gambetta2_Jonathan RaaNurPhoto via Getty Images_hijab Jonathan RaaNurPhoto via Getty Images

Freedom in the Veil

Pandering to nativist sentiment, many European countries have placed restrictions on traditional Muslim headscarves, typically in the name of modernization. But very religious women often decide to wear a veil because signaling their enduring piety makes them feel freer to integrate into secular society.

TURIN/LONDON – The latest controversy over the hijab, the headscarf worn by Muslim women, erupted at the end of October. Ironically, the trigger was an anti-discrimination campaign launched by the Council of Europe.

The Council posted a short video on its social media channels comprising a series of images split in half. One side features a woman wearing a hijab, and the other shows the same woman without the head covering. At the end of the video, the text “Beauty is in diversity as freedom is in hijab” appears, followed by the hashtags #celebratediversity and #JOYinHIJAB.

The video caused an uproar in France, where government spokesman Gabriel Attal was quoted by the Financial Times as saying that “one shouldn’t confuse religious freedom with the de facto promotion of a religious symbol.” Attal called wearing the hijab an “identitarian” position “contrary to the freedom of conscience that France supports.” The French minister for youth and sport, Sarah El Haïry, spoke out forcefully against the video and claimed credit for the Council’s decision to withdraw it from circulation. Right-wing politicians such as Marine le Pen and Michel Barnier and prominent television pundits added their voices to the criticism of the campaign.

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