Helen Ubinas: Blame the school's screw-ups, not the burqa

A surveillance video still of when five year old Na'illa Robinson was abducted from her West Philadelphia elementary school on Monday.
A surveillance video still of when five year old Na'illa Robinson was abducted from her West Philadelphia elementary school on Monday.
Posted: January 18, 2013

WE DON'T KNOW all the details about the abduction of Na'illa Robinson, the kindergartner who was kidnapped Monday from Bryant Elementary School and then miraculously, considering how most of these stories end, found the next day.

The kidnappers are still out there.

The motive is still a mystery.

The screw-ups in a school with more than a few culpable adults have yet to be named.

But who needs details when there's intolerance to spread, ignorance to embrace, a little girl's ordeal to exploit in order to advance a culturally clueless agenda?

Within moments of the news that 5-year-old Na'illa had been abducted from her West Philly school by a woman wearing a burqa, the "Ban the Burqa" types pounced.

"This case proves that the burqa can't be a part of modern society."

"Masked intruders!"

"Safety before religion."

Holy zealots, take a breath. We have no idea if this woman was wearing Muslim garb to conceal her identity or for religious reasons, or both. And the term "burqa" is not even accurate.

She was wearing an overgarment and a face veil called a niqab.

But none of that matters.

What matters is that she was able enter a school so easily. What matters is that adults charged with keeping children safe didn't do their jobs - period. And apparently haven't been for a while.

Parents I spoke with said security at Bryant has been lacking for years - even after a 2011 incident in which three students were arrested for allegedly assaulting another student in a bathroom.

From all reports, the woman who took Na'illa was allowed to walk into the school, scribble a name on a sheet of paper and waltz out without question or ID.

And here's another bit of protocol that was ignored: School district spokesman Fernando Gallard said that parents who wear niqabs are "respectfully asked to lift their veils to verify their identification."

"We provide the option that the identification be done by a female administrator," he said.

It's unclear if this is a hard-and-fast rule. If it isn't, it sure needs to be. But it certainly wasn't enforced Monday.

And before we get off topic again, Muslim moms I spoke with said that there is no religious rule against lifting their veils and that they'd have no problem doing so to keep their children safe.

"It's about public safety!" screamed the Ban the Burqa Brigade. "People can hide all sorts of things under those things."

Yes, they can. In fact, after a slew of Philadelphia-area crimes committed by men dressed in Muslim women's clothing, Muslims last year offered a $20,000 reward to catch the criminals they said were feeding mistrust of their community.

But criminals can also hide all kinds of things in equally accommodating baggy pants and hoodies and big, puffy coats. Funny, I didn't hear anyone calling for a ban on those. Why? Because banning the burqa isn't really about public safety. It's a knee-jerk reaction driven by fear and ignorance.

You want to talk, really talk, about public safety? Fine. Now is the time. President Obama announced sweeping gun-control proposals Wednesday to help curb mass violence. We need to find meaningful ways to keep our kids safe, in the wake of the Newtown school massacre, in the wake of shootings in malls, churches, movie theaters and any number of other places we used to consider safe.

In the wake of a child abduction that could have ended so much worse.

You want to talk about the burqa and whether it should be banned - as France and Belgium have done - in the name of public safety or gender equality or integration? Bring it on. Muslim women have legitimate reasons for wearing the traditional clothing.

It doesn't make me want to wear one, but I've heard some pretty convincing feminist arguments for them: They remove the sexualization of women, for one thing.

But don't you dare try to hijack this incident to bolster some unrelated agenda.

This school, this country, can't afford the distraction.

"Political correctness over public safety."

No, public safety over pitiful political agendas.


Email: ubinas@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel

On Facebook: Helen.Ubinas

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|