The Islamic headscarf became an issue of controversy in Western European countries beginning in the late 1980s. This controversy increasingly began to include diverse issues such as the integration of Muslim immigrants into their host countries, the politicization of Islam, the ghettoization of Muslim populations, and the congruity of Islam with modernity. This article provides a history of this debate, with a focus on its emergence, with the aim to address the different contexts and issues raised in France, Britain, and Germany. It adopts a semiological approach in understanding the social dimensions through which an object, a form of clothing, can bear contested meanings and rouse debates that evoke unresolved problems related to immigration, secularism, and the reception of Islam in the West. The first section provides a historical narrative of the emergence of the headscarf debate in Western Europe and compares the different discursive contexts in France, Britain, and Germany. The second section proposes a mythological reading of the veil by using the notion of myth as employed by Roland Barthes. The third section argues that the myth of the veil demonstrates the conflicts between religion and society that were thought to have been resolved. Furthermore, the myth of the veil, as it emerged in European countries, functions both to present the Muslim presence in Europe as a new and sudden occurrence without a history and to distance the religious and colonial history of Europe in its search for its identity.

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