CHARLOTTE, August 15, 2012 — Here we go again. First it was the London Olympics. Now it is Disney. The controversy surrounding a Muslim woman’s right to wear a hijab (head covering) continues, the dispute that will not go away any time soon.
An argument arose during the Olympics when Saudi Arabia’ first female athlete stated she would not compete without covering her head. It wasn’t the first time such a controversy has arisen, and it will not be the last. What made the story so conspicuous was the magnified attention it received under the microscope of the Olympics coverage.
It was only a matter of time until a similar controversy would arise again, and this time, Disney is the target of the hostility.
The current dispute goes back to August, 2010, when Imane Boudlal, a Morocco-born U.S. citizen, was working as a hostess in the Storyteller Café in Disney’s Grand California Hotel at Disneyland in California. In accordance with her slamic religious beliefs, Boudlal chooses to wear a hijab which fails to comply with Disney’s strict dress code.
Though Boudlal had been an employee at the resort for two and a half years, she was not aware that she might be able to wear her head covering to work until she began to study for her U.S. citizenship exam.
After obtaining U.S. citizenship in June of 2010, Boudlal decided to challenge the Disney dress code in August, claiming she wants to showcase a Muslim presence at the theme park by forcing Disney to feature Muslims.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has taken up the cause on Boudlal’s behalf and, once again, the controversy is in the spotlight.
Boudlal challenged the Disney organization by showing up for work wearing a hijab. In keeping with the theme concept of the park, she was told to remove it, or work in an area of the restaurant where she would not be seen, or go home. She opted to go home, but repeated her protest by reporting for work for the next two days wearing the scarf.
Disney has long been an advocate of diversity, as emphatically characterized by its popular Fantasyland ride called “It’s a Small World.” What the organization does not want, however, is to be perceived as supportive of any particular religion. The ultimate goal is to create a spirit of fun and fantasy, which it clearly does throughout all of its theme parks.
What is being mistaken for discrimination has to do with Disney’s focus on creating a place of imagination, not tied to the real world of religion or politics, which has been a central philosophical concept for the Disney parks since Disneyland’s inception.
Many employees are hired to portray the roles of specific characters and to wear costumes that are appropriate to particular themes. In keeping with the corporate philosophy of presenting a particular persona to the public, beards are also off-limits for male employees.
Disney offered a compromise to Boudlal by providing her with a hat to wear over the scarf, to which she said, “It’s unacceptable. They don’t want me to look Muslim. They just don’t want the head covering to look like a hijab.”
In a prepared statement, Disney spokeswoman Suzi Brown countered by saying the company “values diversity and has a long-standing policy against discrimination of any kind. Typically, somebody in an on-stage position like hers wouldn’t wear something like that, that’s not part of the costume.”
As was observed when the Olympics controversy arose, the head covering argument has far deeper implications than merely accommodating a Muslim woman’s right to wear a hijab.
Churches are not allowed in Saudi Arabia. A Christian traveler attempting to enter Mecca will be turned back. During Ramadan, non-Muslims are not allowed to be seen eating, drinking or smoking in front of believers during the fasting hours. Such an offense can lead to immediate deportation.
This is the United States, not Saudi Arabia, but the fact is that Boudlal was aware of Disney’s corporate policies before she accepted her job, and she followed the rules for two and half years, clearly demonstrating that she is being an activist for a larger purpose.
Boudlal’s attempts to change the rules after the fact are merely another example of Islamic infringement upon the rights of others in an attempt to embolden their medieval philosophy.
If Boudlal’s religious beliefs are so embedded, we must ask whether she stops to pray five times each day, or whether she faithfully observes the fast between sunrise and sunset during Ramadan, or whether she tithes a percentage of her salary to the poor?
All of these are basic tenets of Islam.
This is not a case of religious intolerance, as Boudlal would have us believe. It is another challenge to appease Muslim values by providing politically correct accommodations.
Make no mistake, this is not a Mickey Mouse dispute. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the home of Islam. The question Imane Boudlal raises is whether Saudi Arabia is really the “Magic Kindom.”
Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in Charlotte, NC. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club which creates and escorts customized tours to Switzerland, France and Italy for groups of 12 or more. Inquiries for groups can be made at Peabod@aol.com Taylored Media has produced marketing videos for British Rail, Rail Europe, Switzerland Tourism, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council, the Finnish Tourist Board, the Swiss Travel System and Japan Railways Group among others.
As author of The Century Club book, Peabod is now attempting to travel to 100 countries or more during his lifetime. To date he has visited 69 countries. Suggest someplace new for Bob to visit; if you want to know where he has been, check his list on Facebook. Bob plans to write a sequel to his book when he reaches his goal of 100 countries.