Muslims and Citizens: France’s Headscarf Controversy

By John R. Bowen Headscarves are back in the headlines in France this year. Now the scarves are collectively called le voile (the veil), suggesting a full facial covering, rather than, more accurately, foulards islamiques (Islamic scarves), the term used in past years. The stakes have been raised since 1989, when the scarves first sparked debate. In that year the Ayatollah Khomeni issued his fatwa against Salman Rushdie, Algeria’s Islamist political movement coalesced, and the intifada was heating up. In France attention was focused on three middle school girls who were keeping their heads covered in class. Accused of attacking France’s principle of public secularism (la_cit_) by wearing signs of their religion, the girls were expelled. Their expulsion did not, however, keep France’s finest intellectuals from taking pens in hand to denounce the scarves and to urge schoolteachers not to give ground, lest they bring about a “Munich of the Republican School.”