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Viewpoint: The Melting Pot - Customs Shouldn't Impose

23 Mar 2008

By Sabrina Norris-Turin

People in the United States are proud to live in a cultural "melting pot." Our country is supposedly one in which all religious and ethnic groups are fully respected and represented.

This is a great concept, and in general, creates a better nation. However, occasionally people manipulate this concept and fail to become part of the bigger stew in the pot.

Recently, a group of six Muslim women managed to convince Harvard University to create women's-only hours in the on-campus gym so they could work out comfortably.

Women of the Muslim religion wear the traditional Hijab, a veil that covers their hair and neck. However, this garb makes it impossible to work out.

Because they cannot be seen in front of men without the Hijab, they cannot exercise in front of them.

So Harvard has fixed this "problem" by banning men from the gym during specified hours. Now men aren't allowed in the gym for six hours every week, Mondays between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8 a.m. until 10 a.m.

This is wrong.

America can hardly be called a "melting pot" if its citizens aren't "melting" into the culture. Immigrants of every color and religion come to the United States to find what they're searching for, and they are expected to adapt to U.S. laws as well as learn the country's customs. This is why we spend millions of dollars on programs to teach children English.

Whether these Muslim girls were first-generation immigrants, at some point their families immigrated from their home countries, which in effect is like signing a contract to integrate into American life.

A Harvard student defended the new law by saying that "the women-only hours are of minimal inconvenience because they are just six out of the 70 hours a week the gym is open," according to USA Today.

True, the law doesn't cause major problems for students because it only blocks six hours, but it's the principle behind the new law that angers Harvard students.

It is unfair that anyone can live in this country and expect their cultural and religious needs to preside over others. The gym is an uncomfortable place for many women, which is why places like Curves exist. These women should have joined a women's gym. Problem solved.

A spokesperson for the American-Islamic relations council said, "The Muslim bashers portray it as the world coming to end," according to USA Today.

This is exactly the opposite of what anyone outraged by this law is trying to communicate. By victimizing the Muslim students on campus, defenders are failing to realize the main issue behind the law itself - that it's simply unfair. This one-sided view is a big fat cop-out.

We've all seen Muslim students wearing their traditional clothing, and most people respect that - it is commendable to be proud of your religion and carry out its traditions in everyday life. It would be an outrage if we were anything but supportive.

But, when traveling to other places in the world, let alone living there, people are expected to follow the rules of that country. For instance, when women travel to Saudi Arabia, they are expected to cover their whole bodies from head to toe. Women would be thrown in jail if they didn't abide by the strict laws.

America is a free country and anyone can practice whichever religious and cultural customs they want, as long as they don't harm others.

So be true to your background, your culture and your religion - but don't let it affect everyone else.

Sabrina Norris-Turin is a columnist for San Diego State's The Daily Aztec.

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