For several years now, the Muslim headscarf has been the subject of heated debate between Dutch political parties. However, other European countries also host widely diverging opinions on the Islamic veil. When she was conducting research for her doctoral thesis, Doutje Lettinga found that there is considerable variety in the outcome of these debates.
Doutje Lettinga from the VU University Amsterdam conducted research into the international political debate on the headscarf. She came to the conclusion that national ideas about religion and ethnicity play an important role.
“France has a secular tradition. Religion is seen as belonging in the private realm. In the Netherlands, expressions of faith are allowed in public spaces, and all religions are seen as equal. In some German federal states majority groups are allowed to wear religious symbols, whereas minorities are not. A nun, for instance, is allowed to teach while wearing a habit.”
Hundreds of debates
The rise of populist parties has put the headscarf back in a prominent place on the political agenda. Critics see the headscarf as a symbol of the failed integration of migrants and the oppression of women. In the Netherlands – where criticism of the ‘multi-cultural’ society has been growing since the 1990s – the political debate involves a growing number of participants. Doutje Lettinga says the women wearing the headscarf are being ignored.
“Out of the hundreds of debates and political discussions that I’ve seen, only a few bothered to invite women who wear headscarves to speak their mind. Only Muslimas who were critical of the headscarf were given a voice, in particular in France and Germany. In the Netherlands, women who wear headscarves could address their grievances to the Equal Treatment Commission, which was an important forum for Muslimas seeking to assert their rights.”