I was very surprised to read that the educational board of Raseborg, a town located in southwest Finland, had retracted apparently grudgingly from a decision to ban Muslims from wearing headscarves at school. The Raseborg school district is the only one in the country that had in force such restrictions.
Here is an update on the matter in Helsingin Sanomat (in Finnish), which shows that the attitude in Finland towards wearing headscarves at educational institutions and at work is quite flexible. Raseborg’s decision to ban headscarves at schools has not been followed anywhere else in the country.
Even though such a ban was done in the name of furthering equality, did it or was it a bad case of ethnocentric policing? If you want to promote equality and our way of life, do you do it by prohibiting certain cultural practices of other groups? By banning headscarves, did Raseborg send a message to the children that they should be ashamed of their culture?
While I am all for equality and the social welfare-state model, there are certain limits to what the state can impose on us. One of the roles of society is to offer opportunities to all of its members, even in the area of cultural diversity. Therefore it is our right to decide which one of these is suitable as long as no laws are breached.
If the educational board of Raseborg is truly interested in advancing the noble cause of social equality as we define it in our culture, its energies would be better spent if it promoted and defended our inalienable right to cultural diversity and to free choice.
Living in a society that abides by the spirit of our constitution and laws means that we also share public spaces with other cultures.
Children who grow up in two cultures have enough adaption challenges they have to deal with. If we are as a society truly interested in their welfare and rights, one of the first matters that our educational system must teach them is that there are many lifestyles in our society.