The Headscarf Imbroglio: The Politicization of Veiling in France



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In early October 1989 three Muslim girls were expelled from a public high school in Creil, France for refusing to remove their headscarves while in school. The Headscarf Affair, as it later became known, prompted a series of legal rulings in France that attempted to reinforce the constitutional separation of church and state in the public sphere and outline the political and social relationship between Muslims and North African immigrants and the State. This apparent conflict of ideals, which occurs at the nexus of debates over religious freedom, gender equality, and the role of public education, raises questions regarding the more pragmatic issue of the assimilation of an increasing number of Muslim immigrants following decolonization. What is the role of the state, and thereby, the school, in the integration of immigrants and their children? Is there room for religious and cultural expression on the part of students or must all references to religion be separate from the primary conduit for assimilation in France? And finally, is French laïcité, or state-mandated secularism, capable of adapting to the contemporary religious and cultural environment in the country? This project traces the evolution of the headscarf debate in France between 1989 and 2004, situating the passage of the law in its religious, social, historical, and political context and analyzing the apparent culmination of this debate in 2004 when the parliament passed a law banning conspicuous displays of religiosity in public schools. This project also looks at the deeper implications of the headscarf debate for issues such as immigration, assimilation, and national identity. The trends identified in this project shed light on the recent conflagration of religious, cultural, and political tensions and predicts the future trajectory of the French headscarf imbroglio.



Veiling, Islam, France