What the veil reveals: a critique of religious and secular debate over the headscarf

Baldi, Giorgia (2017) What the veil reveals: a critique of religious and secular debate over the headscarf. Doctoral thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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Abstract

The debate over the female headscarf has become an arena of fervent discussion in the West as well as in Muslim majority societies and it is often framed through the lens of a ‘clash of civilizations’ between western/‘secular’ and ‘religious’/traditional values. This thesis attempts to contribute critically to the recent debate and ‘obsession’ over the legal regulation of the hijab shared by westerns and Islamists. Trough anthropological, semiotic, political and legal theories, it proposes to give a different reading of the legal decisions over the practice of veiling in order to unwrap the way in which the tension between ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ is understood as an absolute polarization. A closer analysis of recent western legal decisions over women’s veiling reveals a disturbing symmetry with a positivized modern view of Sharia law by Islamists as binding women’s bodies to a fixed, transparent and singular ‘universal’ identity that is, I claim, analogous to a universal-ist subjectivity of Human Rights law. Thus, the veil emerges as the metaphor of a clash between two imperialist universalist modern discourses: the secular discourse of a westernised world that is re-humanised through Human Rights and the reactive Islamist discourse. Both aim at creating a fixed and monolithic subject of law through the control of the visible (veiling/unveiling) in the public sphere. The claim of an incompatible dichotomy between liberal/secular and ‘Islamic’ religious values obscures this symmetry. Moreover, I argue that this polarization is the result of a specifically Occidental (Christian/secular) semiotic understanding of religion and religious practices which is nowadays embedded in western law, but also in Islamist discourse. This dichotomy becomes a useful tool to sustain the fiction of a monolithic subject and to operate a re-configuration of religious sentiments and practices in the public sphere to benefit state sovereignty. This re-conceptualization emerges as a necessary sovereign act to preserve the unity and homogeneity of a people.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
School/Department: School of Law
Depositing User: ORBIT Editor
Date Deposited: 17 Aug 2017 16:02
Last Modified: 17 Aug 2017 16:02
URI: http://bbktheses.da.ulcc.ac.uk/id/eprint/270

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