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Hijab and the Republic

Uncovering the French Headscarf Debate

Bronwyn Winter

Publication Year: 2008

The hijab is arguably the most discussed and controversial item of women’s clothing today. It has become the primary global symbol of female Muslim identity for Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and is the focus of much debate in the confrontation between Islam and the West. Nowhere has this debate been more acute or complex than in France. In Hijab and the Republic, Bronwyn Winter provides a riveting account of the controversial 2004 French law to ban Islamic headscarves and other religious signs from public schools. While much has been written on the subject, Winter offers a unique feminist perspective, carefully delineating its political and cultural aspects.

Published by: Syracuse University Press

Title Page, List of Similar Titles, Copyright Page, Epigraph, About the Author

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

None of us work in isolation or unaided so of course there are a number of people who deserve thanks for this book. First, I would like to thank the many women in France, too numerous to name, who, over more than two decades, spoke with me, campaigned with me, sent me documents, invited me to meetings, communicated insights, and encouraged me in my...


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pp. xi-xii

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Introduction: Why France?

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pp. 1-15

One autumn day in May 2006, as I crossed a parking lot at the elite university where I work in Sydney, a young hijab-clad woman crossed my path. The fact that she was wearing a modern Islamic headscarf was in itself unremarkable. What caught my eye was the combination of the hijab with the rest of her clothing, which was not only Western but also as body-hugging...

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Part One. Contextualizing the Debate

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pp. 17-20

These first three chapters paint the historical and contemporary backdrop against which the French hijab debate has been waged. They will focus respectively on the “new veiling” in the Muslim world and diaspora in the last few decades of the last century and the beginning of this one, as well as the rise of Islamism, its relationship to modernity and its hostility to the...

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1. Very Modern Tradition: Background to the “New Veiling"

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pp. 21-52

Many scholars have noted that women are the guardians of culture and honor, and women’s appearance and body language have been the primary visible marker of this.1 Clothing symbolizes women’s submission, rebellion, or emancipation, and through these, society’s progress, security, or moral degradation, as debates in the West over the last century concerning...

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2. The “Cornerstone of the Republic”: Secularism and the Regulation of Religion

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pp. 53-88

It has often been said that the French idea of la

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3. French Muslims: Between “Integration” and “Muslimism”

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pp. 89-124

The development during the 1970s and 1980s of a postcolonial French population that had, now that the postwar boom was over, become associated with socioeconomic problems, gave rise to a sort of national identity crisis and concerns over “immigration,” which were in part manufactured by the extreme-right party Front National and its leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen....

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Part Two. A Fifteen-Year Saga

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pp. 125-128

The political, media, and legal plemic about the hijab in France has been long and not entirely linear. It has had peaks and troughs, hardening and softening of stances. In particular, the ways in which it has been imbricated within wider national and international debates on race, nation, women, religion, “Muslimness,” and secularism have changed significantly...

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4. 1989: Three Little Girls and a Great Big “Psychodrama”

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pp. 129-162

On September 18, 1989, Le

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5. 1990–1995: From Psychodrama to Saga

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pp. 163-196

Estimates of the total number of headscarf incidents between 1989 and 2003 vary according to the source, as do those of total numbers of headscarved girls: there are a range of opinions on the subject and hard data, outside cases that went to court, are hard to come by. Hanifa Ch

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6. 1995–2004 and Beyond: How Ostentatiousness Became Conspicuous

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pp. 197-232

During the years between 1995 and 9/11, the hijab issue neither went away nor showed any particular signs of escalating beyond what was already in place, and it tended to occupy less space in the public arena than it had during the 1994–95 peak. It continued, however, to be an irritant, more acutely so at some moments than others, with both the white French and...

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Part Three. Feminists Caught in the Contradictions

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pp. 233-236

...I wrote these words in 2001, in the context of a debate on the diversity of feminist activism and feminist positionings with relation to religion. Nowhere are they more true than within the French debate over the hijab and related issues, particularly in its third resurgence in 2003–6. Suddenly everyone was claiming to be the voice of feminism. Caught in the crossfire...

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7. The Politics of Hijabization

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pp. 237-265

Commentators , both headscarved and not, have advanced various reasons for wearing the hijab. Many of these reasons correspond with those I discussed in chapter 1, within the framework of the politics of reveiling in the Arabo-Muslim and Middle-Eastern Muslim world from the 1970s onward. The degree to which the argument holds that “it’s not the same” in...

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8. Co-optations and Instrumentalizations

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pp. 266-305

In 1989, many commentators on both sides of the fence had referred to the girls as the center of the affair as “hostages” in a social debate that was ultimately not about them. Some fourteen to fifteen years later, little had changed on this level. If anything, it had worsened. Even if, by 2003, feminists were more vocally and visibly participating...

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9. Feminist Confusions and Confrontations

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pp. 306-343

...so wrote Brigitte and Twefik Allal, co-originators of the Manifeste des libert

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Conclusion: French Lessons for the West?

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pp. 344-348

It is a cause for deep concern that in the 2003–5 period, two or three thousand hijab-clad girls, the French Islamist “brotherhood,” and a few thousand men behaving very badly indeed for three weeks in 2005 managed to hijack the French race debate, not to mention the debate on women’s rights, with the main government responses being punishment on one level...

Appendix: Chronology

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pp. 351-354


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pp. 355-356


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pp. 357-383


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pp. 385-419

E-ISBN-13: 9780815651321
E-ISBN-10: 0815651325
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815631743
Print-ISBN-10: 081563174X

Page Count: 416
Publication Year: 2008

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Clothing and dress -- Political aspects -- France.
  • Islam and secularism -- France.
  • France -- Race relations.
  • Muslim women -- Clothing -- France.
  • Veils -- Social aspects -- France.
  • Hijab (Islamic clothing) -- France.
  • Clothing and dress -- Religious aspects -- Islam.
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