The Dutch Police and Religious Signs: An Analysis of the Headscarf Controversy in the Dutch Police Force
Laura Vendrik is a first-year student in the Religious Studies Research Master Program at Utrecht University. In 2016 she obtained her bachelor’s in Language and Culture Studies at Utrecht University. Her main research interest is the relation between religious material culture and societal problems in the Netherlands.
Over the past years, the admissibility of the Islamic headscarf in governmental organizations has received much attention in the field of religious studies. Many studies have focused on the argumentation used in the present discussions on this topic. However, the question of why the Islamic headscarf causes controversies in the first place is rarely addressed. This article is an attempt at filling up this gap by analyzing the headscarf controversy in the Dutch police force. The author argues that there are two dynamics underlying this controversy: on the one hand the Dutch liberal democratic order is viewed through the Protestant lens, while on the other the Islamic headscarf is an exceptionally visible and meaningful type of religious clothing. By drawing on the previous work by Wasif Shadid and Sjoerd van Koningsveld, the author argues that the Islamic headscarf causes controversy precisely because of the exceptional visibility of this type of clothing, while the headscarf also contains clear information about religion. This dynamic takes place in a society that understands itself through the Protestant lens, which makes the combination of the Islamic headscarf and the Dutch police uniform a difficult issue. Ultimately, this case shows how the upholding of state neutrality is inherently problematic, as the neutral image of the police is created at the cost of headscarf-wearing Muslimahs.