Accommodation of Islamic norms must be weighed against the cost. On the societal level, granting Muslims special privileges comes at the price of not just equality, but also cultural integrity. The tradeoffs can be more personal and immediate on smaller scales.
Consider this no-win scenario: A business owner fears that permitting Islamic garb at his establishment might leave the wearer susceptible to injury. Faced with a covered client, he has to choose between a pair of harrowing options: decline to apply the proper dress code and risk being accused of negligence, or enforce it and risk being accused of discrimination.
Two stories about Australian amusement parks demonstrate that dilemmas of this type can be all too real. In April, a Muslim woman was killed at Port Stephens Go-Karts when her head covering got snagged by the axle of her moving vehicle. IW commented at the time:
Signs at the track reportedly "outline a number of rules, including appropriate footwear for drivers, but do not mention scarves or other forms of head-dress." If they had, a Muslim's life could have been saved — despite the inevitable charges of anti-Muslim bigotry that such restrictions would have provoked.
The facility was ordered to close soon afterward, which seemingly proves that "safety first" is always a wise business mantra, even if the necessary regulations could offend Muslims. However, a second story shows why some are tempted to place Muslim feelings first.
Perth's Adventure World recently agreed to pay $16,000 and apologize to a Muslim woman who accused the park of discrimination and humiliation. Specifically, she and her entourage were denied access to water slides last year because "their three-quarter-length pants and their long shirts" had been deemed inappropriate, a hazard not only to others — an argument often made with respect to Islamic attire in swimming pools — but also to themselves:
She said they were told if they were to enter the water, chlorine levels would have to be raised to counter the unhygienic effect from their clothes.
They were told their clothing could cause injury because it could get caught in the joints of the water slides. One woman in a headscarf was told to leave the baby pool.
Damned if you do and damned if you don't. Yet it is important to recognize the true source of such dilemmas: governments, courts, and media that exhibit ridiculous degrees of deference to Muslim sensitivities and thus encourage discrimination complaints.
The recipe for avoiding no-win scenarios is clear. In every facet of public life, adopt and administer a regime of equal rights for all and special privileges for none. Under this paradigm, Islamic dress may be tolerated, but only if it does not negatively impact security, education, legal proceedings, or other fundamental concerns — like the ability to survive a go-kart or water ride.