The Group Processes and Intergroup Relations (GPIR) preconference of the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology edition:11 location:Las Vegas, United States date:28 January, 2010
Freedom, equality and tolerance are core principles of democratic societies. Most citizens accept and endorse these values. At the same time, these values are sufficiently vague and flexible to perform a variety of situated actions (Billig, 1997; Potter & Wetherell, 1992). In this paper we explore how freedom, equality and tolerance may be used as arguments both to oppose and to defend veiling among Muslim women. We put forth a contextualized approach of interethnic ideology in which the same values may figure in different networks of meaning.
In 2009 several Flemish schools announced the prohibition of veiling among their students. This caused a polemical public debate. From all articles and commentaries published in two newspapers between February and July 2009 we selected 20 opinions articles and 50 online commentaries. Our analysis supports the contention that the values freedom, equality and tolerance are used in a flexible way. For instance, some people defend the right to wear a headscarf by arguing that Muslim women should be free to choose whether they want to wear a headscarf or not. Some people oppose veiling by arguing that Islam religion forces veiling upon women. Additionally, some people defend the right to wear a headscarf by arguing that prohibiting veiling is a sign of intolerance towards Muslim culture. Some people oppose veiling by arguing that the Islamic veiling is a sign of intolerance towards Flemish culture and religion.
We discuss how the same core values constitute different networks of meanings and practices regarding cultural diversity in Flanders.