Will India hijab ruling be used for wider curbs on Islamic expression?

More on India’s hijab debates:

On Tuesday, a high court in the southern Indian state of Karnataka upheld a government orderthat had banned headscarves in classrooms, ruling that wearing them is not an integral part of religious practice in Islam.

The court’s decision and the hijab controversy are part of a volatile cultural debate in India over the place of Islam in a political environment that is becoming more and more dominated by Hindu nationalism.

The controversy over headscarves in Karnataka began in January after six female Muslim students at a college in the city of Udupi said they had been barred from attending classes because they were wearing hijabs.

On February 5, the Karnataka government issued an order banning clothes that “disturb equality, integrity and public order” in educational institutions. Several schools and colleges used this order to deny entry to Muslim girls wearing the hijab.

Karnataka then became the stage for a series of protests by Muslim students and counterprotests by Hindu students and activists. As demonstrations intensified and spread to other colleges and districts, schools were forced to temporarily close.

A group of female Muslim students eventually took the case to the state’s high court, seeking to overturn the government’s ruling.

‘Reasonable restriction’ on freedom of expression

After the high court rejected their appeal, the young women spearheading the hijab protests vowed to continue fighting their case in India’s Supreme Court.

Some of them have said they will not attend classes if they are not allowed to wear a hijab, even if it jeopardizes their education.

“The court has let us down and disappointed so many of us. The court is wrong in stating that the hijab isn’t essential to Islam,” a student from the city of Shimoga told DW.

In explaining its decision, the Karnataka high court said that the freedom of religion under India’s constitution is subject to certain limitations.

“We are of the considered opinion that wearing of the hijab by Muslim women does not make up an essential religious practice in Islamic faith,” the court ruled.

It added that the state has the right to require school uniforms, which amounts to a “reasonable restriction” on constitutional rights.

Legal scholars say the case has now taken on a larger dimension with the high court ruling over freedom of expression in India, where wearing religious symbols is widespread.

Although there is no central law regulating school uniforms in India, the Karnataka court ruling has raised fears over a precedent being set to prompt more states to issue similar restrictive dress codes for students.

What’s behind communal tensions in India’s Karnataka state?

Mihira Sood, a professor at Delhi’s National Law University, said the court’s decision did not provide guidelines for how the law can equally uphold principles of secularism enshrined in India’s constitution, which would apply to any religion.

“Students of other religions wear symbols that are not part of the uniform like turbans and tilaks [the mark worn by Hindus on the forehead],” Sood told DW.

She added the situation in Karnataka was linked to the Hindu-nationalist agenda of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has a governing majority in the state.

“We have already seen reports of similar restrictions in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere, and this will likely have an effect in several states. This is just the beginning,” Sood added.

BJP spokesperson Shazia Ilmi said the hijab was not part of religion, and that the party was doing a lot for empowerment of the Muslim women.

“The court verdict is in sync with the constitution. The Quran does not mandate wearing of hijab or headgear for Muslim women,” Ilmi told DW.

Is Indian law singling out Muslims?

Some activists say tensions over headscarves are part of a wider trend in India cracking down on its minority Muslim population since the Hindu-nationalist BJP came to power nearly eight years ago.

“This is a clear case of interference with the girls’ religious and fundamental rights. Issues like the hijab ban are very easy to polarize the entire community,” lawyer Mohammed Tahir, who is representing one group of petitioners in court, told DW.

Author and activist Farah Naqvi told DW that the hijab ruling is part of a wider agenda to drive away our Muslim culture.

“This is not a gender debate or about headscarves and veils … so many fundamental rights are at stake. All this could have been easily resolved if the schools had made a simple adjustment,” she said.

Muslim women say India’s secular constitution protects their right to wear a hijab

Mehbooba Mufti, the former chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir, said the court decision upholding the hijab ban is deeply disappointing.

“On one hand we talk about empowering women, yet we are denying them the right to a simple choice. It isn’t just about religion but the freedom to choose,” she said on Twitter.

In 1986, India’s Supreme Court upheld the right of three school children to remain silent while the Indian national anthem was sung. The children belonged to the Jehovah’s Witness, a Christian sect, and said singing the anthem was against their faith.

Their school expelled them, and the family filed an appeal, saying the expulsion was in violation of freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

India’s Supreme Court famously ruled that the school must readmit the children, arguing that their choice not to sing did not affect anyone else.

The girls affected by the hijab ruling now have said they will take their case to the Supreme Court and asked for an early hearing so a decision can be made in time for their exams.

Source: Will India hijab ruling be used for wider curbs on Islamic expression?

India court upholds a ban on hijab in schools and colleges

Of note:

An Indian court Tuesday upheld a ban on wearing hijab in class in the southern state of Karnataka, saying the Muslim headscarf is not an essential religious practice of Islam.

The high court in Karnataka state delivered the verdict after considering petitions filed by Muslim students challenging a government ban on hijabs that some schools and colleges have implemented in the last two months.

The dispute began in January when a government-run school in Karnataka’s Udupi district barred students wearing hijabs from entering classrooms, triggering protests by Muslims who said they were being deprived of their fundamental rights to education and religion. That led to counterprotests by Hindu students wearing saffron shawls, a color closely associated with that religion and favored by Hindu nationalists.

More schools in the state followed with similar bans and the state’s top court disallowed students from wearing hijab and any religious clothing pending a verdict.

Ahead of the verdict, the Karnataka government banned large gatherings for a week in state capital Bengaluru “to maintain public peace and order” and declared a holiday Tuesday in schools and colleges in Udupi.

The hijab is worn by many Muslim women to maintain modesty or as a religious symbol, often seen as not just a bit of clothing but something mandated by their faith.

Hijab restrictions have surfaced elsewhere, including France, which in 2004 banned them in schools. But in India, where Muslims make up 14% of the country’s 1.4 billion people, the hijab has historically been neither prohibited nor limited in public spheres. Women donning the headscarf is common across the country, which has religious freedom enshrined in its national charter with the secular state as a cornerstone.

Some rights activists have voiced concerns that the ban could increase Islamophobia. Violence and hate speech against Muslims have increased under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governing Hindu nationalist party, which also governs Karnataka state.

Source: India court upholds a ban on hijab in schools and colleges

Poilievre pitches to new immigrants, as Brown attacks him over 2015 niqab ban bill

Of note:

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown and high-profile Conservative Pierre Poilievre spent Monday battling over a seven-year-old election promise to prohibit face coverings during citizenship ceremonies — a sign of what could be the makings of a tense rivalry between candidates in the Tory leadership race.

Brown, who launched his bid on Sunday, blasted longtimeOttawa-area MP Poilievre over his actions back in 2015 when the party promised to create a “barbaric cultural practices” tip line and require people’s faces to be visible during citizenship oaths.

The attack came as Poilievre spent the past few days meeting with cultural community leaders in the Greater Toronto Area and promising to cut red tape for immigrants wanting to access the necessary licences they need to work in regulated industries.Among those he met with were members of the Armenian, Muslim and Pakistani communities as well some of the party’s candidates from the area.

Regardless of who is chosen as leader Sept. 10, Conservatives know they must make inroads with immigrants and racialized Canadians if theyhope to pick up seats in the region as well as other major cities and suburbs, considered key to defeating three-term Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Poilievre pledged Monday to revive similar programs that were in place under the last Conservative leader who did well in communities of visible minorities: former prime minister Stephen Harper, at least prior to 2015.

He promised toincentivize provinces to require occupational licensing bodies to decide on an immigrant’s application within 60 days of receiving their paperwork, rather than forcing them to wait for months.

As well, Poilievre pitched offering small loans to immigrants who might need to take extra courses to gain a professional or trade licence to work in their respective field.

As Poilievre made these pledges, Brown, who is positioning himself as the candidate who stands for religious freedoms, released a statement saying the MP lacks credibility on any policy that impacts minority communities given his role in the Conservatives’ 2015 election campaign.

It was during that race when the party, then led by Harper, promised to create a tip line for so-called “barbaric cultural practices.” Conservatives at the time said it was meant to report things like forced marriage.

During that election, Poilievre was running for re-election as a candidate. He was also a member of Harper’s government when it introduced a bill banning people from wearing face coverings during citizenship ceremonies. That was ultimately struck down in court. The promise was also included in the party’s election campaign, when Harper also mused about possibly extending it to federal public servants.

Brown said Monday that Poilievre has never spoken out against these measures. The MP also has Jenni Byrne on his team, who was the party’s national campaign manager in 2015.

“This is the same campaign which platformed those two abhorrent policies, and lost the Conservatives the 2015 general election,” Brown’s statement read.

“Even if he attempts to distance himself from his silence today, it would be a hollow gesture in an insincere bid to gain votes.”

Poilievre responded Monday by calling Brown a “liar,” accusing him of mischaracterizing what Harper was doing.

“There was no niqab ban,” he said in a statement released on social media.

“I would never support that, nor did Mr. Harper. What Mr. Harper proposed was that a person’s face be visible while giving oaths at citizenship ceremonies.”

Poilievre, whose statement didn’t address the past proposal of a “barbaric cultural practices” tip line, added he would continue to support immigration and equality.

In response, National Council of Canadians CEO Mustafa Farooq tweeted that “leadership requires accountability” and pointed out some of Poilievre’s fellow MPs have apologized for what happened in 2015.

Among those is Edmonton MP Tim Uppal, a co-chair on Poilievre’s campaign, who has apologized for his role as a minister in promoting the ban on niqabs during citizenship ceremonies.Before the leadership race, Uppal said the party was still dealing with the fallout from racialized communities because of the 2015 campaign.

A post-mortem from the Conservatives’ 2021 election loss submitted in January came to a similar finding, according to three sources who spoke to The Canadian Press on the condition of anonymity.

Melissa Lantsman, a newly elected Ontario MP who is also supporting Poilievre in the race, shared on social media last fall that while she was stood in favour of banning the niqab during citizenship ceremonies in 2015, her “view has since evolved.”

Michael Diamond, a campaign strategist who, among other campaigns, worked on Peter MacKay’s 2020 Conservative leadership bid, said Brown’s attack over the issue and targeting of Byrne is a “proxy” attack on Harper, who is highly respected among the membership.

“It seems like folly to me to attack the last campaign of the man who remains the most popular figure in this party.”

He added it’s still early days in the race and cautioned that the debates playing out between the campaigns and on social media were occurring in an “echo chamber.”

Source: Poilievre pitches to new immigrants, as Brown attacks him over 2015 niqab ban bill

Hijab controversy and multiculturalism: Lessons from Canada

One Indian perspective, further to my earlier post on the Essential Religious Practice (ERP) India: Why is Karnataka HC deciding if the hijab is an ‘essential religious practice’ in Islam?:

India has traditionally been recognised as a country where “unity in diversity” reigns supreme. Food, festivals, attire, language, religion, and other aspects of culture are all diverse throughout. In his classic poem, Bharat Tirtha (Indian pilgrimage), Rabindranath Tagore echoed the same philosophy where the fundamental belief underlying the definition of Indianness is its assimilative, cosmopolitan, and compassionate nature. Jawaharlal Nehru wrote about this diversity extensively in his book, The Discovery of India. Winston Churchill had commented: “India is not a country or a nation; it is rather a continent inhabited by many nations.”

Although it is true that there is no explicit provision in the Constitution of India recognizing this multiculturalism, it is spread across implicitly. The Preamble, the Equality principle, the right to Freedom of Religion, protection of Cultural and Educational rights of the minorities, recognition of 22 official languages under Schedule VIII – all bear testimony of the same.

Unfortunately, we have been forced to believe in the notion of ‘uniformity’ in the recent years – the imposition of one culture, one religion, and so on. As the hijab debate rages across the country in the name of school ‘uniform’, I prefer to look into the matter through the lens of the multicultural ethos, rather than the Essential Religious Practice (ERP) test. And here I will be speaking about Canada, which has placed a strong focus on equality and inclusion for all of its people.

With 37 million inhabitants, Canada is the world’s second-largest country geographically. It is ranked 16th in the Human Development Index (India is ranked 131st) and has one of the fastest growth rates of any G7 country. While ethnic Canadians account for 32.3 percent of the population, other prominent ethnic groups include English, Scottish, French, Irish, German, and Chinese. Between 1971 and 2011, immigration expanded in Canada as a result of the modification of the Immigration Act. On one hand, 4 percent of the population is aboriginal; on the other hand, 60 percent of new immigrants are from Asia, mainly China and India.

While the majority of Canadians (67 percent) are Christians, a significant proportion (24 percent) declares that they have no religious connection. Muslims account for 3.2 percent of the minority, while Sikhs account for 1.4 percent. Sikh migration began in the early twentieth century, and they now wield significant political power. Notwithstanding the fact that Sikhs make up 1.7 percent of the Indian population, just 13 Sikh MPs have been elected to India’s 543-seat Lok Sabha, compared to 18 in Canada’s 338-seat House of Commons.

Canada is a liberal democracy having a Charter of Rights and Freedoms under the Constitution Act of 1982 (analogous to ‘Part III: Fundamental Rights’ of our Constitution) where it is explicitly noted that the Charter “shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians” (Section 27).

The judiciary in the country has jealously preserved this heritage while upholding the Charter rights for various minority groups.

Similar to the current hijab controversy, an orthodox Sikh student once intended to wear a kirpan to school. The school and his family agreed that he would seal the kirpan in his clothing while at school. However, the school board’s council of commissioners objected that he could not wear it to school because bringing dangerous objects to school was against the school’s code of conduct.

In Multani v. Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys (2006),the Supreme Court (SC) ruled that the council’s decision infringed Multani’s religious freedom. School board members failed to demonstrate that a complete prohibition is a reasonable limit on religious freedom. The kirpan had never been involved in any violent incidents at school and there was no evidence that it was a symbol of violence. The total ban of wearing kirpans in schools ignores the value of respecting minorities and tolerance in Canada’s diverse culture.

Gobinder Randhawa, a Sikh immigrant from India and former Ontario Sikhs and Gurdwara Council president, tells Ashleigh Stewart of Global News that turbans were uncommon when he arrived in Toronto in 1972. Toronto’s public transit agency, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), faced confusion over its dress code after he applied for a job there. TTC modified the uniform code to accommodate him. He spent 31 years working there.

Canada has given equal powers to exercise one’s religion to all sects and cultures and diverse religious ethnicities. Stewart reports instances of Syrian immigrants narrating as to how the country has allowed them carry on their Islamic lives, e.g., school principals arranging prayer halls for their kids.

In another instance, a lady who had been sexually assaulted was testified during her accused attackers’ preliminary inquiry. She was ordered by the judge to remove her niqab, a head scarf covering her face except the eyes. She argued that doing so would violate her religious freedom.

In R. v. N.S. (2012), the SC ruled that if wearing the niqab does not significantly impair trial fairness, the witness may do so. The case highlights the need for public institutions to accommodate religious differences as much as possible while upholding other Charter-protected rights and freedoms.

Earlier in R. v. Big M Drug Mart (1985), the police charged a store for violating the Lord’s Day Act because it refused to close on Sundays. That law prohibited conducting business on Sunday as it reflected the Christian tradition of reserving Sunday for rest. The SC found that the Act violated the Charter’s fundamental freedom of religion by forcing all Canadians to follow one religion – Christianity.

Quite surprisingly, unlike ours, the Canadian Constitution allows suspension of the Charter rights and freedoms even without an emergency being declared (Section 33). Yet the federal Parliament has never utilised this power till date. No wonder that Canada has remained a preferred destination for many Indians migrating abroad in search of prosperity. They have truly nurtured the philosophy of “live and let live”.

Hijabs (or kirpans) did not compromise the sanctity of the education but the nefarious acts that followed certainly did. The fervour and severity with which the hijab issue has being tackled, I wish the concerned individuals had responded in a same manner in relation to the quality of education imparted in those institutions in Karnataka and elsewhere. Our educational institutions would have been substantially superior.

When people are forced to refrain from selling or eating non-vegetarian food in the name of religion (read here), to remove hijab, and to abandon religious norms of offering prayers, we are not only interfering with individual choices/freedoms, we are also denying the diversity that exists in this country and embarking on an elusive quest of uniformity. We yearn for a “universal civil code” for all religions, when there is no uniformity of civil customs among Hindus across the country! We should aspire to be equal rather than identical.

Multiculturalism has always been a source of pride and strength for us. For heaven’s sake, let’s not demolish it, regardless of the Karnataka High Court’s verdict!

Source: Hijab controversy and multiculturalism: Lessons from Canada

Wells: And now, the inevitable Bill 21 fight

Usual insightful column by Paul Wells:

Here’s one measure of how little Building Back Better we’re getting done here in the nation’s capital: MPs from different parties and perspectives are having an interesting conversation about important matters. But it’s entirely off-book. It’s spontaneous, the leaders of the various parties didn’t ask for it, and it’s pretty clear they desperately wish it weren’t happening. In Ottawa, saying what you think is an act of rebellion.

The week’s topic is, of course, Quebec’s Bill 21, which forbids hiring public servants, including teachers, who dress incorrectly (“The persons listed in Schedule II are prohibited from wearing religious symbols in the exercise of their functions.”) The bill was introduced in March of 2019 and passed into law soon after. Federal party leaders fielded questions about it in debates during the 2019 and 2021 elections. Each time, Quebec’s premier François Legault got angry at the people who asked the questions. So did federal party leaders, who pay ever-growing hordes of witless staffers to tell them how to move and talk and who cannot for the life of them understand that the rest of us aren’t also conscripts in that effort.

Anyway the inevitable happened. This week news broke that a Grade 3 teacher in the bucolic Quebec town of Chelsea, a stone’s throw from Ottawa, was pulled from class for wearing a hijab. Here’s how it played in one early story: nameless teacher reassigned to “another function” outside the class, school officials shtum on details, shocked community hanging green ribbons.

A chain reaction ensued. Kyle Seeback, a Brampton Conservative MP, kicked it off by tweeting, “I cannot in good conscience keep silent on this anymore… Bill 21 has to be opposed. In court, in the house of commons and in the streets.” Jamie Schmale, Chris Warkentin and Mark Strahl tweeted their agreement.

Seeback’s conscience seems to have gnawed at him after he retweeted a Wednesday-night tweet from the Globe’s Robyn Urback wondering why Catherine McKenna, the former Liberal environment minister, now calls Law 21’s application “appalling” but didn’t, at the time, contradict Justin Trudeau’s milder language in the 2019 and ’21 campaigns. Good for Seeback, actually, for amplifying some snark aimed at a Liberal and then realizing it applied to him too. Soon McKenna and the Conservative MPs had company among Liberals still in caucus: Alexandra Mendes, Salma Zahid, Iqra Khalid, Marc Garneau. Finally a sitting cabinet minister, Marc Miller, called the law’s application “cowardly.” There is also a clip of Chrystia Freeland, the federal Minister of Careful What You Wish For, saying as close to nothing as she can possibly say, a recurring highlight of many recent debates.

I don’t like Bill 21 either. It’s based on silly reasoning—“the state” must have no religion, so nobody who works for the state may be seen to have any religion. This is like saying the state has no particular height, so public servants must be required to hover above the ground. Somewhere around here there’s an old column I wrote patiently explaining this logic and its heritage in the receding role of the Catholic church in Quebec society, a column some of my Toronto colleagues still enjoy mocking, but there’s a difference between understanding the argument and buying it. On a list of the top, say, thousand problems facing modern Quebec, “teachers in head scarves” would not appear. And one of the most obvious things we can say about this law is that the costs it imposes—in personal freedom, economic opportunity, social ostracism—is essentially never borne by people named Tremblay or Côté or Wells. Somehow the burden seems to land reliably on people named—well, in the current instance, on Fatemeh Anvari. About whom more in a moment.

I have also never felt that Bill 21 reveals some universal moral failing of “Quebec.” Every criticism I can level against this law has been levelled, many times, by Quebecers, including several of the Liberal MPs who ran out of patience yesterday; the Quebec Liberal and Québec Solidaire parties, which between them won more votes than Legault’s party did in 2018; an impressive selection of municipal politicians and commentators in, mostly, Montreal; and Judge Marc-André Blanchard of Quebec Superior Court, whose ruling struck down parts of Bill 21 and exclaimed his helplessness with regard to the rest: he plainly doesn’t like the thing, but Legault’s use of the constitution’s “notwithstanding” clause protects most of the law from legal challenge or judicial invalidation. Solid majorities in Quebec have supported the law in polls, but I’m not sure how long that will last, and since the law’s Charter-proofing provisions must be renewed every five years in the National Assembly, I’m not sure the law itself will last long either. I reject the notion that only Quebecers may have an opinion on the thing, because of course everyone can have an opinion on anything. But the conversation among Quebecers is plenty multifaceted already.

A few points of context. First, the provisions of the law, as they apply to the Western Quebec School Board which employs Fatemeh Anvari, have already been struck down. Minority-language education rights are notwithstanding-proof, and Judge Blanchard did to the provisions regarding English school boards what he plainly wished he could do to the whole law. Legault’s government appealed the ruling, and under Quebec law the provisions remain in place pending appeal, but Legault will lose the appeal and by next year, there may be no remaining barrier to teachers in hijabs teaching in Quebec’s English-language schools. This doesn’t help the rest of the province, at least not immediately, but it sets up two cases that parents will be able to observe and compare. Which is a ball that can bounce in many different ways over time.

Second, in interviews Anvari is plainly rattled by a situation she should not be in. But neither is she fired nor banished to the furthest reaches of her school’s steam-pipe trunk distribution venue. As the Lowdown’s excellent story notes, she’s been assigned to lead “a literacy project for all students [that] will target inclusion and awareness of diversity.” This is not as good as simply letting her teach the curriculum would have been, if the law had permitted it, but it shows considerable wit. Again, in a complex society, citizens respond in ways governments often don’t intend and wouldn’t prefer. Governments often don’t take that news well.

Third: those calling on governments to do something, now including members of the federal governing caucus, are sometimes short of ideas about what, precisely, to do. Federal lawyers in a court challenge could make no argument that hasn’t already been made—and, largely, rejected by the frustrated Judge Blanchard. Short of reviving the obsolete powers of reservation and disallowance, a step even Pierre Trudeau declined to take against even Bill 101, there’s not much a federal intervention could add.

Is there therefore no point in simply talking, or simply sending federal lawyers to say what lawyers for civil-society groups have already said? No, I think there’s a point, in that it brings government’s actions more closely in line with what are obviously the opinions of the people who compose the government. (Note that there isn’t a single Liberal MP tweeting, “Guys, Bill 21 is great!”) A reduction in the amount of hypocrisy in a system is always welcome and lately well overdue. But as a practical matter, the feds can’t do much to change the situation.

Finally, less important but still worth mentioning: When four Conservative MPs tweeted within minutes about their renewed love of freedom, it was hard to escape the suspicion that there’s something else going on. Perhaps this: those Conservatives are not, by and large, conspicuous Erin O’Toole fans, and many come from ridings where much of the Conservative voter base is spitting mad at O’Toole for perceived softness on vaccine mandates. When Seeback talks about opposing Bill 21 “in the street,” that sure sounds like an echo of the way a lot of people opposed vaccine mandates. MPs who can’t give their voters much satisfaction on the latter are probably grateful for a chance to blow off some steam on the former. That’s not to dismiss or rebut the Bill 21 Freedom Four; it’s just to note that motives are often mixed or additive.

Here’s the thing: in a liberal democracy you can’t keep a cork in everyone’s mouth forever. You shouldn’t try. It’s been fun watching the leaderships of three federal political parties try to deny simple human feelings over an inherently emotional issue. But the fun’s over. Now citizens are going to act like citizens. Always a scary moment for communications professionals.

Raj: Erin O’Toole denounces religious persecution abroad. Why can’t he do it in Canada?

Good question. And other political leaders need to step up as well:

“I cannot in good conscience keep silent on this anymore,” Conservative MP Kyle Seeback tweeted Thursday morning. “This is an absolute disgrace. It’s time politicians stood up for what’s right. Bill 21 has to be opposed. In court, in the house of commons and in the streets.#bill21mustgo #cdnpoli

It was an unusual statement from a Conservative MP, and a risky one. This is not Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s position on Quebec’s controversial law, which bars individuals who wear religious symbols from holding certain jobs in public institutions. Since his election as leader, O’Toole has defended Quebec’s right to enact such discriminatory legislation. After his first meeting with Quebec Premier François Legault, back in September 2020, O’Toole pledged not to challenge Bill 21 in court. “We need a government that respects provincial autonomy and provincial legislatures,” he told reporters.

For the MP for Dufferin—Caledon to go out on such a limb publicly, amid a climate of fear and retribution (O’Toole’s team has threatened caucus expulsions to those who don’t toe the party line), is commendable. Behind closed doors, Tory MPs tell me Seeback has been pitching to caucus and to the party leadership that a strong position denouncing Bill 21 is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart political thing to do.

While his pleas resonate with some of his colleagues, they don’t appear to have nudged his leader.

But Seeback, who declined an interview request, is right. Opposing Bill 21 is a great wedge against the Liberals on an issue where the Tories desperately need to rebrand, and in an area of the country where they need to win.

The Conservatives have a GTA problem and a visible-minority problem. Out of the 56 ridings in the Greater Toronto Area, the Conservatives hold six (although all but two are located on the periphery), while the Liberals have 50. It wasn’t always this way. In 2011, Stephen Harper found his majority in the GTA, sweeping the ethnically diverse areas of Brampton and Mississauga.

But over the past decade, the Tories pursued policies that alienated many of these communities. From immigration minister (now Alberta Premier) Jason Kenney’s niqab ban during citizenship ceremonies, to the barbaric practices snitch-line, to leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch’s values test, to the Tories fervent opposition to M-103, a motion denouncing Islamophobia.

In 2015, Brampton and Mississauga showed Harper the door. Seeback lost his seat in Brampton West. The same happened in 2019, and again in 2021.

Source: Erin O’Toole denounces religious persecution abroad. Why can’t he do it in Canada?

Quebec teacher removed from classroom because she wears a hijab

Hopefully, personal stories like this can shift public discussion in Quebec although doesn’t seem likely:

A teacher in Chelsea, Que., has been removed from her Grade 3 classroom because the hijab she wears contravenes the province’s law on state secularism, sparking an outcry among local families and a range of Canadian politicians who have denounced the legislation as “discriminatory.”

Fatemeh Anvari had been teaching language arts at Chelsea Elementary School since late October. She was reassigned to another role focusing on literacy and inclusion in early December, when the Western Quebec School Board became aware that her presence in class violated provincial law, interim chair Wayne Daly said.

Quebec’s Bill 21 has been in place since June, 2019. It bars a range of public servants in authority roles, including teachers, from wearing visible religious symbols.

Although Ms. Anvari has become a focal point in a long-running debate about religion in Quebec’s public sphere, she said she has been heartened by the response from community members and wants to use this moment to raise awareness about the need to express oneself in the workplace.

“I was sad, but at the same time I find it empowering to get so much support,” she said in an interview. “This isn’t about me so much. It’s a human issue.”

The 27-year-old has worn the hijab since she was young. She previously taught English in Iran and began supply-teaching at the Western Quebec School Board in March. She believed Bill 21 didn’t apply to English schools, and no one raised possible legal issues with her until recently, she said.

“There were no comments, there were no issues, there was no hostility.”

In her new role with the school, she will still be interacting with students, speaking to them about the value of diversity and inclusion. She feels it’s a testament to the board’s support that they offered her the job.

“I think the board is doing this initiative to spread awareness,” she said.

Parents and students have been protesting the decision to remove Ms. Anvari by tying green ribbons to a fence outside the school. Nicole Redvers said her eight-year-old daughter was deeply upset when she learned she would be losing a teacher she loved.

“She said, ‘Mum, she’s only wearing a scarf!’” Ms. Redvers recalled.

It remains unclear how Ms. Anvari was hired with the secularism law in place. Mr. Daly said it “may have been an oversight.”

In April, the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) won a court ruling exempting it from Bill 21 because the law violated the English-language community’s rights. But the provincial government appealed, and the restrictions remained in place. In November, the EMSB was denied a stay of the law while the appeal proceeds.

Federal parties have generally been cautious about denouncing the law, which is popular in Quebec, but Ms. Anvari’s removal caused outrage across the political spectrum. In a statement, the Prime Minister’s Office said “nobody in Canada should ever lose their job because of what they wear or their religious beliefs,” adding that “Quebeckers are defending their rights through the courts.”

“I think it’s cowardly,” said Marc Miller, a Liberal MP and the Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister. “It’s disheartening and it’s picking on someone vulnerable.“

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole offered a milder response, calling it “an issue that is best left for Quebeckers to decide.” But one member of his caucus, Ontario MP Kyle Seeback, lashed out at the law on Twitter.

“I cannot in good conscience keep silent on this anymore,” he wrote. “This is an absolute disgrace. It’s time politicians stood up for what’s right.”

The Western Quebec School Board, which serves anglophones and opposes Bill 21, has said it had no choice but to comply with the law when it realized Ms. Anvari was teaching in a hijab.

“It was the correct ruling under Bill 21, we cannot have this teacher in our school board if they will not comply with Bill 21,” Mr. Daly said. “She had decided that she would not comply with Bill 21, and in not complying that is justification for termination of a contract.”

The interim chair added that Bill 21 hurts the school board by denying it teachers during a labour shortage, and that the need to apply the law has left the community “outraged.”

“It doesn’t matter what nation you’re from or what race they belong to. If you’re part of that community, you’re part of that community.”

In Quebec City, several politicians put the responsibility for the situation on Ms. Anvari herself. Parti Québécois secularism critic Pascal Bérubé said that she “tried to make a statement wearing a hijab.”

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-quebec-teacher-removed-from-classroom-because-she-wears-a-hijab/

Europe’s Hijab Test: War of the Headscarves and Death of Multiculturalism

Of note:

In mid-July, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that private employers in the EU can ban employees from wearing religious symbols, including headscarves, in order to present an image of “political, philosophical, and religious neutrality” in the workplace. The verdict reaffirmed a 2017 CJEU ruling and highlights longstanding tensions over multiculturalism in Europe. In particular, it raises the question of whether there is a place for visibly Muslim women in European public life.

I have spent the last several months interviewing Muslim women, many of them citizens and residents of European countries, about their portrayal in the media and perception of belonging in their countries. While many reported similar experiences of ostracism or harassment, the European women, particularly those who choose to wear the hijab (head covering), told me time and again: “I feel like I don’t exist.” The hijab is more than a religious symbol to those who wear it. Muslim women cover their hair out of tradition, to maintain a connection to their cultural heritage, or for reasons of modesty. Several young European women I spoke to explained that they wear the hijab despite protests from their immigrant families, who do not want them to face undue scrutiny or discrimination at work.

But their choice carries a high personal cost. The rampant European misperception of the hijab as a symbol of a supposedly misogynistic Islamic culture has made women who wear one feel like faceless, nameless “victims” who must be saved, instead of empowered individuals making a personal decision. “It’s frustrating, because [the media] always brings out [sic] the male members of the family,” one of them, Sama, said in a message she sent me from Italy. “It’s like, ‘did your father force you to make this choice that I actually made?’” Likewise, Lama, a French-Algerian woman now living outside France, laments the phenomenon of “white men in the media debating whether we should have the hijab.” The problem, she says, is that “it’s never about the objective garment, it’s about what the garment symbolizes [to them].”

The CJEU’s recent ruling resurfaces tensions between the right to freedom of religion and Europeans’ increasing discomfort regarding the visible face of Islam in the region. Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights sets a high bar for limiting the manifestation of freedom of religion. But the CJEU’s 2017 and 2021 rulings appear to attach greater weight to the concept of overall “neutrality” and, in the case of its recent decision, the effect on others – an issue that already weighs heavily on many Muslim women’s minds. Several women I spoke to described going through a draining mental exercise before leaving their homes – what I call the “friendly enough” test. “Muslim women look in the mirror in the morning and think, ‘do I look friendly? Do I look approachable?’” Maha, a journalist, explained. And it is not only men whose judgment these women worry about. Khadija, a young French-Algerian woman, confessed that she once stopped to put on red lipstick before going to an interview for a babysitting job. “I told them I wore the hijab ahead of time. I don’t know why I did that, preparing them for me,” she said. “I took out my lipstick and put it on so that [the mother] can see I am French, [that] I am not a terrorist.”

These psychological strains underscore the agonizing choice forced upon European Muslim women today between their faith and identity on one hand, and their nationality on the other. Whereas most European girls can dream of pursuing the career of their choice, Muslim girls in Europe face a demoralizing caveat: “but you cannot wear the hijab.” In a post-#MeToo world where young women are increasingly taught to be empowered, Europe’s Muslim women are being held back by legislation and told that their very appearance is problematic. Khadija went on to tell me that the experience of removing her hijab for a job when she was 19 left her feeling denigrated and ashamed. “It made me feel like I am nothing,” she said. “I am not the same as everyone else. I am a little bit lower.” She went on to ask, rhetorically, “What gives you the right to do that?”

Despite Europe’s stated values of emancipation, freedom, and self-sufficiency, the dearth of female Muslim voices in the European public debate over the hijab leaves many young women with little hope that the conversation will change. In a stark display of hypocrisy, some of the European politicians who decry Islam for being repressive and anti-feminist champion laws that threaten to strip away Muslim women’s agency. “Muslim women exist and have things to say when the subject concerns them,” Soumaya, 15, told me. “We are not objects, we think, we feel, we have free will, we are strong and intelligent and, above all, capable.” But, she said, “the media does not want to recognize that. It’s a pity.”

Rather than asking whether Islam is liberal enough to belong in Europe, the more relevant question today appears to be whether Europe is liberal enough to accept its female Muslim citizens – regardless of their attire – in public life. The debate will no doubt continue in Europe’s courtrooms. In the meantime, the lives and livelihoods of the region’s female Muslim population hang in the balance. As one young woman said to me resignedly, “I have to wait for a woman who doesn’t wear the hijab or a man to fight for me, because right now I don’t exist. I am no one.”

‘Europe’s Hijab Test’ – Commentary by Jasmine M. El-Gamal – Project Syndicate.

Source: Europe’s Hijab Test: War of the Headscarves and Death of Multiculturalism

Who Gets to Wear a Headscarf? The Complicated History Behind France’s Latest Hijab Controversy

Of note:

The head of French President Emmanuel Macron’s political party withdrew support late last week for one of the party’s own candidates, Sarah Zemmahi, after she wore a headscarf in a campaign poster.

Stanislas Guerini, one of the co-founders of Macron’s centrist Republic on the Move party (LREM), took to Twitter to critique Zemmahi, an engineer who is running for her local council, for wearing her hijab, a religious head covering worn by some Muslim women, in a promotional image.

“Wearing ostentatious religious symbols on a campaign document is not compatible with the values of LREM,” Guerini wrote, after a prominent far-right politician shared the photo. “Either these candidates change their photo, or LREM will withdraw its support.”

While Zemmahi has not yet responded to Guerini’s statements, he received pushback from others in the party. LREM lawmaker Naima Moutchou defended Zemmahi on Twitter, calling Guerini’s criticism “discrimination,” while fellow LREM politician Caroline Janvier called out Guerini’s response in a scathing tweet.

“Undignified. Running after (far-right) votes will only allow their ideas to prevail. Enough is enough,” she wrote.

The conflict over one woman’s choice to cover her head comes in the wake of controversy surrounding an amendment passed by the French Senate last month that would ban girls under 18 from wearing the hijab in public. As part of a proposed “anti-separatism” bill, it was presented alongside amendments that would also prevent mothers from wearing hijabs on their children’s school trips and would ban the “burkini,” a full-body swimsuit.

While some French politicians have defended the amendment as a reinforcement of the country’s adherence to secularism, others have slammed it as yet another instance of part of an ugly strain of Islamophobia in the nation, which is home to the largest Muslim population in Western Europe—a population that has experienced increased discrimination in recent years, in the wake of terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists in recent years and the rise of far-right politics. One 2019 report found that 44.6% of the country considered Muslims a threat to French national identity, while a government survey from the same year listed that 42% of Muslims (other studies put the figure at 58%) reported experiencing discrimination due to their religion, a number that increased to 60% for women who wore a headscarf.

But understanding why the hijab is the site of so much controversy in France also requires understanding the deep history behind the debate.

While the proposed legislation still needs to be approved by the lower house of French Parliament before it can become a law, it’s already drawn significant backlash from many Muslim women around the world, who see the law as not only xenophobic and discriminatory, but an attack on their agency—a sentiment that has grown over the years as French politicians have argued that laws restricting religious symbolism are in service of women’s empowerment and public safety.On social media, the hashtag #HandsOffMyHijab has become a rallying cry to protest the amendment, started by Somali-Norwegian model Rawdah Mohamed, who used the phrase in a now-viral Instagram post to call out the potential ban. It’s since garnered support from the likes of U.S. congresswoman Ilhan Omar and Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad.

“How can you have a discussion about my identity, and not include me?” Mohamed told TIME. “I don’t think politicians are the ones who are supposed to define what it means to be a Muslim woman.”

France’s history with headscarves

Scholars trace France’s focus on Muslim head coverings and the women who wear them back to the country’s imperial past in North Africa and the Middle East—particularly in Algeria.

“Banning the hijab is about colonialism,” Alia Al-Saji, an associate professor of philosophy at McGill University, tells TIME. “French colonization of Muslim countries was often about controlling and managing populations that were of diverse religions… The hijab is a way of clearly showing that you are Muslim, which is colonially constructed as being opposed to colonialism. But it’s also a site of potential resistance.”

French colonization in Algeria began with an invasion in 1830 and was characterized by violent genocide, settler colonialism and a series of shifting laws called the “indigénat,” which, among other things, determined who could be a French citizen. Al-Saji notes that these laws were influential in emphasizing difference for the Muslim majority in Algeria; for example, while Jewish Algerian natives were recognized as French citizens in 1870 with the Cremieux Decree, Muslim Algerian natives were not eligible for French citizenship unless they renounced their religion and culture and adopted a French identity.

Inherent in the colonial attitude is the belief that one’s “civilization”—its language, its values and its practices—is an improvement on the lives of those who are colonized. This belief manifested itself drastically in the attitude toward Algerian Muslim women, who were seen as both oppressed and exotic. Under this mindset, their “liberation” could become the moral justification for imperialism’s violent casualties.

This dynamic is perhaps best illustrated during the Algerian War of Independence, when a series of public unveiling ceremonies were organized in 1958. During these ceremonies, many of which were arranged by the French army, Algerian women removed their haiks (traditional wraps worn by North African women) or had them removed by European women, before throwing them to the ground or burning them. Often, speeches were given afterwards in support of the French and the emancipation of Muslim women.

While these highly-publicized ceremonies were framed as spaces of empowerment for Muslim women, other accounts of this history tell a different story. In his book, Burning the Veil: The Algerian War and the ‘Emancipation’ of Muslim Women, 1954-1962, Neil MacMaster notes that some of the women who took part in these ceremonies were very poor, recruited from high schools or, in some cases, pressured to participate with threats to their safety and that of their families. In one harrowing case, when the army could not find a Muslim woman to lead the ceremony, they enlisted Monique Améziane, a young woman from a wealthy and pro-French family who had not previously worn a veil or heik, to speak—in exchange for sparing the life of her brother, whom they had already arrested and tortured.

The symbolic power of the veil during this time, however, was not only recognized by the French, but also by those fighting for Algerian liberation. In his essay Algeria Unveiled, Frantz Fanon makes the case that the veil can be a tool of anti-colonial resistance and a way of limiting access to oppressors, going so far as to call it a “bone of contention in a grandiose battle.”

During the war, the veil also became a literal tool of resistance. Some female freedom fighters for the National Liberation Front used haiks to conceal weapons and classified information; after this tactic was discovered, they used unveiling to their advantage, adopting European dress as a way to fly under the radar of the French.

How the veil has been reclaimed—and weaponized

Within France, at the intersection of gender, ethnic and religious identities, the Muslim veil or head covering took on new significance in the 20th century. Because of the popularity of orientalist art during this time, the veil already had stereotypes of the foreign and forbidden. But veiling was no longer just a physical marker of religious or cultural difference—it was also seen as an affront to assimilation, a visible symbol of resistance to colonization.

This meaning was intensified by the state’s staunch espousal of a unified French cultural and social identity, in opposition to multiculturalism. This belief can be traced all the way back to the French Revolution, which has also been credited with planting the seeds for laïcité, France’s principle of secularism. Although laïcitéoriginated in a 1905 law about the separation of church and state, it has been used in recent years as the driving force behind the anti-hijab policies.

In 2004, Muslim headscarves were among the array of religious symbols banned from being worn in French public schools. And in 2010, the country prohibited full-face veils like niqabs in public spaces like streets, parks and public transportation, becoming the first European country to enforce a nation-wide ban and even launching a government campaign that proudly stated, “the Republic is lived with an uncovered face.”

This sentiment took on a new irony at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 when France mandated mask-wearing in public spaces, while still banning Muslim face coverings.

“Muslim women who wear the hijab have always been on the receiving end of Islamophobia for their visible identity,” Nazma Khan, the founder of World Hijab Day, told TIME. “Simply put, the proposed hijab ban is a systematic vilification and discrimination against Muslim women in hijab.”

The Collective against Islamophobia in France, a non-profit that was forced by the French government to dissolve in 2020 in a move that Human Rights Watch called a “threat to basic human rights and liberties,” reported in 2019 that 70% of Islamophobic hate speech and acts in France were directed at women.

To advocates, the intense focus on a physical marker of otherness, along with the rhetoric touting women’s empowerment, can distract from what’s really at stake: what they see as France’s attempt to control citizens, as territorial residents were controlled in the past.

“If it was about giving Muslim women more agency, then in that case, you could let them or let all women wear whatever they wanted,” says Al-Saji. “But It’s actually about controlling what women wear and how they appear and what gets seen and that their bodies are seen, this kind of colonial male desire, that constructs Muslim women as trapped and pawns of their culture and needing to be unveiled.”

Source: Who Gets to Wear a Headscarf? The Complicated History Behind France’s Latest Hijab Controversy

The ‘hijab penalty’: Feminist backlash to Muslim immigrants in Germany | Penn Today

Of note. Interesting experiment:

Why do some Europeans discriminate against Muslim immigrants, and how can these instances of prejudice be reduced? Political scientist Nicholas Sambanis has spent the last few years looking into this question by conducting innovative studies at train stations across Germany involving willing participants, unknowing bystanders and, most recently, bags of lemons.

His newest study, co-authored with Donghyun Danny Choi at the University of Pittsburgh and Mathias Poertner at Texas A&M University, is forthcoming in the American Journal of Political Scienceand finds evidence of significant discrimination against Muslim women during everyday interactions with native Germans. That evidence comes from experimental interventions set up on train platforms across dozens of German cities and reveals that discrimination by German women is due to their beliefs that Muslims are regressive with respect to women’s rights. In effect, their experiment finds a feminist opposition to Muslims, and shows that discrimination is eliminated when Muslim women signaled that they shared progressive gender attitudes, says Sambanis, who directs the Penn Identity and Conflict Lab (PIC Lab), which he founded when he came to Penn in 2016.

Many studies in psychology have shown bias and discrimination are rooted in a sense that ethnic, racial, or religious differences create distance between citizens, he says. “Faced with waves of immigration from culturally different populations, many Europeans are increasingly supporting policies of coercive assimilation that eliminate those sources of difference by suppressing ethnic or religious marker, for example, by banning the hijab in public places or forcing immigrants to attend language classes,” Sambanis says. “Our research shows that bias and discrimination can be reduced via far less coercive measures—as long as immigration does not threaten core values that define the social identities of native populations.”

“The Hijab Penalty: Feminist Backlash to Muslim Immigrants” is the fourth study in a multiyear project on the topic of how to reduce prejudice against immigrants conducted by Sambanis and the team. The study’s co-authors, Choi and Poertner, started working on this project as postdoctoral fellows at the PIC Lab.

The new paper builds on the first leg of the project which was publishedin the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2019 and which explored whether discrimination against immigrants is reduced when immigrants show that they share civic norms that are valued by native citizens. That study found evidence that shared norms reduce but do not eliminate discrimination. The new study explores the impact of norms and ideas that are important to particular subgroups of the native population, and finds stronger effects when such norms are shared by immigrants.

The findings have implications for how to think about reducing conflict between native and immigrant communities in an era of increased cross-border migration, Sambanis says.

He and his co-authors conducted the large-scale field experiment in 25 cities across Germany involving more than 3,700 unknowing bystanders.

“Germany was a good case study because it has received the largest number of asylum applications in Europe since 2015, a result of the refugee crisis created by wars in Syria and other countries in the Middle East and Central Asia,” Sambanis says. “Germany has had a long history of immigration from Muslim countries since the early post-war period, and anti-immigrant sentiments have been high as a result of cultural differences. These differences are manipulated politically and become more salient.”

The intervention went like this: A woman involved in the study approached a bench at a train station where bystanders waited and drew their attention by asking them if they knew if she could buy tickets on the train.

She then received a phone call and audibly conversed with the caller in German regarding her sister, who was considering whether to take a job or stay at home and take care of her husband and her kids. The scripted conversation revealed the woman’s position on whether her sister has the right to work or a duty to stay at home to care for the family.

At the end of the phone call, a bag she was holding seemingly tears, making her drop a bunch of lemons, which scatter on the platform and she appeared to need help gathering them.

In the final step, team members who were not a part of the intervention observed and recorded whether each bystander who was within earshot of the phone call helped the women collect the lemons.

They experimentally varied the identity of the woman, who was sometimes a native German or an immigrant from the Middle East; and the immigrant sometimes wore a hijab to signal her Muslim identity and sometimes not.

They found that men were not very receptive to different messages regarding the woman’s attitude toward gender equality, but German women were. Among German women, anti-Muslim discrimination was eliminated when the immigrant woman signaled that she held progressive views vis-à-vis women’s rights. Men continued to discriminate in both the regressive and progressive conditions of the experiment.

It was a surprise that the experimental treatment did not seem to make a big difference in the behavior of men towards Muslim women.

“Women were very receptive to this message that we had about Muslims sharing progressive beliefs about women’s rights, but men were indifferent to it,” says Sambanis. “We expected that there would be a difference, and that the effect of the treatment would be larger among women, but we did not expect that it would be basically zero for men.”

The experiment makes gender identity more salient and establishes a common identity between native German women—most of whom share progressive views on gender—and the immigrant women in the progressive condition. This is the basis of the reduction of discrimination, Sambanis says, and it does not require coercive measures like forcing Muslims to take off the hijab. “You can overcome discrimination in other ways, but it is important to signal that that the two groups share a common set of norms and ideas that define appropriate civic behaviors.”

The results are surprising from the perspective of the prior literature, which assumed that it is very hard for people to overcome barriers created by race, religion, and ethnicity. At the same time, this experiment speaks to the limits of multiculturalism, says Sambanis. “Our work shows that differences in ethnic, racial, or linguistic traits can be overcome, but citizens will resist abandoning longstanding norms and ideas that define their identities in favor of a liberal accommodation of the values of others,” he says.

Nicholas Sambanis is a Presidential Distinguished Professor in the School of Arts & Sciences, chair of the Department of Political Science, and director of the Penn Identity and Conflict Lab at the University of Pennsylvania.

Source: The ‘hijab penalty’: Feminist backlash to Muslim immigrants in Germany | Penn Today