Fabric-ating the Other: Burqa Controversy from the Perspective of Colonial “Textile Policy”

By Mariam Goshadze.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

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This paper offers an alternative perspective to the controversial decision of the French government to ban the wearing of the Muslim burqa in public places. This examines diverse symbolic meanings ascribed to clothes during colonial times, and presents the French case as a slightly altered continuation of colonial practices. European colonizers often tried to “civilize” and “domesticate” local populations through clothing. These “textile policies” produced an ambivalent outcome of simultaneous homogenization and differentiation of locals. Building on two case studies from nineteenth century colonialism in British India and Eastern Indonesia, this argues that, symbolically speaking, the imposition of specific clothing regulations upon Muslim women resonates with the relationship between the colonizers and the colonized. The goal is to demonstrate that modern day clothing regulations in France might convey an implicit sense of French superiority over their Muslim minorities. The burqa ban can be considered to be working in three major directions. First of all, the ban is associated with a “noble” attempt to liberate Muslim women from subordination. Secondly, similar to colonial politics, the French “textile policy” is expected to “domesticate” separatist forces that otherwise threaten the nation’s integrity. Lastly, the issue can be translated into a more general social phenomenon of group bias.

Keywords: Burqa Controversy, France, Muslim Women, Colonization, Clothing Policies

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp.103-116. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 257.581KB).

Mariam Goshadze

Teaching Assistant, Graduate Student, Department of Religious Studies, University of Missouri, Columbia, USA

Mariam Goshadze is a graduate student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Her area of research is primarily African indigenous religions, however, she also has considerable experience in ‘religious nationalism’, as well as religious and ethnic minorities. Her interest in religious conflicts and social group-building developed as a result of her graduate work in Nationalism Studies at the Central European University.