Outsiders Within: Framing and Regulation of Headscarves in France, Germany and The Netherlands

Doutje Lettinga, Sawitri Saharso

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While women in Europe who wear the Islamic headscarf are generally seen as outsiders who do not belong to the nation, some countries are more tolerant towards the wearing of headscarves than others. France, Germany and the Netherlands have developed different policies regarding veiling. In this paper we describe how headscarves became regulated in each of these countries and discuss the ways in which French, Dutch and German politicians have deliberated the issue. The paper is based on a content analysis of parliamentary debates on veiling in France (1989–2007), Germany (1997–2007) and the Netherlands (1985–2007). Our aim is to discuss what these national political debates reveal about the way in which the social inclusion of Islamic women in (or rather exclusion from) the nation is perceived in these three countries. Our claim is that veiling arouses opposition because it challenges national self-understandings. Yet, because nations have different histories of nation building, these self-understandings are challenged in various ways and hence, governments have responded to headscarves with diverse regulation. While we did find national differences, we also discovered that the political debates in the three countries are converging over time. The trend is towards increasingly gendered debates and more restrictive headscarf policies. This, we hypothesize, is explained by international polarization around Islam and the strength of the populist anti-immigrant parties across Europe
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-39
JournalSocial inclusion
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Citizenship
  • Gender relations
  • Headscarf
  • Islam
  • Migration
  • Multiculturalism
  • State-church relations
  • Veil

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