Friday, March 6, 2009

Minnesota Hijab Driver's License Ban SNAFU Fixed For Now

I think this hijab / head scarf ban started as a reasonable idea. The Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association wanted to make sure that photos on Minnesota drivers' licenses show facial features. So far, common sense: it's not as easy to identify people if part of their face is covered.

Then a legislator got his hands on the idea. Saint Cloud representative Steve Gottwalt decided to help the chiefs out with a bill that would "mandate driver's license photos display the 'full head and face' of the driver." (KARE)

Sounds reasonable, right?

Let's think about it. I wear glasses. KARE almost certainly abbreviated the bill, but taking the article at face value, I'd have to take those glasses off for my next license photo. I look different without my glasses, so I don't know if that'd be the best idea.

Well, of course, glasses don't count. 'Everybody knows that.'

I'm wary, at best, of knee-jerk accusations of bias, but I'm glad that Minnesota Muslims got wind of this bit of legislation.

" 'The bill as written smacked of discrimination,' area Muslim commentator Khalid Elmasry told KARE, 'It allowed an exception for people who have medical reasons to cover their heads but not for those with religious reasons.' " (KARE)

CAIR got involved, too. I'm no fan of that collection of hypersensitive people, but this time they had a point.

Hijabs and Common Sense

There are all sorts of hijabs. Some, like this lavender one, cover quite a bit of the face. However, if a woman wears this sort of clothing when she drives, that's what she'll look like when she drives.

And, after observing human beings for over a half-century, I've noticed that eyes are as individually distinctive as the rest of our faces.

Mandating that license photos show "full head and face" isn't quite the same as banning scarves, but I'm pretty sure that's how it would be enforced. And, I think it makes as much sense as insisting that women wear a prescribed hairstyle - or shave their heads.

That lavender number was the only nose-covering hijab I found on The Hijab Shop's website. Most looked something like this, but there's quite a range of style.

And, getting back to the point of this post, nearly all get in the way of visual identification about as much as most hairstyles do.

How Some State Employees Deal With 'Those People'

Or, "I am not making this up." From KARE:

"There may be some driver's license clerks who think the ban on head coverings is already the law. Elmasry recalls in 2002 when his wife went to get her first Minnesota license at a Twin Cities office.

" 'She was told, not even asked, but told to remove her scarf.'

"He said he tried to explain the prevailing laws to the clerk, who still refused to take the picture. It wasn't until Elmasry appealed to the supervisor, and the supervisor's supervisor, before the clerk agreed to take the photograph with the scarf where it normally goes." (KARE)

Not everyone will go to the supervisor, and the supervisor's supervisor, to get common sense and the law acknowledged. I think we'd all be better off if more did - but that's another topic.

Not All Americans are WASPs: Deal With It

It's been a long, long, time since more American citizens were white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Every time a new group of people starts moving in, they have to adjust: and so do the 'real' Americans, whose ancestors did the same thing, a few generations back. Some find adjusting easier than others.

A principal in Oregon was (and may still be) convinced that rosaries are gang symbols. A psychological quirk like that would be relatively harmless in someone else, but this chap banned rosaries in his school. A couple of the Catholic students didn't take that very well.

And, there's the track official who wouldn't let a Washington, D.C., high school athlete compete in track because she didn't wear the hot pants and clingy tops that American girls are supposed to wear. She's a Muslima, and has standards. I'm not being entirely fair. Juashaunna Kelly's outfit may, possibly, have been non-standard enough to be outside established standards. Or, the official may have been clueless.

Here in Minnesota, the driver's license photo bill now has a provision that takes religiously-required headgear into account.

Good thing, too. Sooner or later, someone would have tried to shave a Sikh: and that kind of trouble we don't need.

Related posts: In the news: Background


Anonymous said...

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Brian H. Gill said...


Wow! Thank you very much.

Kuday said...

Hijab is a very sensitive debate in islam world. Here are some truths about hijab and women;

1-) The percentage in the world that wears hijab;

Among American Muslims, probably around 5-15%

In Turkey: %10 and is higher in the east of turkey.

In the Middle East: 60-70%, though some areas like Saudi Arabia are around 99%, while others are lower.

South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh): 3-5% and is higher in the rural areas.

East Asia (Malaysia, Indonesia): 30-40%

Iran and Afghanistan: almost 100%

2-) It's big question mark why Quran suggests wearing hijab while gives no social messages for other important subjects. Some people says it's about our understanding of Quran. Here is another interpretation that claims Quran had been misinterpretated until now:

Here, you'll see that Quran actually doesn't order to wear hijab.

3-) Even if it is not a strict rule in islam, it's quite ugly to use violence and wear off hijabs of women who believe it is a worship.

Brian H. Gill said...


Thanks for the URL - and your insights.

Is that Wikipedia article where the truths about hijab and women that you mentioned are found? (Serious question, no offense intended - and I'm rushed right now, so aren't looking myself.)

Brian H. Gill said...


I may not have been clear on this.

In the context of this Minnesota bill, I don't care whether the hijab is worn because of what's in the quran, or whether it's a pious custom introduced by Middle Eastern cultures.

The point is that it's part of the religious practices of some Americans - and I do not think it's right for a government agency to tell Muslims, or me, or anyone else, how they may and may not practice their faith.

adult driver training st paul, mn said...

I would have to agree that this bill is religiously discriminating. I think they should make it clear how this bill works and get it to be ratified by the citizens including Muslims citizens so as not to raise another religious discrimination issue.

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