I am on a crash course trying to understand the background of the problems that Belgian Sikh youngsters face in education.
Like France, Belgium is a majority Roman Catholic country. In the Dutch speaking north, which I know much better than the French speaking south, the Roman Catholic Church used to be very powerful.
I think that this power of the church explains the ‘fundamentalist secularism’ of France and Belgium. Additionally in the Dutch speaking area the often right wing Flemish nationalists are not just against being ruled by French speakers but also tend to be against any incomers (Flemish first !).
The anti-incomers’ sentiment is strongest against the Islamic immigrants, probably because they are blamed for the ‘Islamic’ terrorism. This sentiment explains the anti ‘headscarf’ mood in the Dutch speaking part of the country. It is mostly based on emotions, not on rational arguments.
At the moment schools can make their own decisions to ban headscarves (which include turbans and patkas) or not. As I read the political mood it would not surprise me if a total ban on headscarves in schools will be implemented in the Dutch speaking part of the country.
As long as the politicians we have a dialogue with accept that cultural and religious minorities in the country cannot be wished away, we have a chance to win our case based on arguments.
Popular opinion thinks that Muslim girls wearing hijáb or niqáb are forced to wear these by their family. Going by my experience in the UK this is a generalisations not based on facts. Some girls are under pressure to wear the hijáb, others wear it against the will of their family. The same applies to Sikh boys wearing the turban.
I think that Sikhs (and Muslims) should stick to their traditions and values while actively taking part in society. Sikhs should be seen ‘living the values’ that Guru teaches. Sikhs should practice making an honest living, practice compassion and practice One God/One Humanity. We should not withdraw into a narrow Panjabi world of our own.
Popular opinion assumes that Muslims and Sikhs wearing religious symbols do not want to integrate. This again is not evidence based, and we can prove them wrong.
Sikh children, all children, have the absolute right to be educated. We have, all have, the absolute right to work in all jobs. We have, all have, the duty to be active, critical citizens of whichever country we live in.