Some Muslim women in Belgium have protested against restrictions on wearing headscarves. Photo credit: BBC/Getty images

Top EU court adviser backs workplace Muslim headscarf ban – yet another intolerant opinion

31 May, 2016

In a controversial opinion issued to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), an Advocate General to the ECJ, Julianne Kokott, agreed that employers in the EU may be able to ban Muslim staff from wearing headscarves to work as long as it is part of a general prohibition on all religious symbols.

While this legal opinion is not binding, nor is it a final ruling of the ECJ, it is quite authoritative and once again sends an utterly wrong message. Instead of sending a message of openness and freedom first, with only individually and restrictively justified limitations, it sends out a message of religious intolerance aimed at only one religion, Islam. Because, frankly, who cares about small crosses on a chain or kipas? Sikh turbans however will be collateral damage to this ban.

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  La file d'attente pour le renouvellement des permis de séjour devant la préfecture de Lyon, le 16 février 2015. Crédit photo JEFF PACHOUD / AFP

Défenseur des droits report finds discrimination toward foreigners in France

28 May, 2016

An article in Le Monde reports that Le Défenseur des droits in France, in its last report, finds that foreigners, particularly refugees, are vulnerable to systemic discrimination in accessing their rights. The report is particularly relevant since it shows us that national human rights institutions and ombudspersons can document migrants’ rights violations. Their thorough investigations, detailed reporting and authoritative analysis add considerably to our common knowledge base and participate in changing the perceptions towards migrants.

For the report and its executive summary of Le Défenseur des droits (available in French only), please click here.

  Turkish soldiers patrol in Hatay province along Turkey's new border wall with Syria in February 2016. Photo credit: 2016 Anadolu Agency

Turkish border guards are shooting and beating Syrian asylum seekers

28 May, 2016

Turkish border guards are shooting and beating Syrian asylum seekers trying to reach Turkey, resulting in deaths and serious injuries, Human Rights Watch said today. The Turkish authorities should stop pushing Syrian asylum seekers back at the border and should investigate all use of excessive force by border guards.”

This should be an extremely serious concern in view of the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement and of the position taken by the EU and Greece that Turkey is a “safe third country” where Syrians asylum seekers can be automatically sent back without substantial analysis of the conditions of their return.

To read the whole report on Human Rights Watch, please click here.

  The pupils said that shaking hands with a woman who was not related to them would go against their religious beliefs. Photo credit: Science photo library.

Switzerland: Muslim students must shake teacher’s hand

Article by BBC
25 May, 2016

Muslim students in Switzerland must shake their teacher’s hand at the beginning and end of lessons, a regional authority has ruled.

A controversial exemption from the tradition had been granted for two teenage brothers whose interpretation of the Koran meant they were unwilling to touch a member of the opposite sex.

If they continue to refuse, their parents could face a fine.

The regional authority said teachers “had the right” to demand handshakes.

Shaking teachers’ hands as a sign of respect is a longstanding tradition in Switzerland.

When it emerged last month that a middle school had allowed two Syrian brothers aged 14 and 15 to avoid the tradition due to their religious beliefs, it sparked a national controversy.

The boys, whose father is an imam, said their faith did not allow them to shake hands with a woman who was not related to them.”

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Austria and the Future of Europe

Editorial by NY Times
13 May, 2016

“Mr. Faymann resigned after his own center-left Social Democratic Party abandoned him following a stinging victory by the right-wing Freedom Party candidate, Norbert Hofer, in a first round of presidential elections on April 24. The Social Democratic Party governs in coalition with the conservative Austrian People’s Party. The two parties have dominated Austrian politics for decades.

Mr. Hofer is now poised to win the second and final round of presidential voting on May 22. The office of the president in Austria is largely ceremonial. But Mr. Faymann’s resignation could trigger early parliamentary elections, now scheduled for 2018, that will determine who runs Austria’s next government. That would give the Freedom Party a real chance to come to power, which would be terrible for Austria. The Freedom Party has its roots in Austria’s ugly Nazi past. More recently, it has taken up far-right European nationalist, anti-immigrant and anti-Islam themes.”

Unfortunately, there’s now a probability that Europe will go through an extreme-right experiment before it comes to its senses and renounces once again the sirens of nationalist populism. Austria is about to fall. Hungary and Poland are already in the throes of nationalist populist governments, and several other central European countries’ governments aren’t much better. The UK government’s stance on migration is very much on the populist side. France’s has presidential and legislative elections soon and might very well end up in a parliament which will only function if a coalition between the centrist right and the extreme right comes to power. Norway could also fall prey to such a discourse. In Brussels, the European Parliament might look very different after the next European elections. The European Council has been holding very conservative views on migration for a long time and the European Commission – long the guardian of common policies and cool-headedness – is incapable of formulating on the issue of migration any long term European vision that would rally a consensus among States. If an anti-immigration and anti-Islam majority emerges in parliamentary elections around Europe, we might be in for a very “bumpy ride” in the years to come. It will take a whole generation to realise that the policies they will put in place are unprincipled, harmful and deleterious.

To read the full editorial by the Editorial Board of the NY Times, please click here.