Populist parties and leaders have become important actors across the globe. The 2022 presidential elections in France, and parliamentary elections in Sweden, as well as Turkey’s 2023 presidential elections not only revived academic research on populism and stirred scholarly debate about how to conceptualize it, but also compelled electors and political actors to reflect on the political developments taking place on the populist right front.
In our Identities article, ‘The veil as an object of right-wing populist politics: A comparative perspective of Turkey, Sweden, and France’, we selected three countries which have extremely different religious, secular, and cultural contexts. We then analyzed the political statements by the radical right-wing parties in each of the chosen countries: the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) in Turkey, the National Rally (Rassamblement National, NR) in France and the Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna, SDs) in Sweden.
Our article explored the intersection of populism with gender, religion and secularism by analyzing the intervention of radical right-wing parties in the politics of veiling and its mobilization. In our analysis, we found that radical right-wing populists in all three countries construct and mobilize the People against Elites, and non-People use the Islamic veil as a constitutive antagonism; rather than solving it, they choose to preserve the ‘veil problem’ as it is.
The main reason for this choice seems to be that in Turkey, the veil issue symbolizes the backbone of the deep-seated secular-religious divide. On the vertical axis of populism, the previous restrictions on veiling helped AKP’s construction of the People as oppressed by secular Elites. After the lifting of the veiling restrictions by the AKP, the reproduction of veiling controversy serves to construct and exclude secular non-People on the horizontal axis of populism. Both of these narratives help AKP elites to construct a new discourse on the project called ‘The New Turkey’.
In France, where ‘laïc’ republican values intertwine with populist radical right discourses, ‘veil controversies’ help to legitimize and stabilize NR’s exclusionary politics not only against the ‘veil-friendly imagined enemy’, leftist and the feminist Elites, but also in the mobilization of the People against veiled French Muslims.
In Sweden, this agonistic relationship has a specific role in mobilization of the People against both Muslim immigrants and feminists and multiculturalists, and also against what they call progressive inner-city residents from the upper middle class, i.e. the Elites. SD politicians have contributed to establishing a veil controversy in Swedish politics where the acceptance of religious and gender unequal symbols, as the veil is perceived as a threat against Swedish gender equality and secularism.
As a result, in Turkey, Sweden and France, in the context of religion and secularism, the veil has been a fundamental part of a right-wing populist mechanism that (re)generates the exclusion through gendered narratives that define and claim the People’s state of belonging.
Blog post by Ebru Öztürk, Mid Sweden University, Sweden; Ayşe Serdar, Istanbul Technical University, Turkey; and Katarina Giritli Nygren, Mid Sweden University, Sweden
Read the Identities article:
Öztürk, Ebru, Serdar, Ayşe & Nygren, Katarina Giritli. The veil as an object of right-wing populist politics: a comparative perspective of Turkey, Sweden, and France. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2022.2029067. OPEN ACCESS
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Examining BSA Muslim women’s everyday experiences of veiling through concepts of ‘the veil’ and ‘double consciousness’
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Imbrications of gender and religion in Nordic radical right populism OPEN ACCESS