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  • Citizenship and the Nation-State
  • Elena Vesselinov (bio)
John Richard Bowen’s Why the French Don’t Like Headscarves: Islam, the State, and Public Space. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007
Joyce P. Kaufman and Kristen P. Williams’s Women, the State, and War: A Comparative Perspective on Citizenship and Nationalism. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2007
Citizenship and Ethnic Conflict: Challenging the Nation-State. Edited by Haldun Gülalp. London: Routledge, 2006

The three books reviewed in this essay explore questions of citizenship rights brought to the fore by changing national and global social contexts. Bowen’s book, Why The French Don’t Like Headscarves: Islam, The State, and Public Space, presents a case study of contentions arising between the secularist, laïcité traditions of the French state and the desire of young Muslim women to cover their hair in accordance with religious Islamic traditions. In their book, Women, the State, and War: A Comparative Perspective on Citizenship and Nationalism, Kaufman and Williams discuss four case studies focusing on women’s rights in the United States, the former Yugoslavia, Israel, and Northern Ireland, respectively. Last, Gülalp’s edited volume, Citizenship and Ethnic Conflict: Challenging the Nation-State, incorporates six case studies, each exploring the historic formulations and contestations of what constitutes nationness among diverse groups (in Germany, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq).

Interestingly enough, whether the authors discuss headscarves, women’s rights, or the role of religious and ethnic groups in state unity, the common theme among all books becomes the link between minorities and citizenship rights. Religious garb is not an issue in Israel or Iraq; it becomes problematic in conjunction with minority status and the secularist nation-state. Women’s lack of political, economic, and social rights well into the twentieth century, even in most economically advanced countries, not only has contributed to their vulnerable position in times of conflict, but also continues to require the separation of women as a subjugated minority, whose rights need special protection. Not to mention, of course, [End Page 335] that in many countries around the world, women still lack the most basic human rights.

Therefore, in this review essay, I will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each book through the prism of minority rights; it seems to me that there are inherent contradictions related to the place of minorities in the very inception of the nation-state. Each of these contradictions constitutes a recurring theme in the three books. The first theme is related to the very definition of what makes up a minority group and the extent to which such groups are recognized and protected by the state. The second theme is that in the liberal tradition of nation-state building, the state has to be separated from religion. However, in some states specific religion is part of the constitution, which jeopardizes equality before the law, as well as groups that profess different religious beliefs. The third theme stems from the consolidation of the nation-state as protecting individual rights and freedoms. As we will see below, in many cases such protection is insufficient, and measures are needed to safeguard collective well-being. The atrocities conducted against minorities in times of conflict is the most important example. Finally, as a result of violent conflicts, and evident throughout the twentieth century and in the three books, national boundaries change and new nation-states emerge, together with new minority groups within them. The contemporary process of nation-state building can no longer be based solely on the eighteenth-century liberal ideas of nation, state, and rights. These ideas corresponded well to the stages of “print capitalism” in Europe (Andersen 1991), with its need for national markets, protection of boundaries, and state control. The new political, economic, environmental, and conflict realties require continuous rethinking of what constitutes a nation, a national identity, political sovereignty, majority, and minority. None of the books addresses this last theme explicitly; however, all of them present an excellent opportunity to learn and think about the contemporary contentions between nation, state, and citizenship rights.

Recognition of Minorities

We cannot easily find a term to better depict the uneasy coexistence of nation and state than “minority group.” Long...


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pp. 335-349
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