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Is Disney ban of Muslim hijabs Mickey Mouse?

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POSTED August 25, 2010 2:40 a.m.
Imane Boudlal is a devout Muslim who happens to work as a restaurant hostess at the Disneyland Resort’s Grand Californian hotel in Anaheim.

Boudlal believes Disney’s attempts to prevent her from wearing her hijab at work is something that is - how would Walt have put it - a bit Mickey Mouse.

A hijab is a traditional Muslin head covering that is essentially a scarf that many Muslims believe should be worn in public.

Disney - instead of outright saying she couldn’t wear her hijab - offered four compromises including one that consisted of a makeshift head-covering and a hat. They also said she could wear her hijab if it was in a Disney job away from the public.

Boudlal, who has been sent home seven times without pay for refusing to remove her hijab at work, rejected the compromise. She did indicate that she was willing to wear some sort of head scarf, even one with a Disney logo.

She believes Disney is discriminating against her so she has filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

You might at first wonder whether it is Boudlal being unreasonable.

Before you jump to any conclusions one must know what Disney’s policy is against hostesses and others wearing outward religious symbols such as crosses. Granted, the hijab has more to do with the issue of modesty in public but it isn’t a universal requirement of Muslims worldwide.

If Boudlal absolutely believes it is a must and there is wide interpretation within the religion whether it is then there is a lot of gray area.

Why, you might ask, would anyone apply to work at Disney knowing the firm that relies heavily on a fantasy world requires virtually all of its theme park employees to wear costumes?

Well, for starters it is because Daffy Duck doesn’t run Disney. One must seriously doubt the employment interview process specifically prohibits adherence to religious practices if they run counter to the fantasy image that Disney is trying to create or violate federal anti-discrimination laws.

And this isn’t the case where the EEOC will exempt Disney from employment discrimination because of the type of jobs they offer. As an example, they won’t force strip clubs to hire all genders and body types. That is an outlandish example but it clearly demonstrates that the exceptions to the EEOC standards have to be something that is extremely out of the ordinary.

Serving as a waitress in a hotel restaurant at a Disney Resort somehow doesn’t quite fall in the same category of a strip club hiring dancers.

It is also a tad ironic that the entertainment corporation that unleashed the Disneyland ride “It’s a Small World” with its catchy - some say mind-numbing - tune would make a major issue out of what is clearly a cultural as well as religious item.

Disney works hard at creating a pristine image with spotless music parks, big slices of Americana, escapism, and multi-cultural inclusiveness. It all, though, must follow the Disney script.

In the perfect world where people escape Disney has been careful to neutralize all sense of conflict. The result is a carefully crafted Neapolitan vanilla packaged neatly between other basic flavors to emphasize they are pretty much the same with nothing separating them. It is that illusion - that all is the same despite different ethnic background - that fosters the thinking that as long as strawberry and chocolate are side-by-side with vanilla they must be pretty much the same.

Culture and religions don’t work that way. There are some basic values but that is about it.

Disney is using the same Neapolitan mentality that created “It’s a Small World” to set the standard of dress for its work force.

The question the EEOC will deal with is whether that Neapolitan approach is absolutely critical to the job Disney is having Boudlal perform.

While that may be the case with someone who is playing the role of Cinderella or Snow White, it is difficult to believe that to be the case for someone waiting on the public in a restaurant even if it carries a Disney theme.
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