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Are Muslims the New Catholics? Europe's Headscarf Laws in Comparative Historical Perspective

24 Pages Posted: 8 Sep 2008 Last revised: 1 Dec 2010

Robert A. Kahn

University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)

Date Written: September 2, 2008

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.

Keywords: Comparative law, religious law, equality, discrimination, culture, religious minorities

Suggested Citation

Kahn, Robert A., Are Muslims the New Catholics? Europe's Headscarf Laws in Comparative Historical Perspective (September 2, 2008). Duke Journal of Comparative & International Law, Forthcoming ; U of St. Thomas Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-26. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1262536 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1262536

Robert A. Kahn (Contact Author)

University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota) ( email )

MSL 400, 1000 La Salle Avenue
Minneapolis, MN Minnesota 55403-2005
United States

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