Bigotry veiled as liberation Earlier this month, the European court of human rights (ECHR) issued a judgment in which it rejected a challenge to the controversial 2011 French law banning the wearing of face veils in public. The ruling has since sparked national debates across a number of western countries as to whether or not they should follow suit.

Even prior to this ruling, there has been a growing move to ban women from wearing the face veil and headscarf in various countries.

In 2011, both France and Belgium moved to ban the wearing of the face veil in public, with the Netherlands quickly following suit a year later. Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Spain and Australia also have partial or proposed laws seeking to either ban or place restrictions on the face veil and the headscarf. In Germany several states have imposed a ban on all religious symbols in schools, including the headscarf. The suggestion that these restrictions are secular is rubbished by the fact that Christian symbols of dress are exempted, including the nun’s habit – a head covering very similar to the Muslim headscarf.

In certain Muslim countries there are bans on both the face veil and headscarf. For example, in Kosovo, the headscarf is banned in schools and a similar draft law was tabled in Albania. Since the era of Turkey’s Kemal Ataturk, religious symbols such as the fez and the headscarf were viewed as an attack on secularism and a symbol of political Islam. However, unlike Iran’s Reza Shah Pahlavi, who had his security apparatus forcefully remove the hijab (headscarf, veil, full-length garment) from Muslim women in the street, Ataturk focused his attention on male symbols of Islamic dress. It was not until 1984 that the Turkish headscarf ban came into place. Women were both legally and socially prohibited from wearing the headscarf in educational, governmental and political institutions. While recent constitutional court decisions have moved to reverse the ban on the headscarf, the damage to generations of women forced to choose religious conviction over education is irreversible.

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