In Sexuality, Health and Human Rights (Corrêa, Parker and Petchesky, 2008) we have examined the early 2000’s French controversies, which led to the banning of the use of veils in 2004, as an illustration of the political problems deriving from the attachment to and application un- problematized conceptions of laicité in the following terms:
“…the recent conflict over veiling in France is a story not only of racism and ethnic containment but also of gender and sexual power. Asad’s analysis shows that underlying this controversy is the contest between the French state and the French Islamic communities – both dominated by men and heedless of the desires of young Muslim women – over who shall protect the bodies and sexual virtue of women and girls in public space (2005, p. 4). It is an important argument, since the usual claim on behalf of liberal and feminist values is that any sort of covering, whether hijab or burqa, ‘is a symbol of fanaticism and the submission of women’, thus associating a ban on headscarves or veils with modernity and ending women’s oppression. However, As Ewing (2002) points out, in the name of these liberal values, girls have been forced to violate their beliefs, and some women in France, Turkey, and Germany have lost their jobs as public schoolteachers”.
Nothing suggest that since then conflicts and negative effects of veil banning –and related discrimination and violence — have decreased, but the topic has been for some time less visible in global public debates. Since May (2015), however, conflicts surrounding the use of the veil in France and elsewhere have resurfaced in a series of mainstream and alternative press and social media articles. This trail began with a New York Times article that, significantly enough, underlined the negative and discriminatory effects of the 2004 French law earlier appointed by a large number of academic studies. Not surprisingly the article triggered a wave of discussions both in the NYT website and the wider social media.
Two weeks later Tsolin Nalbantian reported in detail in Jadaliyya how she has been harassed and evicted from the Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam (OBA) merely because she was covering her head. Then on June, 2nd the new circulated about a US Supreme Court Decision in favor “of a Muslim woman who filed a lawsuit after she was denied a job at the Abercrombie & Fitch clothing chain because she wore a headscarf for religious reasons.”
These news and articles strongly suggest that the veil conflicts are far from unabated in Europe and the US. This should not come as a surprise in light of the growth of Islamophobia after the Paris attacks of January 2015 and the wider wave of xenophobia that is leading to the closure of European borders, not to mention the panic spiralling out of the Da’ish military operations in Iraq and Syria. In this environment — although the US Supreme Court decision — is to be appraised it is not hard to predict that in daily life women who use the veil, either they are Muslims or not, will continue to be targets of ethnocentric violence and discrimination in particular in societies located North of the Equator.