The Islamic scarf in France today: an issue of interculturalism

Dora Carpenter-Latiri

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapter


The aim of this paper is to sidestep the dualism of the arguments for and against acceptance of the Islamic headscarf in France, and to analyse comments and arguments heard from all sides in the debate using tools of linguistic analysis to reveal underlying attitudes and ways of thinking. I draw on my experience as a lexicographer to examine the terms used to refer to the headscarf in various forms of discourse including standard reference dictionaries. I have assembled a unique sample of these terms, and I also examine the actual verses of the Qu’ran in which the prescription appears. I look at a wide corpus including radio programmes, press articles and blogs, in which French people, from famous intellectuals to anonymous students, express their views and reveal the premises on which they base their arguments. These premises reveal conflicting issues of identity, over the spectrum going from what might be termed a secular republican fundamentalism to Islamic fundamentalism, with groups appealing to republican and/or Muslim ideals to justify opposing stances. A particular case I examine is the way feminism is invoked to justify both positions, one seeing the headscarf as a symbol of male oppression, the other as a pragmatic means of empowerment. New representations of French and Muslim identities emerge, as well as different ways of asserting identity among the French Muslim community, especially young women in that community.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIntercultural Spaces: Language, Culture, Identity
EditorsAileen Pearson-Evans, Angela Leahy
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherPeter Lang Publishing Group
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)9780820495460
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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