MWU!: Explain the differences in how the hijab controversy is viewed in Europe as opposed to the US. In France, it seems that most liberal and progressive non-Muslims very much support the law and see it as a protection of secularism.
Tariq Ramadan: Actually, this is an especially French phenomenon, because of the country's very specific history. When you look at the 1905 Reference Law, you find that there is no problem for Muslims to live as Muslims in France. We say that France should just implement this law and enforce it strictly and equally. But this new law is a step backward. In 1989, the State Council said there is nothing in the scarf which is against secularism. We have to be careful about those using secularism as an ideology, confusing secularism with no religion at all. The atmosphere in France is very passionate, as if we are touching the sense of French identity. Becaue there are more than 5 million Muslims in France, their presence raises questions about the future identity of the country. But if you go to other European countries, the scarf is less of an obsession.
I should point out that my position on the headscarf ban is more conservative than Ramadan's, in that I think it's a trampling of free expression. But my position is informed by my American identity, and my belief in the Bil of Rights (notable the First Amendment), which does not strictly exist in Europe. As Ramadan points out, Europe (and esepcially France) have a different concept of identity. Ramadan's work generally addresses Muslims in the West but his focus is on Europe, whereas my focus is on America. I respect his position therefore and concede that the headscarf ban may be acceptable to European muslims on the basis of French identity, but I'd be against it if it happenned here.