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Journalist Fellows' Papers

Veiled Phobias: The French Republican Dress Code

Reuters Institute Fellow's Paper

Sampo Vaarakallio, a Finnish journalist with more than 15 years' experience working with the Finnish Broadcasting Company's RadioNews, has written a study examining how the French media reported the debate about the wearing of the burqa.

In his study, ‘Veiled Phobias: The French Republican Dress Code’, he focuses on four publications namely Le Figaro, Libération, Le Nouvel Observateur and Le Point, at the beginning of 2010 when coverage was extensive due to a proposal by a parliamentary committee to ban the burqa in public places.  Even though less than 2,000 Muslim women in France wear the burqa, the four publications dedicated several articles and comment pieces to the theme as it was such a hot political topic and went to the core of French values of 'la laïcité'.  Vaarakallio argues that the French media debate on the burqa was a straight continuation of the post 9/11 narrative of Islam as a monolithic and intolerant religion, associated only with fundamentalism and terrorism. He found there were important differences in how much space different papers gave to Muslim voices (Le Figaro none, Liberation plenty), but he finds that in general 'national identity was seen in an old-fashioned way and the multicultural reality of French society was denied', and that the French media included in his study 'did not discuss how wearing a burqa might be a political manifestation and an act of resistance against the West'.

As with all Fellows’ research papers, any opinions expressed are those of the author and not of the Institute.

Image: REUTERS/Stephane Mahe