Don't be surprised to see girls in Minneapolis rocking both hijabs and Girl Scout sashes. As today's New York Times reports, "Scattered Muslim communities across the United States are forming Girl Scout troops as a sort of assimilation tool to help girls who often feel alienated from the mainstream culture, and to give Muslims a neighborly aura." (Less polite subtext: Americans think all Muslims want to kill them, but there's no Girl Scout badge for that.) Minneapolis is a particular focus because its Girl Scout Council -- aware of a shrinking interest in scouting -- established outreach coordinators for certain minorities, including Muslims. Now, nearly 300 girls have joined about 10 mostly Muslim troops in the area. Elsewhere, most Muslim Scouts belong to predominantly non-Muslim troops.
"When you say you are a girl scout, they say, 'Oh, my daughter is a girl scout, too,' and then they don't think of you as a person from another planet," Asma Haidara, a 12-year-old Somali immigrant, told the Times. "They are more comfortable about sitting next to me on the train."
For some of these Scouts, the organization's activities -- roasting halal hot dogs, learning to fix flat bike tires -- are very "Daring Book for Girls." After all, as the Times points out, many come from "conservative cultures that frown upon their participating in public physical activity." Partly as a nod to freaked-out parents, some troops incorporate Muslim traditions into their programs, offering badges for Arabic calligraphy and teaching the biographies of prominent Muslim women.
It's not all sugar and Thin Mints, though. One former outreach coordinator said she "used the organization as a platform to try to ease tensions in the community," the Times noted. "Scraps between African-American and Somali girls prompted her to start a research project demonstrating to them that their ancestors all came from roughly the same place."
The Girl Scouts, it should also be noted, have added an asterisk after the word "God" in their promise. ("*When reciting the Girl Scout Promise, it is okay to replace the word "God" with whatever word your spiritual beliefs dictate.") To some, the group's top-down diversity campaign -- along with this de-God-ification -- is just further evidence that the GSA has become a coven of "radical feminists, lesbians, and cookie peddlers." (Where do I sign up?) Some at the other end of the spectrum might consider it continued scrambling to overcome an image tainted (perhaps unfairly) with shades of creepy (religious) conformity and assorted allegations of discrimination. To me, it simply looks like responding, wisely, to reality: the GSA's need to build and brand for the future -- and the real faces of girls, right now.