New formula: inducting the 'hijab'
Giant strides are often taken by smaller nations. New Zealand recently announced that it would induct the hijab as part of its police uniform. The nation is led by a feisty woman prime minister who had sent out a refreshing signal of empathy and solidarity towards a besieged Muslim population by donning the hijab after the horrific attack in Christchurch in 2019. The spirit of accommodation has been central to New Zealand’s policymaking: the turban made it to the uniform way back in 2008, four years before Britain, the mother of democracies, accepted a turbaned guardsman at Buckingham Palace. The power of such symbolism should not be underestimated. Wellington believes that the police-hijab will encourage greater participation from Muslim women into a force that considers diversity — this must not be ignored either — as one of its core values.
What makes New Zealand’s gesture striking is the current global political climate that is afflicted with a potent strain of Islamophobia. With this outreach, New Zealand has given the liberal world much to ponder too. The hijab has a contentious legacy across cultures. It has been banned under the French model of secularism that endorses the principle of neutrality. Jacinda Ardern’s country seems to be challenging discrimination not through cold impartiality but by encouraging, as a matter of policy, a warmer, humane co-existence among faiths. The conflation of secularism with the anti-faith rhetoric has been exploited by nationalist political forces; the rise of Hindutva in India is a case in point. New Zealand, arguably, is experimenting with a new form of secular ethic that seeks to articulate the rightful co-existence of all faiths without condescendingly dismissing public sentiments attached to them and their associated symbols. The resurgence of secularism, an element integral to the edifice of equality, may well begin with this formula.