Based on the video that has been circulating on social media, I join the hundreds of Barbadians in congratulating and commending the young lady from Princess Margaret Secondary School, Miss Arya Newton. If that video is truly reflective of all that occurred during the incident, her patience and determination to turn the other cheek in the face of extreme provocation, as witnessed in the video that went viral, is highly commendable and deserving of all the accolades and positive attention she has captured.
Her school, individuals and corporate Barbados who have responded in granting her gifts and acknowledgements of her exemplary character are also worthy of mention. They have responded in a tangible way to reward positive behaviour at a time when so much focus is on the bad behaviour of our young people.
Equally is the attention that should be given to the other young lady in the video. She is from my alma mater and that compounds the horror I felt when I saw the video. The root of these issues must be looked at. As much as we have commendation for the Miss Newton, and deservedly so, we should have concern for the Foundation student. Clearly there is need for help and intervention and that doesn’t need to be in public view.
I wrote of the need to control anger recently and I suspect much of what we are witnessing in the behaviours of not only our youth but several adults as well, is due in part to lack of anger management skills. The Princess Margaret student surely displayed her ability to stay calm and patient in what was a very trying situation. She could have easily allowed herself to cave in to anger. What she did is a lesson for all, even the adults among us. As I write these sentences a video came up on my WhatsApp of two men fighting in The City and onlookers egging on one of them to beat the other. Smh is the only thing that comes to mind when I see such.
Secondly, as I participated in a presentation of water coolers last week from the Muslim Association to several schools and the Brandford Taitt Polyclinic two reporters from two different media houses wanted my take on the community’s view of the current political situation. Among the areas we discussed was our request for accommodation in having Muslim women wear their head-scarves (hijabs) for official photographs. Both media houses chose to highlight this story once again, as was done last year, and once more it evoked a plethora of responses, mostly negative, on social media. I have addressed this issue several times in the past and have sought to respond to the many concerns that are usually raised on the social media platforms. Heartwarming this time were the many who also responded critically to the negative comments. I think generally we don’t read enough or allow ourselves to be informed to make fair, balanced and objective views on issues. Many times comments can be based on emotions and misguided opinions.
I address this issue again in the hope that some persons, if not all, would be helped in the process of coming to an informed opinion on the subject. I don’t expect that everyone will agree with what we are requesting. I also recognize that regardless some persons will still have a negative view. What I am trying to do is bring clarity so I will do so in point form:
(1) Muslim females who adhere to the tenets of their faith, which requires them not to be in the public domain with their hair and ears uncovered, are placed in a very uncomfortable situation and a dilemma when asked to remove their head covering for official photographs as is the requirement at present.
(2) The request, and it is a request not a demand, is that allowance be given for these women who desire such not to have them remove their head scarf.
(3) The request is for the head covering and not for the face veil. It is ludicrous to even suggest that Muslims would ask for the face veil to be permitted in photos used for identity purposes.
(4) Our request is not outside the norm of what are considered acceptable international standards. A simple search on the Internet will show that many countries across the globe allow for head coverings for religious purposes in official photographs as long as the face (forehead to chin, side to side) is clearly observable. These allowances in international standards address the question of national security which is often added to the list of reasons to deny such permission.
(5) This request is made by Muslim females who come from all backgrounds. The responses by some that ‘if they don’t like the regulations, go back to where they come from’ is not only ignorance, but very prejudiced.
(6) Similarly are the responses, ‘when in Rome do as the Romans do’ and if ‘I was in a Muslim country I would have to conform’. These comments suggest that there is a one brush fits all for Muslim majority countries and they all operate the same way, which is so far from reality. It also ignores the fact that Barbados is a democratic country that upholds the rights of all its citizens to have freedom of practice of religion.
My third area was a question posed by one of those reporters on Natlee’s involvement in politics and her running for the City of Bridgetown seat. As my friend, Canon Noel Burke, president of the Barbados Christian Council, pointed out, in a democratic system such as Barbados’ every eligible person is entitled and has a right to fully participate in the democratic process. I find her participation as a candidate an interesting development in our democratic process and history. It confirms my point that much of our elections will be determined by what we see and hear on social media. She has, from what I have heard, a large following there.
More importantly is what her coming to the public’s attention brings out in the open. She brings to light the dark side of a ‘profession’ or an ‘industry’ that really is all about the exploitation of women in most cases, but also men. We don’t like these uncomfortable subjects, we prefer to ignore them or brush them aside. But like all other countries we have the reality of women being exploited here and even worse, trafficked and exploited. So let’s look past the novelty of Natlee’s involvement in politics. Understand what is really happening in the dark corners of Barbadian society and hope that the plight of women, especially in these circumstances can be mitigated.
It is perhaps coincidental that the three areas I chose to focus today related to women in different struggles. Considering that early this month International Women’s Day was celebrated, I recognize that the struggle continues at different levels.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace. Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)