Western governments are telling Muslim women not to cover up

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IN the diverse democracies of the early 21st century, there are some political and cultural issues that will not go away. A political or judicial decision might settle things for a while, but the conflicting emotions are so strong that the flames can flare up quickly. One such issue is Muslim women’s clothing, and how and whether it should be restricted by the state.

Take France, which regulates religious dress, and religion in general, more strictly than any other democracy. The summer of 2016 was very difficult for the beaches of that country, as many local authorities have banned the burkini, a full-body bathing suit favored by some Muslim women. After weeks of bad scenes by the sea, the country’s highest administrative court ruled that the bans were an unacceptable restriction of freedom.

In recent weeks, however, arguments about the burkini have turned to municipal swimming pools, especially those in the city of Grenoble. After the mayor banned the clothing, a group of burkini-clad protesters began to defy the ban and spray themselves while splashing around; a couple of pools were temporarily closed. In the French national media, the affair is being talked about as if it were a sinister Islamist conspiracy to overthrow the secular republic of France.

In Germany, the federal constitutional court ruled in 2015 that a “broad ban” on state school teachers wearing the hijab (a head covering that leaves the face exposed) was a cause of religious freedom . If a limited ban were to be applied in certain circumstances, there would have to be a well-argued justification. But this only opened the way for legal conflicts within the federal states of Germany, each of which brings its own style to matters of culture and education.

Earlier this year a court in Bavaria upheld the region’s ban on the wearing of headscarves by state judges and prosecutors. In Berlin, whose main political philosophy is secular, a local court has refused to ban primary school teachers from wearing the hijab: it accepted the argument that children at that tender age need pedagogues neutral.

In Britain, meanwhile, many Muslims are horrified at the prospect of Boris Johnson becoming leader of the Tory Party and prime minister: it is not because of any governance he intends to bring. in but because of the tone it sets in comments about Muslim female dress. In an article he wrote last August he said it was “ridiculous” that women should wear face-covering burkas that left them “looking like letterboxes”. In recent days he has expressed vague regrets about things he has written over the past 20 or 30 years which, taken out of context, could cause offence. .

Importantly, however, Mr Johnson did not advocate a blanket ban on face coverings. He said universities and companies should be able to control what people wear on campus or at work, but opposed any restrictions on how people dress on the t – street Such a barrier would create an obstacle to the Anglo-Saxon tradition of individual freedom, including the right to be eccentric.

Even in Donald Trump’s America, belief in religious freedom is strong enough to protect hijab wearers. Earlier this year, rules were changed to allow a newly elected legislator, Ilhan Omar, to take her seat in Congress wearing a Muslim headscarf. In 2015 the US Supreme Court overruled a hijab-wearing woman who said she was denied a job with a clothing store because her head was covered. That set a more Muslim-friendly tone than the European Court of Justice, which said in 2017 that workplace bans on religious clothing can sometimes be legal. (He was judging the case of a Belgian company that wanted to find a receptionist.)

American hijab wearers say Mr. Trump’s arrival has had a mixed effect on their daily lives. Some citizens who were already xenophobic became a little more anti-Muslim in their behavior; but voters who oppose the president would make a point of welcoming women in Muslim clothing and saying they were very welcome in America.

However, that semi-positive picture is not good everywhere in North America. In recent days, Malala Yousafzai, a young Nobel laureate, who is a heroine in the struggle for women’s rights in Pakistan, has been at the center of a strange conflict.

She was photographed in France with Jean-François Roberge, Quebec’s education minister. The minister was then challenged by a journalist saying whether Ms Yousafzai, who survived an assassination attempt at 15, would ever be able to teach in the francophone province where, after several years of conflict, a law passed on June 16 prohibiting public servants from showing sports. religious symbols at work. Mr. Roberge said that it would be a great honor for Ms. Yousafzai to teach in Quebec, but that she would have to take off her scarf first. His boss, François Legault, supported him.

For some critics of Quebec’s new law, the story of Ms. Yousafzai was a kind of propaganda gift. The story was widely reported in the Middle East, Turkey and other predominantly Muslim places, with a clear impression that the West should consider its own faults before lecturing the Islamic world.

Mustafa Akyol, a prolific Turkish writer on Islam who is now a fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, DC, says the saga will make his life a little more difficult. “I spend my time trying to convince fellow Muslims that a liberal democracy gives them all the freedom they need to practice their religion, so there is no reason to follow Islamic rule,” he said. “When a Western country imposes its cultural norms on Muslims, it becomes harder to win those arguments.”

Where to draw the line? Jonathan Laurence, a professor at Boston College who is an authority on European Islam, believes that a distinction should always be made between governing the representatives of the state itself and telling ordinary citizens how to dress. . It may or may not make sense for a government to dictate the clothing of those who work on its behalf, but it is certainly within the purview of a liberal state. Banning swimsuits that don’t cause obvious harm is more obvious. It is worrying that 42% of the French people are in favor of such a ban on pools.

One of the reasons why the problem is so strange to Canada is that the country is looking to two different models from the old world, French and Anglo-Saxon. Quebec used to be more devoutly Catholic than France, but these days it is racing to emulate and even surpass the Welsh motherland in embracing secularism, and perhaps going too far. On the other hand, if hijab-wearing teachers in Quebec want to migrate to the English-speaking province of Ontario, they will be welcomed.

Regardless of the controversial position of judges, politicians and religious leaders, there is always hope that people growing up in different societies will simply get used to the fact that, in the sensitive issues that, different options to be valid.

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