want to, and has a bit of a go at nasty militant atheists for being rude about religion.
Sunny posits leftie atheists criticising religion damage the left. I accept that sometimes this can happen. I myself try not to be too crude. Even when I do, I think I manage to get along fine with my religious friends and comrades. I would perhaps suggest to Sunny that endorsing a form of multiculturalism that grants all sorts of benefits and priviliges to those who shout loudest about their cultural identity and distracts from materialist interests has been more damaging to the left – but that’s a blog post for another day.
Some of Sunny’s readers think it is bigoted and intolerant to describe the religious obligation to carry a knife around with you as “eccentric”. Such ridiculously sensitive souls.
I like this article by Hardeep Singh Kohli in the Guardian. Well, not all of it, but this makes sense to me:
“Sir Mota believes that it is wrong to stop schoolkids wearing the secreted, ceremonial dagger into school and believe that it is an infringement of a child’s right to practise their religion. Let me repeat that: he thinks it’s OK for kids to take knives to class. Flippant though this may sound, while going to school in Barnet may be challenging, it’s not the Punjab in 1708. Sir Mota notes that there has been no case of any Sikh child using the kirpan in a violent way. But I’m simply not comfortable with knives being allowed into school. What if the kirpan were forcibly removed and used? The practicality of baptised Sikhs carrying kirpans is not a new issue. That is why small, symbolic kirpans are attached to combs that Sikhs keep in their hair. Similarly, small kirpan-shaped pendants are worn around the neck, again fulfilling the criterion of the faith that the dagger be ever-present…
…We must do all we can to protect the rights of people to enjoy the way of life they choose. But there are more important battles to fight with regard to religious intolerance than whether Sikh kids can wear kirpans to school. Perhaps I’m being too literal, but all religions could do with taking a step back from symbols and icons and explore a little more deeply the philosophical content of what their belief system hopes to offer the world.”