The Headscarf Debate in France and the Netherlands: Conflicts of Belonging in National Narratives

Academic & Research
Monday, January 16, 2012 - 5:30pm
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Monday, January 16, 2012 - 5:30pm to 7:00pm
Nador u. 9, Monument Building
Popper room
Open to the Public

In both popular and scholarly analyses, the headscarf, the burka and niqab, have come to symbolize the decline of the coherent nation state, a decline that is either embraced as bringing us one step closer to a cosmopolitan order or seen as threatening the very coherence of society. In collaborative work with Gökçe Yurdakul (Humboldt University Berlin), we take a different approach and show that the headscarf debates are not a rupture of nationhood. Rather, the nation is being reinvented by different political actors, including Muslim women and men, in debates such as those surrounding the headscarf and we demonstrate that contemporary debates about the way Muslim women cover their bodies show what it means to be German, Dutch, French or Turkish. We analyze newspaper discussions of the headscarf, niqab and burka in these four countries, treating the newspaper media as a proxy for the public sphere more generally. In each of these countries, a wide array of political actors, including politicians, newsmakers, and representatives of sub-state communities, among them headscarf-wearing Muslim women themselves, participate in these debates. In discussing the headscarf, they produce national narratives by drawing from the historical repertoires that informed the construction of these nation-states. In this process, they demarcate belonging through the inclusions and exclusions associated with race, ethnicity, gender, and religion. This talk focuses on the French and Dutch cases.