[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, May 2017.]
At a time when the European Union appears to be slowly falling apart, its highest court was fixated on whether a woman at one workplace in Belgium should be allowed to wear material covering her head.
As a staunch non-believer in religion, I find the continuing European fascination with burkas, hijabs and the like very, very odd.
Yes, when I was 16 in Australia and deeply afraid of the unknown (in the form of Malaysian and Indonesian Muslim students at my school) it was challenging to my childish attitudes but I associate that kind of fear with cultural ignorance.
I don’t see why this style of dress should force someone out of their job, as it did in the case of Samira Achbita.
In essence, the European Court of Justice supported the right of a private company to have an "internal policy or rule" on staff clothing. If this means the wearing of a uniform, I see no problem.
But to outlaw other items is to trample on human rights. Ironically, this is the very thing that modern and secular society is supposedly better than because fundamental Islam tries to impose restrictions on women’s dress. Moderate, progressive Islam does not.
Logic now dictates that if a Muslim-run company based in Europe told its female workers to wear a cloth head covering then they would have to if the company decided it was part of their uniform and not an individual choice.
As Human Rights organisation Amnesty International stated after the court’s recent decision, "by ruling that company policies can prohibit religious symbols on the grounds of neutrality, they have opened a back door to precisely such prejudice."
Manfred Weber, head of the center-right European People’s Party, the largest in the European Parliament, said that he believed it was: "[an] important ruling by the European Court of Justice: employers have the right to ban the Islamic veil at work. European values must apply in public life."
If we substitute the words “European values” for “German values” we have the same flavour of statement that was repeated continually in the 1930’s about another religious minority. “Jews have to accept that German values must apply.”
In this way, by establishing the idea that a Muslim cannot be a true European, it is already going part way to also establishing the idea that a Muslim is a lesser human.
This makes the association of a Muslim as a terrorist much easier to create in the mind of the average person. (It is then only a small step to restrict their travel, as Trump is currently in the process of doing.)
We are led to believe that the European court decision is a first strike for great European democracy, a brave attack on the terrible dangers of those frightening women who wear a bit more more than others do.
So, what we call democracy has now taken away the liberty of a small number of females without a single good reason.
Recently, different arms of our imperfect democracies, have also thrown up a far-reaching referendum result in the UK that only 25 percent of the population voted for. In the USA, a demagogue President strutted into office despite his opponent getting almost 3 million votes more than he did.
In other news, it has come to light that in that same ‘land of the free’ (the USA) almost 1 in 5 adults are are in fact free from the burden of being able to read.
Hurray for democracy!