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On Labor, Language And Headscarves

Woman wearing an Islamic veil in Paris
Woman wearing an Islamic veil in Paris
Jillian Deutsch


Most talk of the "changing nature of work" focuses on the shift to freelance labor, the fracturing of traditional office culture and the entitlement of pesky millennials entering the workforce. But the established workplace — wherever it may be — is still here, and there are plenty of new tensions that have nothing to do with Uber sick leave or other twists in the so-called "gig economy."

Yesterday, the European Union's Court of Justice (EJC) ruled that employers can ban the traditional hijab Muslim headscarf from the workplace. The case came after a Belgian woman was fired in 2006 when she began wearing her hijab to work. The Luxembourg-based court ruled, however, that customers or clients cannot demand a worker remove the veil after a related case in France.

Interviewed by Le Monde, Sophie Gherardi, director for the Center for Contemporary Religious Studies, noted that the decision merely provides the national courts with guidance. "The decisions of the ECJ are very nuanced" depending on the country's view of religion in the workplace. After all, the French conception of secularism (laïcité), a longstanding legal pillar, considers public religious symbols taboo. Meanwhile, Gherardi explains, individual religious protections are much stronger in Germany.

How do you say: "Look out, bulldozer coming!" in French?

But it's an interesting time for the court to take up the subject, as nationalist and right-wing politicians are gaining traction across Europe (including the Netherlands, which is holding national elections today), and questions of religious freedom intersect with concerns about immigration. The latest figures showed that in 2014, some 3.8 million people immigrated to one of the 28 European Union countries, according to the European Commission. About 1.6 million have come from non-EU countries.

The hijab-in-the-workplace issue is not brand new in Europe. Many have implemented or proposed at least some kind of ban on the Islamic veil. But it's not the only policy a government has put into effect that has been criticized for being indirectly discriminatory.

The Île-de-France region created its own controversy earlier this month after including the "Molière clause" in a new law to require public works contracts are awarded to companies whose employees speak French.

The region says it adopted the policy for safety reasons (How do you say: "Look out, bulldozer coming!" in French?). But others accuse the policy of intentionally discriminating against foreign workers. Ahead of France's own national elections, next week's first televised debate can expect some lively discussion on the Molière clause — and on Muslim headscarves too.

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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