How the hijab unveiled Europe's discrimination against Muslims

How the hijab unveiled Europe's discrimination against Muslims
Comment: The European Court of Justice's ruling that companies can tell women not to wear the hijab shows European powers have much in common with Trump, writes Tallha Abdulrazaq.
5 min read
17 Mar, 2017
Women in Europe may be legally discriminated against at work for wearing a hijab [Getty]
One is always amazed at the self-righteous hypocrisy of Europe. On Tuesday, Europe's highest court, the European Court of Justice, ruled that it would not be discriminatory for corporations to tell women, especially Muslim women, what to wear at work.

This ruling is in itself contradictory to vaunted European values, and the often high-handed sneering that Muslim communities are subjected to by national governments within the EU who peddle the idea that it is these communities who oppress their women by telling them what is and is not acceptable.

Many European leaders also took aim at US President Donald Trump and criticised him after he announced an Executive Order banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, including war-torn Syria and Iraq. Though they were vocal on Trump's decision, dubbed a "Muslim Ban" by the press, they seem to be awfully quiet on what is a borderline hijab ban.

Ban by proxy

Islamophobes will almost certainly agree with European political leaders, including right-wing French presidential candidate Francois Fillon who called the ruling an "immense relief". They will likely argue that, in any case, articles (such as this) criticising the ruling missed the point that the ECJ did not specify the hijab, but all "political, philosophical or religious" symbols.

However, this case was brought by two Muslim women, one of whom had been fired security contractor G4S (yes, let's name and shame them) for refusing to remove their hijab. Bosses claimed other staff felt "embarrassed" by their female Muslim colleague.
The ECJ did not rule that it would not be discriminatory for national governments to ban the hijab - but their ruling will have a fundamental impact on how national courts rule on similar cases

There was no reason for these women to not wear the hijab, no safety concerns or any other compelling reason - the firms in question simply hate the hijab and had no respect for the Muslim women's decision to adhere to their values while competently getting on with their jobs. It is clear, then, that the ruling will be seen as being aimed at the hijab and Muslim women - hence the gleeful celebrations of the resurgent European fascists.

The ECJ did not rule that it would not be discriminatory for national governments to ban the hijab - but their ruling will have a fundamental impact on how national courts rule on similar cases. National governments can now claim that any such bans on the hijab are nothing to do with them, and that a higher authority has made a decision that they cannot ignore, due to EU rulings.

The ECJ has essentially allowed governments who may have harboured closet Islamophobic tendencies to wash their hands of the matter.

Meanwhile, the ruling has also empowered companies and corporations - already in a position of power over their employees - to simply shunt aside employees who refuse to remove the hijab, allowing them, as the main controllers of capital and employment, to ban the hijab on a national scale by proxy without needing to refer to any national legislature, and with no fear of action against them.

Whatever happened to Europe as the bastion of women having the right to wear whatever they like, do what they like and say what they like without fear of recrimination, violence or suppression?

Just the other day, German broadcaster Deustche Welle was feting Afghan refugee-turned-German-supermodel Zohra Esmaeli as a symbol of the "liberated Muslim woman" who had cast off her traditional roots and decided to celebrate her new "Germanness" by posing for the camera.

While Esmaeli's career path is entirely her choice and she is of course free to choose it, it is remarkable how she can be celebrated and given an enormous platform - while countless successful Muslim women who decide to wear the hijab and who contribute to society as lifesaving doctors, exceptional academics and in many other ways are often completely ignored.

Imagine if a court presided over by mainly brown Muslim men - the inverse of the mainly white European men who made this ruling - said that corporations and companies could hire and fire women for wearing short skirts, tight-fitting pullovers that expose some cleavage or any other piece of clothing "representing" the modern, liberated western woman. What would have happened?

Well, the first thing that would have happened would be the likes of Fillon, the Netherlands' Geert Wilders and any other number of hard-right fascist Nazi remnants across Europe coming out in outrage. "Look at those backward Muslims," they'd scream. "Look at how Muslim men tell women what they can and cannot wear," they'd bay. "This is why Muslims can never be true Europeans," they'd rave.
Muslim women are used as political tools to criticise and vilify all Muslims, tarring them with the same 'regressive extremist' brush

The press would then publish a veritable factory line of stories about how women are oppressed in Muslim communities, and the demonisation of the Muslim will continue unabated. The thing is, it is not as though Muslim women do not have it bad enough in their own communities - but this is never addressed in a way that will alleviate the problem.

Instead, Muslim women are used as political tools to criticise and vilify all Muslims, tarring them with the same "regressive extremist" brush.

While European extremists complain that Muslims are not "integrating", what they actually mean is that Muslims are not casting aside their faith and becoming atheist or Christian or anything but Muslims.

Rather than integrating, Muslim women will now feel even less secure in their attempts to build their own careers, own their own capital or forge their own paths - because at any point in time, a European firm can simply boot them out if they decide their hijab does not fit their company image.

The ECJ's message to Muslim communities, and Muslim women in particular, appears to be clear  get your kit off, or get out.

Tallha Abdulrazaq is a researcher at the University of Exeter's Strategy and Security Institute and winner of the 2015 Al Jazeera Young Researcher Award. His research focuses on Middle Eastern security and counter-terrorism issues. 

Follow him on Twitter: @thewarjournal

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.