chapter  10
19 Pages

Muslim women’s participation in the veil controversy: Austria and the UK compared: Leila Hadj-Abdou and Linda Woodhead


As this book ex plores, female Muslim dress in Europe has become a symbol of much wider issues, including gender relations, migration pol icies, national identities, secularism and multiculturalism. The veiled Muslim woman has become something to see through rather than to see. As Birgit Sauer (2008) stated, ‘The bodies of Muslim women became a battlefield of conflicts over values and identity pol itics.’ The veil is good to think with – or at least to argue and contend with. An unintended con sequence is that Muslim women themselves are frequently ignored: positioned as passive vic tims of more im port ant intra-Western debates, the effect is to discount their agency or influence. This reinforces the widespread as sump tion that the veil is something imposed by pat ri archal Islam on passive, defenceless and oppressed women – and that it should con sequently be banned for the sake of female emancipation. However, the growing politicization of Islam in Europe (Brown 2006) does not exclude women (Silvestri 2008). They work within local, national and trans national asso ci ations, not least in trying to counter dominant anti-Muslim discourses about themselves and Islam in gen eral (Hadj-Abdou 2011). In relation to veiling, Muslim women are active parti cip ants in ongoing Qur’anic and intra-Islamic debates about veiling and the nature and extent of the obli ga tion. In addition, many have become active parti cip ants in the wider pub lic controversies over veiling, as well as in polit ical action in sup port of the right to veil. These forms of parti cipa tion are the focus of this chapter. Since there is little research on such parti cipa tion (or indeed on the pub lic and polit ical engagement of migrant women in gen eral; Martiniello 2005; Maussen 2007), we attempt to render Muslim women more vis ible in aca demic ana lysis by examining the forms such parti cipa tion takes, and ex plor ing how they can be explained in terms of wider oppor tun ity structures, resources, alli ances and constraints. Our inter est is not in intra-Muslim debates, but in women’s parti cipa tion in pub lic square debates conducted in Euro pean languages. We are inter ested in the degree to which, and the ways in which, Muslim women have entered the pub lic sphere in relation to the issue of veiling. How vis ible are they in such disputes? What inter ven tions and demands are being made? What strat egies are used to push through their demands? What resources are drawn upon, and what obstacles are faced?