Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Second Department

Political Science

First Advisor

Brian Peterson

Second Advisor

Cigdem Cidam




france, islam, algeria, secularism


The historical relationship between the French state and its form of secularism, laïcité, and the French Muslim population is fraught with conflict, misunderstanding, and ambivalence. Laïcité, is a form of secularism unique to France, thus why it refuses to be translated from its native French. France also has a unique colonial relationship with Algeria, which was considered an integral part of France during France's colonial empire. Both the history of laïcité and the history of this colonial relationship help to explain the modern relationship between laïcité and the French Muslim population. In order to analyze this conflict, the "Head Scarf Affair" will be used as a microcosm. The "Head Scarf Affair" refers to a series of decisions regarding headscarves in schools that resulted in the 2004 ban on conspicuous religious symbols in schools. The "Head Scarf Affair" demonstrates the importance of education and gender within this conflicted relationship. France has a unique history regarding secularism, and relationship to Islam. Much of the modern rhetoric surrounding French Muslims is focused on integration. There is a debate over whether or not Islam is compatible with French society. However, this debate assumes that there is something unique to Islam that creates a special barrier to integration. This paper will demonstrate that there is nothing unique about Islam that has caused this modern conflict, but it is rather a product of the French state utilizing traditional radical laïcité, and the associations lingering from the colonial history. In this paper I will examine how the concept and actualities of French laïcité have affected and shaped the state's relationship with its citizens, specifically looking at the Muslim population, as it has been increasingly contentious in recent years.