Sunday, April 3, 2011

Rethinking the Veil: West Virginia Weekend

The boundaries between religion and government are struggles in every state and nation, not only in the current conflicts in the Middle East, but also in West Virginia.  WV Weekend Logo

In Turkey, the practice of veiling or the wearing of headscarves has conflicted with the constitutional mandates of strict securalism.  It is this conflict that is the subject of Professor Valorie K. Vojdik's article, Politics of the Headscarf in Turkey: Masculinities, Feminism, and the Construction of Collective Identities, 33 Harv. J. L. & Gender 661 (2010).

Vojdik writes:

Veiling has multiple meanings that can be understood only by closely examining its social and historical context in a particular location and time.  The headscarf is not solely a religious symbol or practice, nor its regulation merely an issue used to construct power relations between men and women, because secularists and Islamists, between the West and political Islam.

Id. at 663.  Vojdik argues that in "Turkey, the headscarf issue is a proxy for political struggle between secularists and Islamists. Covering constructs boundaries of identity and difference—boundaries between men and women, between Turkish secular elites and political Islamic leaders, and between the global West and transnational Islam. Yet women have been critical agents in this debate." Id.. at 663-64. 

399px-Dame_turque_voilée Professor Vojdik provides a brief history of veiling and discusses the decisions of the Turkish Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights upholding bans on headscarves, but her major emphasis is looking "beyond a rights-based analysis"  to the social and political context of the Turkish ban on veiling. To this end, Vojdik looks to the present role of Turkish women in the headscarf debate.

Ultimately, the author concludes that

 [b]oth secularists and Islamist political parties have used the veil, and the regulation of women’s bodies, to embody competing notions of the state and national identity.  This local struggle for a hegemonic masculinity constructs local gender relations, yet it is also part of the historical and contemporary struggle between the West and Islam.

 Id. at 684.  By concentrating on Turkey, a nation that is constitutionally secular but with a deep religious history and thus similar to the United States, Vojdik illuminates the gendered boundaries between religion and state.


with J. Zak Ritchie

[image: Ottoman woman in a veil, circa 1880s, courtesy NY Public Library Collection via]

Comparative Constitutionalism, Free Exercise Clause, Gender, Scholarship | Permalink

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Those interested in this topic might want to read a post last year from, which includes a short list of recommended reading with regard to "veiling." See:

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Apr 4, 2011 9:45:08 PM

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