When you envision signing up for the US Army, what's the picture that comes to mind? Green fatigues and dress blues that match your fellow soldiers? Or wearing any darn thing you please?
The military is pretty well known for requiring uniformity in uniforms. So news that a Muslim teenager has been told she can't wear her headscarf when she marches with her high school's junior ROTC, a youth offshoot of the Army, isn't terribly surprising. And it's not discrimination either.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations has come out to say that Demin Zawity, a 14-year-old cadet from Tennessee, has been treated unfairly because her ROTC commander told her she couldn't wear her traditional headscarf with her uniform if she wanted to march in a homecoming parade with the rest of the cadets. Although they didn't call it Islamophobia, the undertones of their complaints are clear: they think the Army needs to change its rules.
But ROTC regulations do allow for the headscarves worn by Muslim women for religious reasons to be worn, so long as they're "completely covered by standard military headgear." She wasn't told no. She was told "yes, but ... "
But Zawity wanted a special dispensation -- something that takes time to make its way through the proper channels -- and she only learned her scarf was inappropriate the day before the parade.
Or so she says.
It's not that I think she's lying, per se. But as a Muslim American who wears her headscarf on a daily basis, I find it hard to believe that this is the first time Zawity was ever faced with the notion that some people don't wear headscarves. As a 14-year-old, I'm finding it hard to believe that she can't fathom the concept of "uniforms."
There are dozens, maybe hundreds of jobs that are known for requiring their employees to match. She has to have seen police officers, chefs, nurses, basketball players ... the list could go on. But in particular, Zawity chose to join a military organization, where the uniform rules are widely known for being stringent.
Join the Army -- or in this case, the ROTC -- and you pledge to live by their rules. She signed up for that, not the other way around.
This is the demarcation between what represents discrimination in this country and what allows for the freedoms we so enjoy as Americans. We all have the right to take a job that carries strict rules for its employees or join an organization with specific expectations, and we all have the right to say, "You know, that job isn't for me."
Liberal teenagers don't join the Young Republicans. Evangelical kids don't join the Gay/Straight Alliance. It's all about choice, something we as Americans are lucky to have.
This Muslim teenager chose to join an organization that accepted her, and gave her an ability to merge her religious background with their strict standards. She, in turn, asked for special treatment. That doesn't mean she's been discriminated against. It means she picked the wrong organization to join.