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.
Instead of telling all women that they are responsible human beings, free to make their own religious and lifestyle choices, we send the message that Muslim women are poor victims, incapable of discerning what is good or bad for them. Instead of instituting all the necessary mechanisms to protect a minority of women from family violence, we tell all women that they are unable to defend themselves and that it is best to have society prohibiting them against their will from wearing what they wish, rather than seeing their male relatives prohibiting them against their will from wearing what they wish.
It is baffling that top European lawyers don’t see that a decision based on this kind of twisted discriminatory reasoning will stoke resentment and bitterness, even on the part of women who do not want to wear the scarf, but have sisters or friends who would like to. It also reinforces all the stereotypes and prejudices expressed by nationalist populist movements and contributes to justifying their claims that Islam is a social threat to liberal values. It will take a lot of time to pick up the pieces of the damage done and come up with more sensible policies, policies that will insist on freedom and equality, including in religious matters. A whole generation will probably be necessary to repair the damage done by this experience of distrust and disrespect.
To read the entire article on this advice on BBC’s website, please click here.