Europe and the headscarf

Europe and the headscarf

Upon the European Court of Justice’s March 14 ruling that companies can ban headscarves and other religious symbols in workplaces, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş reacted and said, “This is a shameful decision. It is one of the many anti-Islam manifestations. This decision destroys European values all together.” 

One should focus on the “European values” emphasis of this justified reaction of Kurtulmuş. As a matter of fact, separate from the negative streams of fascism, Nazism, Islamophobia and populism, there are “European values” that we also have adopted as references. 

If the cases were taken to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), I’m not so sure whether a similar ruling would be reached. When the ECHR mentioned such criteria as “public domain” and “if risk is detected,” then the headscarf could be banned, then I had my objections.  

Now, the European Court of Justice has dogmatized “companies can ban headscarves and other religious symbols in the workplace.” Some co-workers and customers have filed complaints that they were bothered when they saw employees wearing the headscarf and the companies later banned them. 

This ruling of the court violates the “equality and freedom” values of Europe. 

The court also ruled that companies can decide on “attire neutrality.” When a company bans the headscarf, is it neutral? Or is it neutral when it allows all people to work in the clothes they wear in their social life? 

In several decisions of the ECHR, it is stated that impartiality can only be achieved through pluralism. One example of this is the decision on compulsory religious classes.

In a Venice Commission report, it also stated that impartiality can be achieved by respect for pluralism even in the judiciary. (No: CM/Rec(2010)12)

In this case, the duty of the state and the judiciary is to encourage people of different lifestyles and political views to live together and work together, isn’t it? But the Court of Justice has reached such a ruling that any Islamophobe, the minute they see an employee wearing the headscarf, will be able to complain to the company. The life of Muslim women wearing the headscarf in Europe will become more difficult.  

There are two aspects we have to confront at this point. 

The first one is the question on whether or not we are tolerant. Are equality and freedom values that we have adopted? Why, in all surveys, we as a society are among the most intolerant societies? Does the government treat its opponents also as equal and free citizens? 

The Dutch city Rotterdam’s Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb is a Muslim of Moroccan origin. In the Dutch elections, about 15 Turkish candidates competed from various parties; some of them have been elected to the Dutch parliament.  

Thus, there is one Holland, which accommodates the populist Geert Wilders, and there is another Holland, which is tolerant, free, democratic and equal.  

We can say the same for the entire West. Can we put all of them in the same basket by saying, “The crusader Europe, they are all fascists anyway”? 

If we do so, then we would be increasing the enemies of Turkey. There, the staunch enemy of Turks and Islam, Wilders, has used these kinds of accusations coming from us in his election campaign. 

I want to repeat and insist that against populist and authoritarian Europe and the U.S., Turkey should unify its discourse with democratic Europe and U.S. and gain friends from there.  

Of course, for this, we should refrain from populism ourselves and embrace values such as moderation, equality, freedom and the rule of law.