Imagine someone in New York getting into an Uber car and realizing that the driver is a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf. Imagine that client being offended by it and asking the driver to remove it. She refuses. The client reports the incident to the company, and as a result, the company fires the Muslim woman.
Or imagine if Uber, or any other company in the United States, had a policy in place prohibiting any employee to wear any religious or political symbol. Imagine, if not only Muslim women were prevented from wearing the headscarf, but also Jewish men wearing kippas and Sikh men wearing turbans.
And imagine the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the firing of those women does not constitute discrimination.
That's what the European Court of Justice (EUJ) just ruled in favor or.
In fact, according to the ECJ, firing a female employee wearing the headscarf does not constitute discrimination. It declared as legitimate a company's desire to project a "neutral" image.
The ECJ ruling only adds fuel to the fire.
Whose World View the ECJ Ruling Is Encouraging.
In fact, the sentence comes on the eve of national elections in France and Holland, where anti-Islamic rhetoric has marked the political campaigns. Right-wing populist candidates, like Marine Le Pen in France, have seized the opportunity to present the ruling as an endorsement of their political platform.
The hostility against women wearing their religious and cultural tradition on their sleeves (or, I should say, on their head) has been a reason for much debate in an anxious and uncertain Europe, feeling even more frightened after the recent terrorist attacks.
Acts of intolerance against women wearing the headscarf have been news for some while in Europe.
Banning the Headscarf from Beaches.
Last August, photos emerged in Nice of armed male police officers forcing a Muslim woman at the beach and dressed in leggings, a tunic, and a headscarf, to remove some of her clothing. The police gave the woman a ticket arguing that she was not "wearing an outfit respecting good morals and secularism."
The tribunal in Nice ruled to uphold the right of banning the headscarf because it offends "the religious convictions or (religious) non-convictions of other users of the beach." The banning of the burqa on a beach was deemed "necessary, appropriate and proportionate."
When "neutrality" isn't neutral.
What deserves attention is the courts' use of the word "neutrality." Deceivingly, the notion seems to suggest that not taking sides guarantees fairness and equality, and is, therefore, the proper civic attitude to cement a diverse society.
But neutrality is here anything but neutral. Indeed, what the term covers is the sanctioning of intolerance and discrimination. It imposes a monolithic and fictitious notion of authentic and pure "European" identity that discriminates significant minorities and classifies people according to varying degrees of citizenship.
This concept of neutrality negates full citizenship to individuals who want to wear religious symbols. It suggests that minorities must strip themselves of their identity and severe themselves from themselves, to be truly European.
Asking Muslim women to comply with the ruling is to ask them to be accomplished in the perpetuation of discriminatory practices.
Unfortunately, these forms of codified discrimination are not a recent practice in Europe. They have a long history, underpinning the colonial practices of nations such as France, where the fixation with headscarf has deep roots.
A long history of banning the headscarf.
For example, as Musab Younis highlighted in a recent essay, during the colonization of Algeria, France promoted campaigns that called for women to unveil themselves. "Aren't you pretty then?" asked a poster in the late 1950s portraying three veiled women and an unveiled one. "Unveil yourselves!" read the slogan on the poster. French colonial officials promoted public events where Algerian women ceremonially burned their burqas.
The ECJ ruling is anachronistic, and it tries to put the genie back into the bottle.
In fact, resisting the world that is emerging as increasingly interdependent and diverse, the ruling reflects the mental model of those adhering to the doctrine of a clash of civilization. Before today's global challenges they shut down, become rigid and isolate themselves.
They perpetuate the patterns of the past and further advance the disruptions of our times. On this path, it will get worse before it gets better.
Of course, the challenges are complex, the perils are real, and the responses we need are not self-evident. Our reality is an ever changing and an every emerging one.
We need to upgrade our mental models.
We need to have the courage of looking into the abyss of our times. Nietzsche wrote about the frightening experience of gazing into the abyss. "The abyss also gazes into you," Nietzsche wrote. No doubt, the rulings and the policies that our societies express reflect back onto us. They tell us who we are and what we are made of.
Thus, the question arises, "Who do we want to be and who do we want to become?". The quality of our answer will determine the quality of our future.
If we want to overcome and heal this age of disruption we are living in, we will have to shift from closeness to openness, from intolerance to dialogue, from stubbornness to curiosity, from walls to bridges, and from destruction to creation.
To meet the challenges of our time, we need to upgrade our mental models. We need to welcome the present challenges and opening up.