France and the Headscarf: Exploring Discrimination through Laïcité and a Colonial Legacy

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On March 15, 2004, the lives of veiled Muslim women in France changed. A new law banned the Islamic headscarf in all public schools, claiming laïcité—secularism—as its reasoning. But this law was not solely the product of Islamophobia leftover from 9/11. It had been building for generations on a history of colonialism in North Africa as well as post-decolonization attitudes about immigration and Islam in the international sphere. This paper aims to disentangle this complicated concept of laïcité and how it has been manipulated in the past century to create a so-called “neutral” public sphere in which Muslims are placed in a subordinate position. Through an analysis of colonialism and its remnants as well as Islamophobia that has resulted from more current events portrayed in the media, this paper outlines the development of Arab and Muslim discrimination in France. In the final chapter, interviews from Muslim individuals in France are used to give them a proper voice in this debate, in which they are so often left unheard. Their stories act as the impetus to promote prolonged research and development of this topic in the future as events continue to unfold in France.





Tropper, Samantha (2013). France and the Headscarf: Exploring Discrimination through Laïcité and a Colonial Legacy. Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from

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