The Headscarf

A Political Symbol in Comparative and Historical Perspective

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Author: Elisa Wiygul
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The headscarf has become a cultural flashpoint, a freighted symbol of many of the central social, cultural, political, and religious tensions of this first decade of the twenty-first century. When I first began to research the French controversy surrounding the Muslim headscarf in 2001, it was little known in the United States. Since then, the issue has attained global prominence. In late 2003, the Stasi Commission, which Prime Minister Jacques Chirac had appointed several months earlier, recommended a ban on wearing the Muslim headscarf in public primary and secondary schools.1 The legislature promptly passed such a ban, which became law on 15 March 2004.2 Since then, Germany, Turkey, and Britain, among other countries, have wrestled with their own headscarf controversies. The debate reached international proportions when the European Court of Human Rights upheld Turkey’s ban on the headscarf in universities, in the 2005 case of Sahin v. Turkey.

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