Sikhs in France: Cultural vs. Religious Symbols

I promised I wouldn't blog til Tuesday, but I'm sitting in Newark Airport, so what the hey. (What is wi-fi for except for me to use it?)

Sikhs in France are taking the ban on turbans to court. Three Sikh boys in France are arguing that their 'keski' (or under-turban) is not a religious but a cultural symbol.

In the initial ruling, the French court has sent the matter back to the school. Under the current law, schools are required to hold public hearings and also meet with parents before expelling students ("explore all disciplinary options").

After a couple of weeks, however, I think this will be back in court.

On BBC radio, they were interviewing a guy named Kudrat Singh, who is a Frenchman who converted to Sikhism, and who is representing a Sikh advocacy group in France. The weird thing was, when asked "is it really true that the turban is a cultural rather than a religious symbol?" his answer was, "well, for me, it's religious, but we still have a right to wear it."

Now, it's not as if the current argument being put forward by French Sikhs really makes any sense (it's cultural, not religious), but it is the only way to get around the current religious symbol ban. Unfortunately, the chief representative for French Sikhs seems not to be aware of what he's supposed to be arguing!

Oh well. To the anthropologists reading this -- is there really a difference between symbols that are cultural and those that are religious? (I don't think it's possible to say, since religious communities must always in some sense be 'cultural' as well) And to the French litigators reading this -- shouldn't this be a question for anthropologists to resolve?

Ok, now to board my plane.

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