Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Headscarf Politics

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Headscarf Politics

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: "Secularism, State Policies, and Muslims in Europe: Analyzing French Exceptionalism" by Ahmet T. Kuru, in Comparative Polities, Oct. 2008.

ALONE OF THE MAJOR COUNTRIES in Europe, France has passed legislation prohibiting students from wearing headscarves in school. The ban, which affects fewer than 1,500 students, has cost the French government time, money, and international credibility, writes Ahmet T. Kuru, a political scientist at San Diego State University. Why would France waste resources on such an economically and politically marginal issue?

The answer, he submits, goes back to the French Revolution of 1789 and the long period thereafter when the nation veered between secular republicanism and Catholic monarchy. In the immediate aftermath of the revolution, tens of thousands of clerics fled the country or were imprisoned. Church lands were expropriated, and about 3,000 priests were guillotined. Later, education became the battleground in what was called the "war of two Frances" About 15,000 Catholic schools were closed, and tens of thousands of clerical teachers lost their jobs. As the 20th century began, three factors helped the secularists: the disorganization of Catholics, republican electoral gains, and the Dreyfus scandal (1894-1906), in which a young Jewish military officer was wrongly convicted of treason with the help of a forged document as army leaders sought to preserve the traditional social order. In 1905, the Catholic Church was legally severed from the French state. …

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