Europe has long been heralded as one of the most progressive regions in the world, but many are questioning whether that’s still the case today. In recent years, many European countries have passed controversial legislation that undermines the religious practices of many citizens of those very nations. One of the more infamous examples of this legislation includes the French Niqab ban, which prohibits individuals from covering their faces in public areas. While this legislation may not impact the lives of a majority of French citizens, it does prove to be immensely detrimental to the Muslim population. Many adherents of the Muslim fate actively choose to cover themselves doing so with pride; the inability to cover themselves is, in plain terms, particularly demeaning towards them.
It is in this environment that the European Court of Justice has recently passed a new ruling which would allow business to forbid women from wearing any religious facial covering. Almost immediately after the decision was delivered, many protested that this was a discriminatory ruling towards Muslims. It is easy to see why many got upset, since it essentially allowed business to ignore and prohibit an important part of the Islamic faith. But is this ruling an attack on Muslims? Or rather, is it just another step in Europe’s long history of promoting secularism in nearly all aspects of their lives?
To understand this ruling, we must first apply context towards it, by first looking at Europe’s overall view on religion. According to the Pew Research Center, the religiously unaffiliated comprise the second largest growing religious group in North America and Europe. In fact, according to another report by Pew, Europe, as a whole had a predominantly favorable opinion of Muslims as of 2014. The number might be understandably lower nowadays due to recent terrorist attacks and the refugee crisis, but the point stands that, as a whole most Europeans do not have a particularly negative view of Muslims. However, even if we take into account Europe’s tolerance, we must also bear in mind that recent events have given rise to certain right-wing groups; but are these groups growing due to a general public backlash of Muslims? If we take a look at the data right wing parties started to get a particularly strong foothold in Europe ever since the ’08 economic crash. Given the economic uncertainty of the time, it makes sense for various right wing groups to gain dominance. Having said that, many of these groups have not vanished, but rather, have continued to gain prominence and have actively pushed for anti-Muslim legislation. It’s also important to note that many of these right-wing groups are minorities in many European nations. So, is Europe becoming more Islamophobic? It appears that the answer is a very complicated yes and no. Overall Europe is still a very tolerant region, but recent events have allowed various far-right groups to gain support from many individuals.
What does this have to do with the anti-hijab ruling? It demonstrates that the decision is more complicated than a simple anti-Muslim action. After contextualizing the situation in Europe, it appears that the ruling has less to do with Islamophobia and more to do with a general anti-religion trend. The fact is that, while there is a growing sentiment of Islamophobia in Europe, as a whole, the region is still tolerant. The hijab ban in question has more to do with Europe’s equality stance at the expense of religion than any anti-Muslim sentiment. This is clearly stated in the ruling, which states that if a business is going to prohibit hijabs, it must also perform a broad ban on all religious symbols. While this is a major blow for religious freedom (and arguably freedom in general) in Europe, and especially towards Muslims, the ruling is overall fair in the way it treats all religions. Simply put, there is a growing anti-Muslim problem in Europe, as well as an anti-religious problem in general; but the ruling is not a simple hijab ban, and we should stop treating it as such.
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