A large volume of academic interpretation attended the 2004 law banning headscarves in French public schools. When in 2011 the French passed a second law, against wearing full-face veils anywhere in public, a sense of déjà vu discouraged in-depth scrutiny. While the first law triggered the publication of numerous books, such as J.R. Bowen’s, Why the French Don’t Like Headscarves, we observe no voluminous commentary on the 2011 ban. For many observers, the second law must have seemed like a reprise of the “political hysteria” and “knee-jerk racism” that Joan Wallach Scott associated with the first.
The two laws, however, are based on principles, not just prejudices–and they are based on different principles. Broadly speaking, the ban on headscarves in public schools was justified in terms of laïcité, or secularism, while the ban on full-face coverings was endorsed through the idea of reciprocity.