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Geneva residents on Sunday voted for a controversial new "secularism law", which will among other things ban elected officials and public employees from wearing visible religious symbols.

Quebec to ban public workers from wearing religious symbols

More than 55 percent of voters in the Swiss canton backed the law, final results showed, despite warnings that it could lead to discrimination, particularly against Muslim women. Some critics think it might violate the constitution. Geneva Canton, which for centuries has been a centre of religious freedom and tolerance, has been striving to replace a law on the books since The new law's stated ambition is to expand the dialogue between religious groups and the state, and to better define the limits to religious expression in the public sphere. Supporters say it will help clarify existing principles in the Geneva Constitution to protect the religious freedom of believers and non-believers alike.

The right-leaning cantonal parliament adopted the text last April. But the far left, the Greens, feminist organisations, unions and Muslim groups all opposed it, and collected enough signatures to force the issue to a public vote. Critics claim the law will have an oppressive and discriminatory effect, with some condemning it as Islamophobic and warning that Muslim women who wear a headscarf are being targeted. Muslim women face the brunt of Islamophobic bigotry.

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In contrast, in European and Quebecois political and popular discourse over the past decade, hijabs and niqabs have come to symbolize terrorism, thus reconstituting Muslim women from cause to enemy, from subjugated victim to powerful terrorist. According to proponents, bans on religious coverings are meant to liberate Muslim women from oppression, emancipate them into secularism, and deter them from violence.

Muslims take part in a vigil for the victims of the New Zealand mosque shootings held in Toronto on March Creative Touch Imaging Ltd. Workers currently in place in any of these professions will be allowed to continue wearing their religious symbols.

Quebec considers ban on religious symbols for public servants

The proposed legislation would also be a de facto niqab ban, as it forbids people from delivering or receiving government services with their faces covered. For many European politicians, hijabs and niqabs signify attacks of mass violence and threats to national defense. France banned religious symbols from public schools in and outlawed face veils in all public spaces in It degrades the dignity and equality of women. Demonstrators hold placards and banners as they gather to protest a ban on the wearing of face veils in Copenhagen on Aug.

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The ban was not an isolated salvo against Muslim immigrants in Denmark. More broadly, over the past decade, media and political rhetoric have shaped public perceptions of the veil.

Three types of rights clashes are involved

Preben Brock Jacobsen, the author of the book Islam in the Media, has found that between and , Danish media articles conflated Islam with terrorism and oppression three times more often than articles presenting Islam as peaceful. Ironically, Western governments are oppressing the same women: Across countries with veil bans, Muslim women consistently protest that they have had no voice in whether and how such laws about their bodies should be entertained or implemented.

Common crimes include spitting on a hijabi or trying to rip off her veil. That means its far more likely to go into effect. While Europe and Canada are pluralistic in makeup, the broad support for veil bans and for xenophobic sentiment show that they are far from pluralist in spirit.


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Veil bans meant to safeguard national security threaten to inflame white supremacist violence. When the Quebecois National Assembly votes on Bill 21 this month, they can reverse a troubling trend and prevent it from going trans-Atlantic.


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  • A previous version of this article misstated the years for which data was collected. Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola. Militant secularism has a long, troubled history in France, from paranoia over nun's wimples to the Dreyfusard anti-Jesuit campaigns. Where will it end? As Europe's Muslim population continues to grow, Islamic dress, particularly the controversial burqa, has become a focus for wrenching political disputes.

    Quebec to bar public servants from wearing religious symbols - BBC News

    From Belgium, which is leading the way toward a full ban, to Turkey, whose enforced secularism inspired the new policies in the West, here's a look at five places where the debate is most contentious. Sign up for free access to 1 article per month and weekly email updates from expert policy analysts. Create a Foreign Policy account to access 1 article per month and free newsletters developed by policy experts.


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