EU hijab decision marks shameful new low for civil liberties in Europe


Opinion: Allowing companies to prevent employees from wearing the hijab in order to present a “neutral image” is an absurd justification for a racist and exclusionary policy, writes Malia Bouattia.

“Court ruling reinforces racist belief that the hijab is a polarizing and politically charged garment,” writes Bouattia [Getty]

The recent ruling by the EU’s highest court allowing companies to ban the wearing of hijabs by employees is yet another episode in the long European saga of enshrining Islamophobic practices into law.

Two cases of Muslim women in Germany who were reprimanded for wearing the hijab have come to the attention of the court. At different times, they were asked not to wear it, told it was not allowed in the workplace, and they were hung up.

After examining this discriminatory treatment, the court decided this “[a] the ban on wearing any visible form of expression of political, philosophical or religious beliefs in the workplace may be justified by the employer’s need to present a neutral image to customers or to prevent conflicts social ”.

“Neutrality is simply impossible when we are socialized to ascribe deep political meanings to a wide range of physical and behavioral traits.”

It is almost surreal to read that the rationale for institutionalized Islamophobia is the protection of so-called neutrality. Are we supposed to believe that a garment is an obstacle to neutrality? Why is deciding not to wear the hijab a more “neutral” decision than deciding to do so?

The impossibility of neutrality

Gender, race, ethnicity, and age all contribute to a person’s identity, and these characteristics are hardly devoid of history, political assumptions, or associations. They all elicit encouraging behaviors and responses from colleagues, clients, or clients. Neutrality is simply impossible when we are socialized to ascribe deep political meanings to a wide range of physical and behavioral traits. It seems quite normal for a court to have some understanding of this.

But injustice defies logic and reason. The court ruling reinforces the racist belief conveyed by European states that the hijab is a polarizing and politically charged garment, which can therefore be banned in “normal” workplaces across the continent.

The decision normalizes the rejection, marginalization and exclusion of Muslim women from public spaces. Moreover, it raises real questions about the status of religious freedom in the EU. If we are free to have a religion, but not free to express it according to our beliefs, what importance can such a right really have? Clearly, this is far from neutral.

Intensify Islamophobia

Recently, there has been a domino effect from European states, from France and Switzerland to Denmark and Austria, stepping up their aggressions against Muslims, and especially Muslim women, targeting the way they choose. to dress. By banning the burqa, niqab, and hijab under certain circumstances or altogether, a growing number of European states are also limiting the ability of Muslim women to participate in public life. The message is clear: if their cheap labor can be sought after by employers and states, they must stay out of sight and avoid influencing society.

“The message is clear: if their cheap labor can be sought after by employers and states, they must stay out of sight and avoid influencing society.”

This decision is not the first of its kind. In 2017, the European Court of Justice gave the green light to companies to ban employees from wearing the hijab. Moreover, when France enacted its burqa ban over a decade ago, it was the European Court of Human Rights that upheld what has now become a model policy for other countries. from the continent.

In fact, the attention paid to Muslim women is so disproportionate that it is impossible to view these prohibitions as anything other than political. In Switzerland, for example, where a burqa ban was introduced in March, there are only around 30 women in a country of 8.6 million who wear religious clothing. Yet the resources and attention gathered, which included a national referendum, showed the shamelessness of the Islamophobic agenda.

The forbidden and endemic sexism

As long as the national debate focuses on Muslims and their alleged backward ways, the pervasive sexism and oppression of women can be swept under the rug.

“They” are the problem, not “us”.

It comes amid a global pandemic that has further underscored the gendered ways in which inequalities occur, women bearing the unequal economic brunt of deadlocks and rates of domestic violence are skyrocketing.

The likely response to this decision will be the smoke-and-mirror tactic – something all too familiar to Muslim women in Europe.

We will be told that all physical religious expression will be affected by this decision and therefore it is unfair to claim that this is an example of Islamophobia.

First, to be the target of racist practices is no more comforting if one knows that other religions can also be victims. It’s not news that there is a close correlation between growing sentiment and Islamophobic and anti-Semitic policies – such as French Prime Minister Gerald Darmanin demonstrated in his recently published book who manages to be both Islamophobic and anti-Semitic.

“If we are free to have a religion, but not free to express it in accordance with our beliefs, what importance can such a right really have?

Second, given both the context of the rise of Islamophobia across Europe and the fact that the decision was the result of two Muslim women victimized for wearing the hijab to work, there is no doubt in the in anyone’s mind that this will have a disproportionate impact on Muslims.

While the increasingly prevalent methods of gendered Islamophobia could make many people complacent or desperate, the decision should instead serve as a motivation to act.

Each piece of news can be turned into fuel and an opportunity to resist the racist treatment of Muslim women at the hands of the state. Every institution that reinforces dominant and hateful views should be subject to protests, court challenges, and civil disobedience whenever possible. The only way to break unjust laws, after all, is to collectively refuse to implement, follow or legitimize them.

Malia Bouattia is an activist, former president of the National Union of Students and co-founder of the Students not Suspects / Educators not Informants network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

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The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of his employer or of The New Arab and its editorial board or staff.



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