NCSR 2008 - Urban Diversity and Religious Traditions
13-15 August 2008, Åbo Akademi University

Headscarf Hysteria? A critical reading of the “Debré Report”

Johanna Konttori

The decision by a French headmaster not to allow three Muslim girls to come to school before removing their Islamic headscarves was the incident that in autumn 1989 sparked a nation-wide debate that was to continue until 2004. The debate, known as the headscarf affair, dealt not only with a pupil’s right to express his or her religious adherence in public school environment, but also with issues such as immigration policies, women’s rights and national identity.
In 2003, prior to a law banning ostentatious religious symbols in state schools, several reports dealing with the headscarf question were published. This paper takes a critical look at the report of a parliamentary commission headed by the then Speaker of the National Assembly, Jean-Louis Debré. It is argued that Muslims are represented as at least a potential social problem in many parts of the report. The problematic features linked with Muslims and Islam include the disturbance of schools? normal functioning, the submission of women, and the willingness to emphasize one’s Muslim identity in the public sphere.