“A top Quebec court mostly upheld a provincial law banning Jews and other religious minorities who work in public from wearing religious symbols such as yarmulkes, crucifixes and hijabs in their places of employ,” David Lazarus recently wrote for the JTA.
“Bill 21 was passed by the province’s Coalition Avenir QuÈbec government in June 2019, ostensibly to promote state neutrality, and the law remains popular among Quebec citizens. But critics say the real aim of the law is to discourage Muslim women who are state employees from wearing hijabs to work.”
I know nothing about Canada, except that my cousin moved up there, gets five feet of snow every winter and once shot a moose. Plus, it’s a big country, so I really can’t say what this one law would mean. However, I have to ask: what would we do, were something like this to happen here in Nebraska?
There are many places where anti-Muslim sentiment has led lawmakers to suggest sweeping changes that affect the Jewish population as well. Especially in Europe, where kashrut and circumcision are regularly under attack, it’s hard not to think of Jews as collateral damage. So many Muslim customs have a corresponding Jewish one. As in many of those places, Jews are a small community in Nebraska. I don’t know how we would approach it if these types of laws were suggested here.
There is something strange about the ban on head coverings in particular. Covering one’s head, in and of itself, can’t be problematic. People of all cultures have covered their heads for millennia, in most cases it’s a sign of respect. Respect for one’s religion, for one’s community decency laws, respect for each other. There is nothing particularly threatening about someone wearing a hat, wig or wrap, regardless the reason. That is, unless that head covering signifies membership in a hateful organization, for instance when it holds certain insignia, or when it’s made out of a white bedsheet to match someone’s robe.
Some people might argue a hijab or a kippah fall within that category. Even if that line of thinking were justified (it isn’t), the hijab in and of itself is still just a piece of fabric, sitting there, doing nothing. The yarmulka does not believe, or act, or harm others. The outward signs of who we are are just that: signs. Removing them or telling us we can no longer wear them does exactly nothing to change who we are.
The proponents of these types of laws know this, just as they know outlawing kosher or halal slaughter will not change our fundamental beliefs. And maybe that’s not the objective. Perhaps the objective is not to change us, but to simply make life more difficult. A reminder that we are not in charge, that the things we hold dear can be taken away at any given moment. A sign of things to come: today, we take your kippah, tomorrow we’ll take your kosher brisket; who knows what we’ll take next week. Maybe your synagogues, your mosques, maybe your freedom.
Anti-semitism and Islamophobia in Europe have always had an element of bullying. Jews and Muslims are like the unpopular kids on the playground, they should and will be teased and mocked. And just like those kids, we often take it out on each other.
There is no fundamental difference between telling muslims they can’t wear a hijab and telling merchants they can’t sell Israeli products unless they jump through impossible hoops.
I don’t know if the atmosphere in Quebec is like that. I do know that when I see proposed bills barring religious symbols it makes my skin crawl. It is a short route from barring hijabs and kippot to introducing other, more dangerous measures.