Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Kahn on Europe's Headscarf Laws in Comparative Historical Perspective

Are Muslims the New Catholics? Europe's Headscarf Laws in Comparative Historical Perspective is a new paper by Robert A. Kahn, University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota). On the topic of U.S. anti-religious garb laws, I recommend highly Linda Grathwohl, The North Dakota Anti-Garb Law: Constitutional Conflict and Religious Strife, Great Plains Historical Quarterly, vol. 13 (Summer 1993): 187 (written by one of my students in the research seminar I blogged about recently). Here's Kahn's abstract:
European opponents of the headscarf often view themselves as engaged in a "struggle against totalitarianism." This paper explores an alternative framing: What if Muslims - rather than Nazis or Communists in training - are the more like nineteenth century Catholics, who were seen as a religious threat to European (and US) liberalism? To explore this idea, my paper looks at the headscarf debate through the lens of the German Kulturkampf (1871-1887) and nineteenth century US laws that banned public school teachers from wearing clerical garb. I reach two tentative conclusions. First, many of the claims made against European Muslims - especially about the "backward" nature of the religion - were also made against Catholics. Second, just as the Kulturkampf (and US clerical garb laws) failed to create a new "modern" Catholic, headscarf laws will not create Islamic moderates. However, the ultimate incorporation of Catholics in the years after 1945 suggest a more hopeful future - one that will come quicker if there is less legal repression.

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