In This Review

The Headscarf Controversy: Secularism and Freedom of Religion
The Headscarf Controversy: Secularism and Freedom of Religion
By Hilal Elver
Oxford University Press, USA, 2012, 288 pp.

Elver analyzes the headscarf debate in Denmark, Germany, the United States, and especially France and Turkey. She advocates protecting headscarves by enforcing a right to personal religious choice. The European Court of Human Rights should be more consistently secular in its jurisprudence, she argues, particularly as applied to Muslim symbols, adding that attempts to ban headscarves rest on prejudice and misunderstanding. The real and often silent victims of a ban, she claims, are women who freely choose the head-scarf and must thus endure the “social tragedy” of isolation. Other unintended consequences, she maintains -- without much empirical evidence -- include the de facto exclusion of Muslim women from the workplace and the encouragement of religious fundamentalism. In most Western countries, the headscarf question (at least concerning adults) has been all but resolved in favor of Elver’s position, with the debate now largely restricted to more extreme forms of traditional religious dress, such as the burqa and the niqab, which conceal nearly the entire body. The book provides an insightful perspective on this trend, grounded more in constitutional law than empirical sociology or political history.