Garda Sikh banned from wearing turban
The thing is, this young man is not an immigrant; he is Irish born and bred. It was in response to the very specific calls on minority races and communities in Ireland to volunteer for garda service that he decided to apply, and this condition was not disclosed prior to his application. And now he simply wishes to wear a turban to cover his long uncut hair (kesh) which is a sign of his commitment to his religion. Of course the origins were more to do with the practicalities of keeping all that hair neat and tidy, but the 5Ks developed into a Sikh orthodoxy, and (much to the chagrin of Guru Nanak) another ‘-ism’ was born. They are not supposed to shave either, but most young Sikhs conveniently ignore this.
Cranmer has some sympathy for this young man. Turbans are worn by Sikh police officers elsewhere, most notably in Britain and in the United States, and Sikhs are also exempt from wearing crash helmets on motorbikes. Compromise on such matters has historically been a part of the British approach – epitomised by pragmatism – and the Sikhs have, almost without exception, been loyal, faithful, and law-abiding members of their communities and wholly respectful of tradition and culture.
But this young man has been told he must remove his turban and wear a garda cap.
Amidst the predictable accusations of ‘racism’, Minister of State Mr Conor Lenihan believes it is the exact opposite. He says: “If we're to take integration seriously, people who come here must understand our way of doing things. When the President and Ministers travel to the Middle East, they accept cultural requirements of the country and the culture they are operating in. It is a vice versa situation with regard to Ireland."
It is true the Her Majesty the Queen wears a veil in Muslim countries, she removes her shoes when entering gurdwaras and mosques (in her own country), and even wears black when meeting the Pope. And yet she is Supreme Governor of the Church of England. It is one thing to bow to the religious and cultural mores of other traditions when one is in their jurisdiction, but quite another when they are in hers.
So Cranmer is pondering today, before we have Muslim doctors and teachers and police wearing burkhas (-for the day is surely not far off-), that maybe the Garda is right not to compromise on this. A uniform is supposed to be, err… uniform. As BA discovered, when one allows one exemption, one is obliged to permit a myriad of others. And in today’s postmodern mish-mash of relativist spirituality, with Jedi Knights on the ascendancy, Cranmer is a little worried at the thought of members of the Metropolitian Police being permitted to carry lightsabres.
Yet at least in the Garda this Sikh young man is permitted be Sikh: in the Police Service of Northern Ireland, he would, like all non-Roman Catholics, be classified as Protestant.