Reasons to Ban? The Anti-Burqa Movement in Western Europe

by Ralph Grillo and Prakash Shah

Working Papers WP 12-05
April 2012
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

Full text: pdf

During the 2000s, the dress of Muslim women in Muslim-minority countries in Europe and elsewhere became increasingly a matter for debate and, in several instances, the subject of legislation. In France, a ban on the wearing of the headscarf in places of education (2004) was followed in 2010 by the law criminalizing the wearing of the face-veil (usually but inaccurately referred to as the ‘burqa’) in public space. Other countries have enacted similar legislation. Muslim women’s dress has historically been a controversial matter in Muslim-majority countries, too, most recently in North Africa following the Arab Spring, but the present paper concentrates on the movement against face-veiling in Western Europe, documenting what has been happening and analysing the arguments proposed to justify criminalizing this type of garment. In doing so, the paper explores the implications for our understanding of contemporary (ethnically and religiously) diverse societies and their governance. Is anti-veiling legislation a protest against what is interpreted as an Islamic practice unacceptable in liberal democracies, a sign of a wider discomfort with non-European otherness, or an expression of an underlying racism articulated in cultural terms? Whatever the reason, is criminalization an appropriate response? An Appendix notes some topics for further research.

Ralph Grillo is Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Sussex.
Publications include: Pluralism and the Politics of Difference: State, Culture, and Ethnicity in Comparative Perspective, Clarendon Press (1998); editor of The Family in Question: Immigrant and Ethnic Minorities in Multicultural Europe, Amsterdam University Press (2008); co-editor of Legal Practice and Cultural Diversity, Ashgate (2009). Ralph Grillo is a member of the Advisory Group of the Department of Socio-Cultural Diversity of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity at Göttingen.
Website: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/anthropology/people/peoplelists/person/1090

Prakash Shah is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Law, Queen Mary, University of London.
Areas of research include ethnic minorities and diasporas in law, religion and law,  immigration, refugee and nationality law, comparative law, and legal pluralism. Editor
of Ashgate book series on Cultural Diversity and Law; publications include: Legal Practice and Cultural Diversity (Ashgate, 2009, joint editor), Law and Ethnic Plurality: Socio-Legal Perspectives (Martinus Nijhoff, 2007, editor), Migration, Diasporas and Legal Systems in Europe (RoutledgeCavendish, 2006, co-editor), The Challenge of Asylum to Legal Systems (Cavendish, 2005, editor), and Legal Pluralism in Conflict: Coping with Cultural Diversity in Law (Glass House, 2005).
Website: http://www.law.qmul.ac.uk/staff/shah.html

Islam, Muslims, Europe, Face-Veiling, Burqa, Women