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The European Court of Justice, Europe’s Supreme Court, issued a landmark judgement concerning two cases about the wearing of the Islamic headscarves, hijabs, in the workplace referred to it by the Supreme Courts of France and Belgium.
Rulings of the ECJ are binding on the 28 member states of the European Union, in the same way that U.S. Supreme Court rulings are binding on the 50 states of the U.S.A.
Samira Achbita was a receptionist at G4S Security Solutions in Belgium. She was contracted out to Atlas Copco, a G4S client, in 2006. Shortly after beginning the assignment, she started wearing a hijab.
G4S prohibits employees from wearing religious garb on the job and Achbita was fired. Together with the Belgian Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism, she sued the company and the Belgian Supreme Court referred the case to the ECJ for an opinion as to whether “the prohibition on wearing, as a female Muslim, a headscarf at the workplace does not constitute direct discrimination where the employer’s rule prohibits all employees from wearing outward signs of political, philosophical and religious beliefs at the workplace.”
In June 2009, French IT services company Micropole Univers fired employee Asma Bougnaoui when she refused to remove her hijab following a complaint from a client, Groupama Insurance, where she was working on an assignment.
She filed a suit for unfair dismissal and religious discrimination at the labor tribunal. The company was ordered to pay her €8,378 in severance pay, but her request to be reinstated was rejected. She then took the case to the Supreme Court, which referred it to the European Court of Justice in April 2015.
Referring to the G4S case, the ECJ ruling allows firms to prohibit the wearing of “any political, philosophical or religious sign,” saying such prohibitions can no longer be construed as discriminatory.
In the Micropole case, the court ruled that, in the absence of a company regulation prohibiting religious signs, “the willingness of an employer to take account of the wishes of a customer no longer to have the employer’s services provided by a worker wearing an Islamic headscarf cannot be considered an occupational requirement that could rule out discrimination.”
The lesson for European companies who wish to prohibit religious signs or dress codes is to write those prohibitions into their rules and regulations. In this way they will be protected from lawsuits brought by employees and third parties such as Islamist lobby groups.
Based on the rulings, it can be asked: Why should the fact that Islam requires women to wear modest clothing be a problem in the workplace? Is it not a simple question of religious and personal freedom?
This is the angle taken by Islamist lobby groups such as the CCIF (Committee Against Islamophobia in France) and CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) as well as the human rights NGOs that support them. Yet things are not that simple.
The wearing of the hijab by Muslim women in Europe has only become problematic with the spread of Salafism since the 1990s, fueled by an ideological export drive from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
The wearing of such garments is a way for adherents of this ideology (for it is an ideology as much as it is a religion) to stake out their territory in the host country and in some cases to set up a parallel society.
Claims of discrimination prior to or after hiring are spurious. If G4S and Micropole Univers practiced deliberate religious discrimination they would not have hired Muslim employees in the first place. Those employees created the problem themselves by refusing to adhere to company policy and by putting their own beliefs (whether sincerely held or otherwise) before the interests of workplace harmony and cohesion. Their aggressive insistence is a form of religious fanaticism that cannot be tolerated in a secular society.
People outside Europe, particularly in the U.S., may fail to understand this concern with secularism, especially since the original colonists were fleeing religious persecution. But this is the 21st century, not the 17th century. Europe was ravaged by wars for centuries in which battle lines were often religious as well as social, political and national.
The separation of church and state was a way to confine religion to the private and spiritual domains and exclude it from temporal power.
This is not the case with Islamists, who seek to exercise control in both spiritual and temporal spheres not just within but beyond their own community. Hence the increasing strife in France over the past three decades around issues such as the serving of pork in school canteens, the wearing of the hijab at school and Islamic prayer in the workplace.
These issues are not a question of religious freedom or, as CAIR pretends, civil rights but about the determination of Muslim employees, driven by their self-appointed leaders as well as those dispatched by foreign states, to practice and manifest mandatory and discretionary religious behavior in the workplace. This has over time led to the growing impingement of imported religious practices in the public sphere.
As Philippe d’Iribarne pointed out in Political Islam in France: The Salami Technique in Georges Bensoussan’s collection of essays, A Subjugated France (2017):
“Our legal system is not designed to take account of social groups. More precisely, our rules are such that social groups do not exist. For example, the 2004 law, known as the law on the Islamic headscarf, is officially a law concerning religious signs in school. The opponents of this law claim that it attacks the sacred rights of the individual and that it is discriminatory because it targets Islam. But in reality, the rationale of this law is to prevent a collective conquest of power by religious groups and we do not have a legal framework for that.”
It is not only reasonable but desirable that upon entering an employer’s premises, an employee should be expected to moderate the exercise of his religion and that the employer should be free to enforce religious neutrality. The workplace is in the front line of the conquest of Western society by political Islam.
The “salami technique” referred to by d’Iribarne refers to the Muslim Brotherhood strategy of gradually chipping away at the foundations of European secular society. Each accommodation, each sign of appeasement, far from ensuring social peace and harmony, opens the way to further, wider demands.
The religious neutrality of the state enabled Europe to make wars of religion a thing of the past. The incessant demands by Islamists for accommodation of Islam run counter to this neutrality, all the more so because Islam is not just a religion but a movement with a strategy of social and political conquest. That conquest involves bodily constraint and the enforced wearing of the hijab by Muslim women is an integral part of that strategy.
The ECJ ruling on the hijab is a decision that should settle this contentious issue once and for all.
Leslie Shaw is an Associate Professor at the Paris campus of ESCP Europe Business School and President of FIRM (Forum on Islamic Radicalism and Management).