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A Turban Ban Is Ignorant, Not Secular

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News that the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) decided to suspend the Quebec Soccer Federation (QSF) over their decision to ban turbans on the field, was met with great pleasure by many.

Myself included.

Mainly, because I don't believe that attempts to create a secular state should trump common sense, compassion, and an open mind.

In a statement released late last night, the Canadian Soccer Association explained that they had requested that the Quebec Soccer Federation reverse its position on turbans and patkas, but were met with no resolution. Because of the QSF's inaction on the matter, the CSA was forced "to take measures in order to ensure soccer remains accessible to the largest number of Canadians."

The suspension will be lifted once the Canadian Soccer Association receives demonstration that the Quebec Soccer Federation has lifted the ban and satisfactorily applies the Canadian Soccer Association's policy in the matter. What exactly will be the ramifications of this ban, if the QSF fails to reverse it, remains to be seen.

In the meantime, and most importantly of all, what became painfully obvious to me after my last blog post was published, and after arguing the turban ban ad nauseum all week long, was that there is a serious and disturbing lack of education on the issue.

Even Quebec Premier Pauline Marois falls into the trap of spreading fallacies when it comes to this issue. She just stated that the Quebec federation has the right to establish its own regulations, and is not subject (to the Canadian federation), because it's autonomous.

Readers vehemently defended their position without even being clear on the major points, or even worse, terribly misinformed about most of the arguing points.

Over and over again, I heard:
"How can you even head butt a soccer ball while wearing a turban?"
"But the QSF is only following FIFA rules. Take it up with them if you're not happy."
"So now Canada is coming in, telling Quebec what to do? How can the CSA suspend the QSF?"

Over and over I had to clarify points that should have been obvious, but were completely lost in the mire of accusations and knee-jerk reactions about Quebec bashing. It should go without saying, but sadly needs to be reiterated, that disagreeing with the Quebec Soccer Federation's overzealous approach to secularism is not Quebec bashing. It's simply nothing more than disagreeing with their official stance. A stance, I should remind many that a large majority of Quebecers agree with, partially due to misinformation.

More than anything, intolerance, and rigidity in thought and action are derived from ignorance. Ignorance of the facts. Education is the key.

First off, the biggest fallacy being circulated, and being repeated in defence of the QSF's decision was that they were doing nothing more than following FIFA regulations. FIFA, the international governing board, doesn't allow for turbans on the soccer field, so why should the QSF?


A FIFA spokesperson confirmed in an email that Sikh turbans can be permitted under Law 4 of the laws of the game. If FIFA allows them, and the CSA allows them, why is the QSF banning them? In the name of dubious safety? When the QSF can't even name one single precedent of an injury involving a turban - a headpiece made of cloth, I should remind everyone?

Next in line from the misinformation that had many people genuinely baffled: How do Sikhs play soccer with a turban when they would be completely unable to perform a head butt. A legitimate question, really.

False again.

Sikhs do not play soccer with a turban. In the overwhelming majority of cases, they play with a patka, which is nothing more than a head covering; the equivalent of a bandana that numerous players wear to keep long hair out of their way. Which, incidentally, is what a turban or a patka does, as well. Sikhs have to keep their hair long because it is dictated by their religion. Since they don't cut it, what exactly would the alternative be? Isn't a patka, which allows Sikhs to keep their long hair neatly tucked in, a much more preferable (and safer) solution?

Finally, I've already heard some grumbling from those incensed that the CSA has suspended the QSF, intent on providing it as proof that -- once again -- the big bad ROC is meddling in Quebec affairs.


As much as I agree that there are too many Canadians outside of this province who neither understand (nor want to understand) what makes Quebec tick (once again, education is the key here), this isn't one of those incidents.

The reason the CSA has intervened and subsequently suspended the QSF is because the QSF is subject to the jurisdiction of the CSA. Nothing more, nothing less... FIFA has affirmed and reaffirmed that the QSF must defer to the CSA's stated directive on this issue.

Now it remains to be seen what the consequences of inaction will mean for Quebec players. Members of the QSF are convening tonight, and a statement is expected by tomorrow sometime.

Over and over again, the issue of a province wanting to rid itself of any religious baggage keeps coming up.

"Why should we continuously have to bend to the irrational demands of religion?" I keep hearing people ask.

"Why can't they just remove their turban and play soccer?"

Nothing, of course, is ever that simple. Religious symbols are just that; symbols. Even if they mean absolutely nothing to someone who doesn't share your faith, they are laden with meaning to those who do. Removing a turban isn't as simple as someone removing their hat. And if it comes down to allowing kids to play soccer in some low-level league or them being banned from the field in the name of secularism, even I, a staunch atheist, will be in favour of them playing with a head piece on that neither poses a safety risk, nor offends my sensibilities in any way.

Quebec has such a knee-jerk reaction when it comes to religion, because of a history that is rampant with the church's interference in private affairs. I get that. I applaud and approve of all measures that aim to separate church and state. I encourage measures that aim to minimize the interference of religion in all matters of public behaviour. I understand where most Quebecers are coming from, when they want to take a stand, put their collective foot down and say "no more!" It stops here.

But nothing is ever black and white, and we don't live in a world where absolutes reap desirable rewards. We live in a world where everything is relative all the time, and decisions, if they are to be just and well-reasoned and compassionate, must be taken on a case-by-case basis.

If we claim to be living in a province that touts "reasonable accommodations" as a primary way of navigating the tricky and often treacherous path of how to integrate immigrants and religious minorities, while allowing them the freedom to be who they are, we must focus on the "reasonable" more than the "accommodations", which, as a word and an attitude, often wreaks of paternalism and benevolent superiority.

We need to stop talking about secularism as long as Christian symbols are allowed in public, while "others" are frowned upon and told to disappear. One can't have it both ways. It's all or nothing.

A recent decision by a Brossard soccer team to wear turbans in protest of the QSF decision left me in tears, so moved was I by the generous gesture of the non-Sikh parents and children. This is what a compassionate, non-judgemental, open society looks like. It recognizes when something isn't fair, and won't stand for it.

Is it preferable that all religious symbols are removed from the public sphere? Yes.

But this won't happen overnight, and it certainly won't happen with recently-arrived immigrants who need time to adapt and move past an existence where religion takes up so much space. It didn't happen overnight for Quebec, so it should not be expected that it will happen in record time for those who now call Quebec home.

Understanding, which can only come from education and close intimate contact with others, is what prevents insular, dogmatic thinking. It's what promotes real integration and respect for one another.

It would be a real travesty if, in an attempt to rid itself of all the dogma and the rigidity of religion, Quebec ended up becoming just as rigid and inflexible as the religion it's working so hard to remove from public life.

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