Forgetting the kippah or crucifix (and the second why)

All-nighters and Domino’s Pizza at the student newspaper. X-acto knives and 2-point tape. The smell of chemicals processing the film. The five Ws and the H.

Good times, folks. Good times.

What journalists among us can forget our introductory class, whatever it was creatively named by the institution of our choice? One of the first quizzes I remember taking at my alma matter covered the basics of good, solid reporting. And those fundamentals included (say it with me): Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.

As our loyal followers know, one of our mantras is to stress this foundation and its importance from a religious standpoint. Of course, just as multiple Whos can be involved in a report, so can multiple Whys.

Why am I stressing the basics? Because The Associated Press didn’t. And the absence of a second Why in this AP story from earlier this month on a proposed move by the Quebec government to ban employees in the public sector from wearing religious headwear and neckwear glares at me from my computer screen.

From the top:

MONTREAL – Viewed from the outside, Quebec often seems like a place where all life orbits around the political destiny of a French-speaking province in an English-speaking country.

The latest instance centers on religious headwear. The trigger is a heatedly debated plan by the ruling party, the separatist Parti Quebecois, to make the provincial government religion-neutral.

It wants to do so by banning symbols of religious faith such as Jewish skullcaps, Sikh turbans, Muslim head scarves and large crucifixes from public workplaces. And as usual, the measure is being read also for what it says about the ruling party’s perennial goal of making Quebec independent of the rest of Canada.

The analysis is that with support for separatism weakened, and an election being predicted for December, something spectacular is needed to rally the party base. But the proposal appears to be losing support with that base, and if anyone is being mobilized, it’s the opposition.

In recent weeks Montreal has witnessed the rare spectacle of thousands of protesting Muslims, Jews and Sikhs marching together through the streets.

“I just want to be able to wear what I want; I don’t see why any one can tell me what to put on my head,” Saara Khan, a Montreal Muslim high schooler who wears a head scarf, said at a recent protest.

But why, Saara Khan? Why do you want the religious freedom to wear your head scarf at school?

AP assumes we know the importance of the religious headware. Another thing I learned in that freshman journalism class is what happens when we assume. Ahem.

The full answer is easily available. As author Shabana Mir, assistant professor in social foundations and qualitative research at Oklahoma State University, puts it: “The list … shows that the Muslim headscarf is capable of a number of meanings, many of which are rather more mundane and less dramatic than outsiders might imagine.”

And of course I can’t expect valuable ink to be spent on all 17 reasons. But how about a primer?

Another source for the story represented the Jewish faith:

David Ouellette, associate director of Quebec’s Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said the proposal has left Jews hurt and worried.

“The neutrality of the state is already firmly entrenched,” he told AP. “The government is unable to explain on what basis it proposes to impose such severe restrictions on freedoms and rights.”

Some worry the ban would force them to choose between their religion and their job.

Again, no hint of insight for readers as to the significance of the kippah for David Ouellette personally and Jewish men collectively.

The history of this particular custom is fascinating, and I learned something new while researching it. Yet another instance where a summary would have served readers well.

I set off in search for the bill. Helpfully, my computer crashed while trying to download the pamphlet from the government discussion site.

But I can include this line from the brochure, which was mailed to every Quebec address earlier this month:

Clear rules on religious accommodations will contribute to integration and social cohesion. They will benefit all Quebecers, including newcomers. We will be best served by a state that treats everyone the same.

I’ll keep looking for a complete story on this subject, one that asks the second why (and includes the components of the bill). I’d like to think my professor would be proud.

Image via Shutterstock

About Tamie Ross

Tamie Ross is a wife, mom, writer and all-around crazy-about-life girl now battling autoimmune disease. Her 20-year journalism career included stints as religion editor for The Oklahoman, online editor for The Christian Chronicle and freelancer for clients ranging from The Associated Press to United Methodist News Service. She has won state and national awards for her personal columns and editorials.

  • helen

    Since “Madonna”, approximately, the cross has lost its meaning as an exclusively Christian symbol. It is often, as someone said, “bling”.

    I wear an Alpha/Omega emblem on a chain. On a university campus it sometimes allows me to discuss the “fraternity” I belong to: (“brothers and sisters in Christ”) which I might not otherwise be able to do. :)

    • Melissa

      I’ve been wondering how the Quebec government is going to decide what counts as a religious symbol. Way back when Christianity was outlawed, Christians would communicate through secret symbols. So, is the Quebec government going to ban the alpha fish car decals? What about the alpha fish with feet that say “Darwin”?


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