Have the jobsworths struck again?

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Today a Coptic Christian woman, Nadia Eweida, lost her appeal against a decision by British Airways staff not to allow her back into a public-facing role while wearing her cross pendant. Today the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, attacked BA’s ruling as nonsense. The airline’s policy allows Sikh men to wear turbans and Muslim women to wear the hijab, which of course cannot be worn under a uniform, but required jewellery, whether religious or secular, to be worn under clothing or not at all.

I am in two minds about this situation. First of all, let it be known that Muslims are not behind any objection to Christians wearing crosses round their necks - we probably see so many that we don’t even notice, particularly as we are not supposed to study the neckline of every female that we see. We are meant to encourage non-Muslims to become Muslims, not to stop them practising their religions or expressing their faith. Much as we disagree with the symbol and what it represents, we are not expected to try and stop them displaying it, certainly not in a nominally Christian country.

Listening to Ms Eweida being interviewed on the radio this evening, she alleged that her problems began the morning after some sort of “diversity training” session. Before that, she had been wearing the cross without incident for some time, although some time recently the uniform had changed, making it less easy to conceal her cross. Perhaps this gives the lie to the idea that this really is all about a ban on jewellery; I cannot believe that a necklace, particularly if it is fairly close to the neck, can be a threat to anyone’s safety. (long earrings are a different matter). Perhaps it’s a case of the “diversity” jobsworths, presuming to say what offends certain religious groups without asking them first, striking again.

Still, there is some sneaking suspicion in me that this has been orchestrated in order to stir up a fuss about Muslims being over-accommodated while Christians are persecuted, a claim that Ms Eweida’s situation really does not support, because much as she may want to display her cross, as she admits it’s not actually a requirement. (I was certainly never told it was a requirement in several years at Catholic schools.) On BBC London this evening she claimed that the hijab is “not paramount” for Muslim women, but whether it’s “paramount” or not, it is certainly a requirement. Perhaps someone could investigate whether she is being egged on by elements in the Coptic Christian community to make a martyr of herself in order to engender ill-will towards Muslims. And she has been offered a job in the back office, where there is no requirement to wear a uniform, and she can wear her cross. Most people would rush to take up an office job where one can wear one’s own clothes.

Still, my take on this is that BA should diffuse this situation by simply changing their policy, at least for the time being, because it strikes most people as rather petty even if it is consistent. Most women, here as elsewhere, wear some item of jewellery even if it is hidden, and rules telling people what they can and cannot do “for their own safety” rarely have the effect of making people more safe; they make people feel oppressed and irritated. There is certainly no cultural reason not to let staff wear jewellery in the UK, even if there might be overseas. It would be better for everyone if they simply changed the policy.

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