The cross : What can a book on the Islamic veil bring to the debate today?
Oissila Saaidia : I believe that, on this hot topic, we needed to broaden the focus to realize that the veil is not a typically European debate. I note in particular that Turkey and Tunisia had already taken measures to ban the veil, well before the 2004 law in France.
In my work, I combine two histories and two temporalities – those of Europe, in particular France, and Muslim societies – to show that there is a great plurality of positions which evolve over the long term, and cannot be reduced to a dichotomous vision of the clash of civilizations.
What is the veil the symbol of at the end of the 19th century in Muslim countries?
BONE : In these societies, the question of women’s veiling is part of a broader debate: that of knowing how to escape European domination; what social project to build and what will be the place of women in it? Those who can be called “traditionalists” believe that the role of women is that of pillar of the family and guardian of traditions. She must therefore keep her veil.
Others ask: “How can we envisage a social project if women – who represent half of the population – are not educated? » These defend the education of women and believe that, to promote it, they must leave the house and stop wearing the veil.
The debate on the veil then becomes a political issue…
BONE : In the interwar period, more and more women took up the subject and revealed themselves publicly, like the Egyptian Huda Sharawi, who, returning from a trip to Rome in 1923, removed her veil in a manner spectacular at Cairo train station.
In Turkey, Mustafa Kemal wants to modernize his country, by combining modernization and westernization. For him, the Western model is universal, which implies that men take off their fez and women take off their veil.
At the same time, Habib Bourguiba, father of Tunisian independence, established the personal status code in 1956, which abolished polygamy and forced marriage. In the 1930s, he did not yet attack the veil because he believed that religion was the last particle left to Muslims after colonization by Westerners. His first fight was to fight against the French presence. But, once the country is independent (in 1956, Editor’s note), he does not hesitate to reveal women live on television. The same politician can therefore adopt a different position depending on the context.
Did the year 1979 mark a turning point in the spread of the wearing of the veil?
BONE : With the Iranian revolution, the veil quickly became an obligation in the country. The whole world then discovered these veiled women. It is an important moment which associates the veil with political Islam: the Islamist parties will also make it their standard. During the 1980s, more and more women wore headscarves, although they remained a minority.
But they do not wear the traditional veils of Muslim societies: the hijab has appeared, so it is an innovation. At that time, Turkey and Tunisia passed laws banning the wearing of the veil. For authoritarian regimes like that of Bourguiba, wearing the hijab is the symbol of protest against political Islam.
You describe these women educated in Turkey, who wear the veil against the advice of their parents, saying that they present themselves as a third way between Muslim traditionalism and Western modernism…
BONE : This is what some want to embody. From now on, women go to school, the increase in education leads to an individualization of religion, and a challenge to religious and traditional authorities. Some women feel that they no longer need the imam to read the Koran. At the same time, they do not want to go back, return to the veils that their mothers wore and stay at home.
They want to be educated and participate in the life of society while wearing the veil to respect what, for them, is a religious obligation. These women are a minority. At the same time, feminists consider that they do not need to be veiled to educate themselves and work.
What do the “new veils” of the 2000s say?
BONE : In the 1980s and 1990s, women generally wore a dark-colored hijab, very low on the forehead, which hid the entire body. They weren’t wearing makeup. From the mid-2000s, veils of all colors appeared, women went out with a veil and jeans. Since 2011, in Tunisia, veiled women have been holding hands with their boyfriends in the street, and sitting on cafe terraces. Today, it is difficult to establish a direct causal link between political Islam and all these women. Especially since Islamist parties, like Ennahda in Tunisia, integrate into their ranks women who do not wear the veil.
In France, how can we understand all the successive cases surrounding the headscarf since 1989?
BONE : With the Creil affair, for the first time scarves are visible in the media in France. At the same time, their numbers are increasing in Tunisia and Turkey, so much so that the governments are reiterating their ban. Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, Islam is no longer perceived only as a religion in the West, but also as a threat.
Since then, positions have evolved. We must not underestimate either the social coercion that pushes women to wear the veil, nor the autonomy of those who have decided to wear it, whatever their reasons. In the 2010s, however, a novelty intervened in the discourse: women not only put forward the religious argument, but also said: “I do what I want with my body. » They have appropriated the discourse of rights, which is grafted onto religious reasons. We have moved from societies where tacit norms are shared by everyone to multi-normative societies. In this sense, these women who say “I do what I want”, in a liberal logic, are in touch with the society in which they live.