The Ban on the Islamic Headscarf

by George Hatjoullis

The European Court of Justice has ruled that an employer ban on Islamic headscarves is legal. This is not simply a ban on the Yashmak, which conceals all but the eyes, but a ban on a headscarf, hijab, concealing the head and the chest, leaving the face visible. The basis for this judgement appears to be the right of the employer to ban visible signs of political, philosophical, and religious beliefs in order to achieve neutrality vis-a-vis customers and other employees. The key seems to be to avoid visible signs of religion but applies equally to signs of adherence to a political or philosophical position. This has quite far-reaching consequences.

Islam is not the only religion that has visible signs of adherence to a religion. Jewish men wear a Kippah. Sikh men wear a turban. Many christians openly display a crucifix. On the basis of this ruling employers can ban all these and perhaps already do so. Presumably the tie-pins and button-hole signs of political party membership that one sees can also be banned. FIFA has a ban on poppies. Does this mean that if I had gone to work wearing a tee-shirt with “French philosophers rock” emblazoned across my chest I could be asked not to wear it?!

Religion, philosophy, and politics are part of identity. They are part of what defines us as individuals. It seems that when we go to work the law allows the employer to require us to leave a part of ourselves at home. As if we could! Why are people so offended by a hijab (Kippah, turban, crucifix)? Does it matter if someone signals who they are? It does not mean they are going to try to convert you. It implies one should be ashamed of one’s identity. This is not a good law.

I can understand why there is objection to the Yashmak. This hides the face and in western society the face needs to be seen, if only for identification. The hijab is little more than a headscarf. My mother, a devout christian, wore a headscarf sometimes. Flo in the Andy Capp cartoon wears a headscarf (over her rollers). Hilda Ogden in Coronation Street never appeared on-screen without a headscarf as a I recall. Nuns wear habits. Devout christian women cover their heads when they enter a church. Hindu women often wear headgear. What is this obsession with the hijab? Why does the law want people to hide their identity?

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