Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Bad hair day

Four thousand quid is a lot of money for hurt feelings. By way of comparison, the most you can get under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme if you lose your unborn child as a result of a violent assault (which might be expected to hurt most people’s feelings quite a lot) is £5,500. So my instinctive reaction to the news that a young Muslim woman had been awarded £4,000 for ‘injury to feelings’ after a London hairdresser refused to employ her because she wore a headscarf was:

a) That’s a bit steep (which also happens to be the exact phrase used by the hairdresser after the industrial tribunal made its ruling).
b) Why would someone who believes that women should cover up their hair in public want a job as a hairdresser anyway? and
c) I can think of a few hairdressers around my neck of the woods where business would improve immensely if the wearing of headscarfs was made compulsory for some of the staff.

I wasn’t – and I’m still not – convinced that you can really make a case that it’s religious discrimination when a ‘funky, urban’ hairdresser’s like this one, a couple of miles down the road from me at King’s Cross, says it wants its employees to look the part. But I can see the point that it should be up to an employer to demonstrate why someone in a headscarf can’t do the job. After all, I presume that the people who do (for example) breast implant surgery aren’t all required to have had a boob job done themselves.

The hairdresser concerned has been doubly unlucky in this case, however. First, she’s been stung for four grand for discrimination when, as far as it’s possible to tell, she doesn’t have a discriminatory hair on her head. And second, and far worse, she’s become a cause celebre for every Islamophobic bigot in the country.

Choose almost any internet news forum at random and check out the public comments on the story. And bear in mind that even if, like me and, it seems, most of the country, you think that the compensation award is wrong, Bushra Noah, the 19-year-old Muslim woman concerned, had trained as a hair stylist and worked in the industry for at least two years before applying for this job. ‘I know my punk from my funk and my urban from my trendy,’ she’s been quoted as saying.
What you’ll find in the news forums is visceral anti-Muslim hysteria. ‘She just sued to get money for her terrorist friends.’ ‘The Muslim woman is not interested in hairdressing but merely promoting her cause.’ ‘That ragbag Muslim creature certainly had tried this on before and got away with it!’ ‘Had she been employed I wonder if she would have demanded five breaks a day to pray.’ ‘She should be shaved, tarred and feathered … Mozzie bitch!’

The first four comments are from just the first page of a moderated – and moderate – news forum. The last one has been on the Sun’s news forum since 9 April. I’ve been watching to see if they’ll ever remove it.


fatfreddy said...

That's a well nuanced account of something that's rather more complex than most of the comment I've read would suggest. I have a feeling you will be shot down from both sides though.

Anonymous said...

How can it not be religious discrimination? The woman wears what she does for her religious views and it is because of that, and solely that (reportedly), that she didn't get the job.

and £4000 doesn't sound that much - 3 months salary?

Gill said...

The tribunal accepted that there was no direct discrimination but made the award for indirect discrimination. They accepted that this was not about racism or prejudice so it comes down to whether or not you think the hairdresser was being reasonable in expecting her workers to show off their hair as part of their job. Whatever the law says most people I know think it's obvious that she was. I know my urban from my funky too, I have teenagers, but as a middle age woman with a politicians hair-do, in other words boring, I would expect a trendy hairdresser to want to liven me up a bit if I wanted to work for her.

danny said...

can devout muslims cut men's hair?

Anonymous said...

southpawpunch - £4000 might not sound that much to you but where i come from it's worth wearing a head scarf for

ani ling said...

Legislation outlawing religious discrimination was always going to be problematic. It seems to me there is a big difference between saying No Muslims and I want people who work in my hair salon to look as funky as my haircuts. Of course you can argue that anyone should be allowed to do any job if they're good enough. But should they? Don't forget that religion is something you choose, you're not born with it like race. And if your religion conflicts with some jobs, like say catholics in a birth control clinic, you choose between your religion and the job. Don't you?

citizen smith said...

Would a muslim hairdresser employ a sikh? Would it be religious discriimination if they didnt? Would it be sex discrimination if a man was turned down for a job cutting muslim women's hair? Can an atheist get a job in a shop selling the hijab? Would a bald bloke be able to sue if he got refused? How about a ginger? And dont start me on butchers and vegetarians and kosher and halal. The only winners from this in the end will be lawyers and the BNP.

Tim said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.