Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Veil Bans in Western Europe: Interpreting Policy Diffusion

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Veil Bans in Western Europe: Interpreting Policy Diffusion

Article excerpt

Introduction

Within the first decade of this millennium, several Western European countries introduced Muslim veil-ban legislation in public schools and/or at local levels through city ordinances. Starting with France in 2010, nationwide bans on full-face Muslim veils were also adopted in Belgium, Italy, and the Netherlands. Despite some controversy, bans on Muslim veils were supported overwhelmingly by political parties and the public, were rooted on several accounts, and advocated by contrasting political ideologies. From the left, veil bans were justified by the concept of secularism or the exclusion of religion from the public sphere, and by the fact that these bans served to safeguard women's rights. From the right, Muslim veils were regarded as a symbol of Islamic fundamentalism and were thus a threat to national/regional security. In addition, legal bans were justified on the basis of cultural integration or assimilation of minorities to Western values and traditions, which in its extreme form may be interpreted as Islamophobia. (3)

This paper will examine the diffusion of full-face Muslim veil-ban laws in France, Belgium, Italy, and the Netherlands and will employ both external and internal determinants to explain this process. In the first case, it will examine factors that have influenced Western Europe systemically including immigration of people of Muslim origin; issues of regional/national security, particularly since 9/11; and a greater sense of a common European identity or Europeanism. Internally, this paper will analyze the political and social forces (political parties, institutions, and civil society) that have contributed to the adoption of policies in these four Western European countries. Overall, this integrative approach will shed light on how the external environment helped shape the internal policy-making processes in some countries but not in others.

Innovation-Diffusion Frameworks: Internal and External Determinants

Among political scientists generally, policy diffusion is a well-known contemporary approach for studying public policy, as demonstrated in Paul Sabatier's Theories of Policy Process. Over time, the framework has been refined both conceptually and methodologically. In the fifth edition of Diffusion of Innovations, Everett Rogers defines diffusion as a process in which members of a social system communicate innovations (2003:11). Policy diffusion typically refers to the process by which policymakers learn from the experiences of others and attempt to imitate their innovations or avoid them (Guenther 2008:58). This process "involves a set of assumptions about the nature of systems, how they interact, and how the environmental context will affect the units studied" (Starr 1991:367). The framework also examines how policy spreads from one country to another, and involves geographic and other structural factors to help explain it (Freeman & Tester 1996:13). Emanuel Adler (1991:51) observes that "there is a dynamic relationship between historical and structural forces that helps explain the nature of the diffusion of values." Adler identifies this dynamic process as "cognitive evolution." The author suggests that because "our ideas, beliefs, and behaviors are learned from other people," collective learning will be closely related to the ability of groups to convey their experiences to other groups.

As to the level of analysis, earlier works on diffusion showed a divide between scholars that identified internal factors as critical in policy diffusion and those who placed greater weight on external influences or the contagion effect of diffusion (Gray 1994, McClendon and Hearn 2006). Yet, recent literature suggests that a comprehensive approach to studying the diffusion of norms, values and policy should include a combination of external and internal determinants, bridging the artificial gap between what occurs within a state and outside of it (True and Mintrom 2001, Mintrom and Vegari 1991). …

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