Gender Studies

Why the French Don’t Like Headscarves: Islam, the State, and Public Space

John R. Bowen, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007. 290 pages.

Western anthropologists are typically concerned with interpreting the non-western world’s unfamiliar cultures for western audiences. The French law banning the hijab from public schools presents itself as just as baffling as any non-western custom. Thus, it is fully understandable that it would take an American anthropologist to interpret this event, especially for those in Anglo-Saxon cultures, where in spite of Islamophobia and discrimination against the hijab, concepts of religious tolerance and multiculturalism have generally translated into legal protections for women  and girls who wish to wear it in public spaces. So with a catchy title designed to appeal to this widespread bafflement, the author seeks to explain the intellectual underpinnings and political processes that led to this banning of “ostentatious” religious symbols in public schools on March 15, 2004.

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