Conspicuous religious symbols

by Chris Bertram on February 12, 2004

Scott Martens at a Fistful of Euros has some useful thoughts on the passing of the anti-headscarf law by the French National Assembly. See also Chris Brooke on this. Chris is pessimistic about the law being struck down by the Conseil d’Etat but its record hitherto on this issue has been quite liberal and tolerant—so I’m not so sure.

{ 108 comments }

1

des 02.12.04 at 1:05 pm

Now you’re at it! «Ostensible» (~”conspicuous”) is not «ostentatoire» (~”ostentatious”), and the difference is significant, and the text uses the former:

Le texte adopté comporte quatre articles. Le premier dispose que “dans les écoles, les collèges et les lycées publics, le port de signes ou tenues par lesquels les élèves manifestent ostensiblement une appartenance religieuse est interdit”.

It’d be way cool if all French schoolchildren’s, girl and boy, turned up in headscarfs the day this came into effect and dared the authorities to decide which of them were conspicuously symbolising religion, but the French electorate seems to have decided that les banlieues need a lesson and (even more bizarrely) that this is the lesson they need.

2

Scott Martens 02.12.04 at 1:28 pm

Yes, des, you’re right. I translated the word using its etymological neighbour instead of the correct usage. I’ve fixed it over at AFOE. I’d have done it earlier, but this is Thursday and I’m underslept Thrusdays.

3

Chris Bertram 02.12.04 at 1:30 pm

Thanks Des. You’re right of course. I’ll change the post-title accordingly from “Ostentatious” to “Conspicuous”.

4

des 02.12.04 at 1:43 pm

Thanks, both of you.

5

zaoem 02.12.04 at 2:33 pm

Unless I missed a recent change, cases can only be brought to the Conseil d’État at the request of at least 50 members of the Assemblee. Less than 50 voted against the law. If courts are going to do anything it will probably be the ECJ or ECHR, where individuals can bring cases againt their governments.

6

amusedfrog 02.12.04 at 2:34 pm

The Conseil d’Etat is the supreme court for administrative law. It has the power to strike down governmental decrees, but not laws (with an exception regarding the conformity with international treaties). Anyway, since the law is proposed by the governement, the Conseil d’Etat has probably already given its advice on the draft.

The Conseil Constitutionnel would be the judicial body that could strike down the law. But, it will review the law only if at least 60 members of Parliament ask for it, which might not necessarily be the case. Th elaw could become enacted without a judicial review.

7

Daniel Thomas 02.12.04 at 3:01 pm

“It’d be way cool if all French schoolchildren’s, girl and boy, turned up in headscarfs the day this came into effect and dared the authorities to decide which of them were conspicuously symbolising religion”

And if anybody goes to school without one wouldn’t it be way cool if they had acid thrown at their faces or were raped for being whores.

The veil is a political and aggressive symbol of militant islam. It, just like symbols of aggressive socialism like the swastika or hammer and sickle which are often used to intimidate people should be banned.

8

des 02.12.04 at 3:08 pm

And if anybody goes to school without one wouldn’t it be way cool if they had acid thrown at their faces or were raped for being whores.

Wouldn’t it be cool if that kind of treatment was and had already been illegal? Oh, wait…

9

Rana 02.12.04 at 3:40 pm

Des,

If you think wearing hijab is “way cool” you haven’t worn it. I did until the age of 18. There is no question in my mind that it is a symbol of “militant Islam” and a blatant manifestation of women’s second-class status. The Islamists are using us in their jihad against liberal, secular society (not to mention any moderate interpretation of Islam). Last summer I visited Cairo (my father’s hometown) and visited an exhibition of urban photos from various decades of the 20th century. What particularly struck me was the near total absence of headscarves into the Sixties. Not only among the bourgeoisie but in the working class areas of the city as well. Today it is ubiquitous, even on university campuses and in fashionable cafés. I asked an Egyptian friend of mine why this is so and she looked at me as if I were crazy. “In my neighbourhood any woman who doesn’t wear hijab is considered a prostitute.” Make no mistake, hijab represents the triumph of Islamism.

10

des 02.12.04 at 3:50 pm

I vigorously support the right of anyone not to wear a headscarf if they don’t want to. I just think that forbidding it even if they do is inept social engineering.

If the French, or any other, state wants to improve the lot of Muslim women, which could certainly stand some improvement, then more power to their elbow, but if Muslim men switch, reluctantly, to considering only women in tight-fitting clothes, or wearing make-up, whores, would you make those compulsary in schools too?

11

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.12.04 at 5:01 pm

I think the French decision is uncommonly foolish from a practical point of view. It seems far more likely to increase tension rather than its stated aim of decreasing tension.

Is this an example of government reflexively overreacting to the War on Terrorism, or is it only labeled such if it happens in the US?

12

Rana 02.12.04 at 5:37 pm

…the lot of Muslim women, which could certainly stand some improvement

“Some” improvement? Yeah, thanks!

…but if Muslim men switch, reluctantly, to considering only women in tight-fitting clothes, or wearing make-up, whores, would you make those compulsary in schools too?

I realize, Des, that English may not be your first language (it isn’t mine, either), but, much as I’ve tried, I cannot make the slightest sense of this statement.

13

Mark 02.12.04 at 5:56 pm

Seb,

This has been a problem for a long time, and shouldn’t really be associated with current issues. I remember it as a problem when my children were in French schools in the Parisian suburbs back in 92, with muslim/non-muslim violence as well as reported attacks on muslim girls for *not* wearing scarves by young muslim men. An important point here is that 10 or more years of ‘unofficial tolerance’ hasn’t helped the situation at all, so it’s not as if the government is making a rapid decision on this.

14

rosalind 02.12.04 at 6:08 pm

Rana, I don’t mean to diminish the problematic appropriation of hijab in many Muslim countries in recent years, but this:

“Make no mistake, hijab represents the triumph of Islamism”

just isn’t true. It’s impossible to reduce the significance of hijab in all contexts to this.

15

n/a 02.12.04 at 6:23 pm

“If you think wearing hijab is “way cool” you haven’t worn it. I did until the age of 18.”

Well than don’t wear one. I don’t see how oppression of women who don’t wear the hijab in Egypt should lead to oppression of women who do wear it in France.

Personally, I think we should allow women to make those decisions for themselves and since parents often make descisions about how their children dress (mine did all the time) they should be allowed to demand that their daughters wear the hijab.

BTW are Jewish boys being oppressed because they are made to cover their heads? Are Sikh boys being oppressed because they are not allowed to cut their hair?

This law is blatant religious and cultural oppression. Women and young girls who wear the hijab are not being oppressed by that particular custom. Not anymore than my mother oppressed me when she told me I couldn’t wear jeans to visit my grandmother. I may have considered nylons and party shoes torture, by they weren’t actually that bad.

Sure I don’t wear a hijab, but who am I to tell Muslim parents that it is oppressive to make their daughters put a bunch of cloth on their heads? If hijab is the tip of a much more problematic iceberg and these girls really are being oppressed – (ie being beaten, psychologically harmed, neglected emotionally, intellecutally or physically), then the last thing France or any other Western nation should want is to encourage such parents to withdraw their children from a Western public school system that might be able to help and intervene on behalf of these girls.

Instead France has focused itself on a bit of cloth. It’s stupid and prejudiced to assume that everyone who dons a hijab is oppressed. And it is laughable to assume that removing this (so-called) symbol of oppression will actually end the oppression itself.

16

Rana 02.12.04 at 6:27 pm

“Make no mistake, hijab represents the triumph of Islamism.”

It’s impossible to reduce the significance of hijab in all contexts to this.

The context of my statement was clear, but, ok, name a context today where it isn’t.

17

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.12.04 at 6:38 pm

This rule attempts to treat a symptom, but claims that it is dealing with an underlying problem. If the hijab is always a symbol of the triumph of Islamism, the problem is that France has allowed an Islamist system which is violently against French culture to grow inside its borders. Banning the hijab does precisely nothing to deal with the real problem, but it provides the illusion of dealing with the problem. If you want to deal with a problem, deal with it. Don’t pretend you are doing something by making cosmetic changes.

18

rosalind 02.12.04 at 6:46 pm

I think most instances of women wearing hijab in the United States have nothing to do with any triumph of Islamism.

19

Ophelia Benson 02.12.04 at 6:49 pm

But to women like Rana and girls who are having the experience Rana did – it’s not cosmetic, is it. It’s not trivial, it’s not minor, it’s not a small thing.

Ever read Reading Lolita in Tehran? Married to a Stranger? Do you ask yourselves why so many French Muslim/Muslim background women support the ban? It’s because they see the hijab as a nightmarish oppression forced on them by religious reactionaries, that’s why.

All these statements of unqualified opposition to the ban would have more force if they didn’t seem so dismissive of this aspect.

20

rosalind 02.12.04 at 6:52 pm

At the risk of rehashing the entire earlier threads on the ban, the reason to oppose the ban isn’t even about whether or not hijab is oppressive. It’s that the ban is clearly meant to target a certain religious and racial minority. I’m not dismissive of Rana’s or any one else’s experience, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to sign onto the ban.

21

yabonn 02.12.04 at 7:00 pm

Well, it seems quite hopeless to explain to the the valiant -if remote- freedom fighters that the main expected beneficiaries of this law will be be muslim women.

The mere fact that french muslim women seem to agree (53% against 18%, http://www.lemonde.fr/web/imprimer_article/0,1-0@2-3226,36-346154,0.html) should not spoil this “freer than thou” moment.

22

Ophelia Benson 02.12.04 at 7:12 pm

It does seem hopeless, doesn’t it. But I keep trying – well no I don’t, because I get tired of it, but I try now and then.

23

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.12.04 at 7:22 pm

“It’s because they see the hijab as a nightmarish oppression forced on them by religious reactionaries, that’s why.”

For those women who have the hijab forced on them by religious reactionaries, the ban won’t help much because apparently these same reactionaries who control their lives so much can force them out of schools. The problem is the religious reactionaries. Pretending that banning the hijab in schools will dramatically blunt their power is pure fantasy.

This isn’t about being ‘freer than thou’. It is about a policy with a stated aim which is divorced from its actual effect. It interferes with freedom AND does very little if not in fact nothing to deal with the real problem–the fact that France apparently lets religious reactionaries intimidate these women so much that they live in fear of rape or in fear of their lives.

Also note that it bans more than just the hijab. It bans the Jewish symbols and ‘large’ crosses. Am I to believe that Muslims are opressing women and forcing them to wear the Star of David? Or perhaps has France allowed routine anti-Semetic behaviour to go unpunished for so long that it seems easier to hide the Jews rather than deal with the problem?

Deal with the problem, and the symbols won’t be an issue. Deal with merely the symbols and the problem continues indefinitely.

24

Rana 02.12.04 at 7:24 pm

I think most instances of women wearing hijab in the United States have nothing to do with any triumph of Islamism.

Oh yeah? Try looking at old (American Muslim) family photos (I live in Canada, but have family in New York and Chicago). No hijab. None. And today? Islamism is triumphant (in Islamic societies) around the world! Christianity and Judaism have their literalist strains, but only in Islam is fundamentalism the mainstream. Hijab isn’t merely an innocuous symptom (btw, I am a doctor; I spend half my time treating “symptoms”); it is deeply oppressive.

25

rosalind 02.12.04 at 7:35 pm

What do you mean by “old” pictures? Has there been a significant Muslim presence in America before, say, the late 1960s? Since Islamic fundamentalism was coalescing during the same time period, I think it’s difficult to trace a pre-fundamentalism/post-fundamentalism shift. I suspect that we’re just going to disagree, though, Rana; I know Muslim women who wear hijab and are not Islamists, but I think you’d just view them as unconsciously buying into an extremist interpretation of Islam. They would disagree, but I guess that leaves us at an impasse.

Ophelia, you’re so patient to bear with us idiots who are suspicious of the French government’s motivation in proposing the ban, and are skeptical of it having any positive effects.

26

rosalind 02.12.04 at 7:39 pm

Sorry to post twice in a row, but I thought of an example of hijab-wearing that might satisfy your criteria, Rana. In the mainstream African American Muslim community (that which made the transition from the Nation of Islam under Warith Dean Muhammad), many women wear a headscarf. I think it would be impossible to characterize the interpretation of Islam within this community as fundamentalist in the way you’re using it.

27

n/a 02.12.04 at 7:49 pm

“(btw, I am a doctor; I spend half my time treating “symptoms”); it is deeply oppressive.”

You know, you keep stating that it “is” oppressive but you never say how or why.

How? How exactly does wearing a hijab oppress women? Am I oppressed by the demand by western society that I not expose my privy parts in public. Are Jewish men oppressed by the the demand that they cover their heads. Are sikh men oppressed by the demand that they not cut their hair?

Doctors treat harmful obstructive and painful symptoms. As far as I can see the hijab is not painful (unless they cause rashes).

I don’t see why covering one’s head is such a big deal. Now, denying these girls an education, beating them, belittling them and harrassing those that choose a different path is very problematic.

I simply don’t see why the solution to any of those problems is the removal of a bit of cloth. Nor do I see why that bit of cloth inherently oppresses girls.

And BTW if it does, why should other groups who don’t experience such problems be bound into this solution just so France can look like it’s not singling out Muslims?

28

Mark 02.12.04 at 7:50 pm

Rosalind – Not trying to divert the thread, but might one consider that to be another instance where American society adopts a cultural activity or emblem of another country/society and effectively creates a pastiche of it? obvious examples of this are St Patricks day, Cinco de Mayo and “Highland Festivals”.

29

rosalind 02.12.04 at 7:55 pm

Well, in the spread of religion across cultures, there are inevitably different variations. Doesn’t make African American Islam any less Muslim than Saudi Islam. I certainly find less to object to in it than in Wahabism.
So, no, I don’t think the American Society of Muslims (which is what Warith Dean Muhammad’s community calls itself) is a pastiche, any more than any practice of religion is a pastiche.

30

Mark 02.12.04 at 8:03 pm

I didn’t mean the religion itself, just the headscarf practice.

31

Rana 02.12.04 at 8:10 pm

How exactly does wearing a hijab oppress women?

Are you really as naive as you sound, or are you merely being disingenuous? The purpose of hijab is to keep women hidden and subservient. (Yes, I know the “modesty” argument, I heard it all my life; in fact I was educated in religious schools until late high school; let me know when men begin wearing veils.) In which way is wearing a “kippah” (common only among the orthodox) the symbol of a boy’s second-class status in Judaism?

32

Ophelia Benson 02.12.04 at 8:14 pm

Yeah – I repeat – if you think the hijab is not oppressive to women, just read, for instance, Reading Lolita in Tehran. Just ask Azar Nafisi – if you won’t listen to Rana.

33

rosalind 02.12.04 at 8:22 pm

Azar Nafisi indicted the entire sweep of the oppressive post-1979 Iranian state. There is a real difference between being compelled by law to cover every inch of your body with a loose black robe and choosing to put a scarf on your head.
I officially promise not to post about this anymore.

34

Ophelia Benson 02.12.04 at 8:39 pm

Sure there’s a difference. But that doesn’t mean the hijab is not oppressive. Not being as bad as something is not quite the same as being good.

35

Rana 02.12.04 at 8:52 pm

BTW, “headscarf” is not a synonym for “hijab”. The latter, which derives from the Arabic word “hajaba”, meaning to hide from view or conceal, has evolved into a very peculiar item of clothing that covers a woman’s entire head (save the face) as well as the neck, and (generally) extends over her shoulders and chest. The “hijab” is not simply a head covering.

36

Andrew Boucher 02.12.04 at 9:04 pm

“The purpose of hijab is to keep women hidden and subservient.”

The “hidden” part seems a given, but I’m not sure I agree about the second half. The hijbab would seem to be caused by subservience (a woman is told to wear it, therefore she wears it, ergo she is subservient), rather than a cause of subservience (a woman wearing it must become subservient about other things). Subservience is not the purpose of the hijab; the hijab is a result of an already subservient situation (assuming the girl or woman does not want to wear it).

That is, if a woman does not want to be subservient, then she should just not wear the veil (leaving others who do not feel the same way to wear it). And if she cannot, then the problem is not the veil, but her immediate surroundings (her family) or the culture itself, where subservience is already assumed.

It would seem to me that here is a classic confusion of correlation and causation. Because there is a correlation between cultures where the headscarf is present and women are subservient, it is thought that banning the headscarf betters the situation of women. It does that only if the causation is in the right direction; and I’m not sure that it does. Maybe it does, and maybe I’m just ignorant. But my kneejerk reaction is to let other cultures determine their own social structure.

37

Ophelia Benson 02.12.04 at 9:06 pm

Right, that’s why I’ve been saying hijab instead of headscarf. Because a scarf is different – and I can’t help suspecting it’s usually called a headscarf in the Anglophone news media to make it seem more innocuous than it is. (And because Chris objected to ‘veil’ the last time this was discussed, some weeks ago.)

38

Jonathan Edelstein 02.12.04 at 9:09 pm

A quick thought experiment for those who support this law:

Suppose that Israel enacted the same statute and gave the same reasons: emancipation of Muslim women, integration of Muslims into the general society and elimination of divisive religious symbols. Would your reaction be the same?

39

Ophelia Benson 02.12.04 at 9:10 pm

But subservience is the purpose of the hijab – as it is of the burqa and of purdah in general. It’s to control women’s sexuality. It’s a tool to prevent them from alluring and having sex with men. It’s just as subservient as, say, the way a male elk will force all the females to stay together under his eye. It’s all about control. It’s not just some random bit of decoration.

40

Ophelia Benson 02.12.04 at 9:15 pm

“But my kneejerk reaction is to let other cultures determine their own social structure.”

It would have been mine once too. But that approach seems too simplistic – too kneejerk, indeed – to me now.

Ask yourself who it is in those cultures who is doing the determining. Is it everyone? Or is it the powerful. Is it in fact men. Are you sure all voices have equal weight in all cultures?

41

Rana 02.12.04 at 9:20 pm

But my kneejerk reaction is to let other cultures determine their own social structure.

A cultural relativist, eh? Psst, I am Arab and was born Muslim; does that make it my “culture”? Well, I can testify that it (wearing hijab and everything that entails) is rotten and oppressive and until Muslim girls/women learn that modern liberal society frowns on the practice, they will continue to acquiesce in this manifestation of their second-class status.

42

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.12.04 at 9:39 pm

I don’t have any trouble telling people when I think their culture is wrong. I suspect that for many women the haijab is oppressive. But the problem is one of Muslim culture oppression. Letting people yank their children out of schools that don’t allw the haijab isn’t going to reduce oppression. It will merely reduce the amount of oppression that you can see without looking for it. That is no progress at all.

43

Rana 02.12.04 at 10:43 pm

Suppose that Israel enacted the same statute and gave the same reasons: emancipation of Muslim women, integration of Muslims into the general society and elimination of divisive religious symbols. Would your reaction be the same?

It’s a bit hard to see how it could (or would even dare) to enact such a law, given the established status of religion (Jewish, Muslim or Christian) in Israel. Israel may have been founded by generally secular socialist-Zionists, but it has inherited the guardianship of Western religious heritage in the “Holyland”. I don’t think it could ban the “hijab” without doing something about Haredi wigs or Catholic nuns’ habits (though, of course, neither of the latter involve girls or public schools). I suspect even hardcore Shinui followers would keep away from the hijab question. France has an established anti-clerical tradition that is largely absent in Israel.

44

Albert Law 02.13.04 at 12:02 am

Rana,

OT: Is it true that Islam considers every newborn to be a Muslim from birth and only their non-Muslim parents turn them into non-Muslims?

Did you become ( I presume ) secular before or after leaving Egypt? What caused the change?

Any particular reasons for picking Canada?

I hope those are questions that aren’t too personal. I would ask you these questions in e-mail but that doesn’t appear possible.

45

Randy McDonald 02.13.04 at 1:18 am

Jonathan: If similar provisions were used against similarly restrictive and bigoted behaviours used by, say, Orthodox Jews, I’d support it.

More generally.

I don’t believe that the state should tolerate a belief, on the part of French Muslim men, that women who don’t cover themselves are whores. This is particularly true inasmuch as children are concerned–telling young women that their bodies are so dangerous, either to themselves or others, that they must be hidden, is psychologically rather cruel. No matter that it’s traditional, some traditions need to be destroyed.

46

Luc 02.13.04 at 4:03 am

I see little discussion here of the actual reason of this law. It is that the hijab or the nice euphemism ‘conspicious religious symbol’ was causing problems in the French schools and it was interfering with the secular nature of the public schools. And not only there, also in the Netherlands, wich has a different school system, there are schools forbidding the wearing of clothing that covers the face. Because it caused problems for teachers. The reasoning that religious freedom should be more important than a proper teaching situation (which in France should also be secular) is not very convincing for me. You go to a (secular) school to be taught, not express your religion.

The following argument of Sebastian Holsclaw is very disingenious:

It interferes with freedom AND does very little if not in fact nothing to deal with the real problem—the fact that France apparently lets religious reactionaries intimidate these women so much that they live in fear of rape or in fear of their lives.

By claiming that the real problem is not the situation in the schools but an islamist problem outside of the school, he argues that the solution must be found outside the school. But this law is in response to teachers complaining of problems INSIDE the schools.

47

Andrew Boucher 02.13.04 at 6:04 am

Me: But my kneejerk reaction is to let other cultures determine their own social structure.

R: A cultural relativist, eh?

Well not at all. I can think there are differences between cultures, indeed that one culture is superior to another, without thinking that there need to be laws to force one culture to change its ways.

To take a slightly different case, I might think it deplorable that Iraq was not a democracy, without supporting the U.S. attack on Iraq (even accepting this was to bring democracy to Iraq).

48

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.13.04 at 6:54 am

“By claiming that the real problem is not the situation in the schools but an islamist problem outside of the school, he argues that the solution must be found outside the school. But this law is in response to teachers complaining of problems INSIDE the schools.”

I’m sorry, but would anyone here like to explicitly deny that this is in response to an Islamist problem coming from outside the schools?

But you make a great point. For all those who worry that the hijab is an awful opression, banning it only in the schools isn’t going to do much if we let the fundamentalist Muslims pressure these women into wearing it everywhere else….

Deal with the control these men have, picking at the edges isn’t going to help do anything except hide the problem.

49

Rana 02.13.04 at 8:44 am

AB: Well not at all. I can think there are differences between cultures, indeed that one culture is superior to another, without thinking that there need to be laws to force one culture to change its ways.

Hijab and the subjugation of women isn’t “culture”, it is the negation of culture, or at least its perversion.

To take a slightly different case, I might think it deplorable that Iraq was not a democracy, without supporting the U.S. attack on Iraq (even accepting this was to bring democracy to Iraq).

You don’t want to invade another country? Fine. But don’t allow the Islamists to invade ours.

50

ginger 02.13.04 at 8:56 am

I’m with rana, yabonn and Ophelia Benson. And I’m just as amazed at how easily dismissed the position of French and French/Muslim women is on this. It’s stunning, how people who’ve never had first-hand experience of it should dismiss claims that the hijab is a tool for repression and ideological battles.

I’m not sure this law is the right solution, but the problem exists. Besides, this is not a “ban” in the sense the veil would be banned everywhere. It is the state taking action to reduce conflicts within a state-owned environment like public schools. And within the context of French principles of laicité vs. Islamic intrasigence. You cannot expect to argue about this within a framework of some ideal US multiculturalism. Each system is tied to its history and works within its context, so one model cannot be artificially superimposed on the other.

51

ginger 02.13.04 at 9:12 am

Hijab and the subjugation of women isn’t “culture”, it is the negation of culture, or at least its perversion.

Exactly, rana.

A question to Sebastian: if this is only picking at the edges, and if you think it’s best to “deal with the control these men have”, then HOW do you suggest that is achieved?

This law only targets state schools, because that’s what the state can legislate about, itself, and its system. It cannot target behaviour by parents in the home, it cannot target what is preached in mosques in regard to the place for women in Islam, it cannot target how young girls are brought up and instructed and brainwashed. That is up to Islamic communities themselves, and they don’t seem to be interested in reforming those aspects that are so essential to the social and ideological control that Islam enforces.

You cannot force that from outside. But you can require that the principle of laicite is respected in a state-controlled environment.

So, the state is taking a limited action to manage a specific problem where it can and has authority to. Keeping religion out of state schools might force a chain reaction of adaptation at least within that setting. Those who react the opposite way, are only giving proof of how much radical political and ideological weight the Islamic headscarf has – and how repressive what it represents and entails is, ie. all that set of rules that dictate behaviour of young girls who have *no choice* or are brainwashed into thinking being a “good Muslim girl” is better than developing their own personality.

The French state has a right to demand that in a class in a state school, Muslim girls should be expected to participate just as non-Muslim girls. For instance, take all classes including phys ed together with the others, boys included. This law indirectly addresses that too.

It may seem like picking at a superficial item because the center of the dispute is superficially identified with a garment, but it doesn’t stop there. And it wouldn’t have caused so much controversy if it was only a superficial thing.

Islamic authories and groups who protest this have rightly identified this law as reaching a lot further than the veil, and setting a principle – that of equality between girls and boys in regard to state education, and of equality between Muslims and non-Muslims – that *they* refuse.

And that is also very well understood by those women who at the other side of the spectrum support this law. Because they do favour those principles of equality.

Everyone who ignores these aspects and insists on arguing about this from the point of view of ideals of multiculturalism or different contexts is not addressing the actual situation, the reality this is all taking place in.

52

Luc 02.13.04 at 10:07 am

But you make a great point. For all those who worry that the hijab is an awful opression, banning it only in the schools isn’t going to do much if we let the fundamentalist Muslims pressure these women into wearing it everywhere else.

But again, this is exactly why I called your argument disingenius.

Fundamentalist Islam has a worldwide occurance. It is almost impossible for the French to solve the associated problems just in France. Ofcourse they can do better as they are doing now, but that holds again for almost all countries.

What they can do is to enforce the eminence of the state and laicite upon the public school environment. Therefore they banned the hijab as a religious symbol.

But now your saying they shouldn’t do that because that doesn’t help in solving the problems with the islamists.

The French think it at least helps to keep the school environment free from unwanted religious/islamist influence. The banning has already been going on for a few years, and they have studied this quite extensively, and decided to formalize it in a a law. Which was widely supported in France.

The issue is about the schools and if you say the real problem is islamism you are diffusing the issue to such a scale that it becomes unsolvable.

And as to wether it helps against the repression of woman having to wear the hijab, the French still hold the dogma/opinion that education is an essential part in creating a good citizen. And in that context it does indeed help to keep the schools ‘hijab free’.

53

Andrew Boucher 02.13.04 at 12:13 pm

“Hijab and the subjugation of women isn’t “culture”, it is the negation of culture, or at least its perversion.”

Nothing is advanced by this kind of specious argument. The wearing of Hijab is an act by a certain group in a certain community. If you don’t want to call this “culture”, fine. But obviously my point is that I don’t think there should be laws to force the certain community to behave in a certain way.

“You don’t want to invade another country? Fine. But don’t allow the Islamists to invade ours.”

Well maybe you should of f*ing thought of that before you colonized their countries. Or accepted their peoples into your country because they were cheap labor.

54

Andrew Boucher 02.13.04 at 1:28 pm

“But don’t allow the Islamists to invade ours.”

Just to mention the obvious – these could be the words of the National Front.

55

ginger 02.13.04 at 1:35 pm

Andrew Boucher, if you’d read all of rana’s comments before replying to that last one, you’d have picked up that she said she wore a hijab until the age of 18, by which it can be inferred she was brought up as a Muslim, and that her father came from Cairo, by which it can be inferred she is speaking as the daughter of immigrants to France (or to the US).

Which seems rather relevant to the position she is expressing.

And even if that wasn’t her background, I doubt you could accuse her or anyone in currently living generations of French citizens to have colonised any country, or forced anyone to immigrate to France as “cheap labour”.

Perhaps you could stick to the topic instead?

56

Rana 02.13.04 at 1:40 pm

I don’t think there should be laws to force the certain community to behave in a certain way.

I do. In public schools. In public hospitals. The Islamists have no right to impose their “culture” on common, secular institutions.

Well maybe you should of f*ing thought of that before you colonized their countries.

Well maybe you should have f*ing tried reading my previous posts. (I was born a Muslimah in Lebanon, wore hijab until the age of 18, and currently practice medicine – with many Muslim patients – in Canada.) However, you’re right about France (where I lived for a couple of years) and its imperialist legacy. Because of it, the French have been very late in waking up to the menace of Islamism. I don’t excuse their past behaviour but would eagerly vote for the hijab ban given the opportunity. Unlike (most of?) the posters in this thread, I have had firsthand experience with hijab and everything it entails. It is an abomination and I was very glad to discover that modern liberal society frowned on the practice.

57

yabonn 02.13.04 at 1:55 pm

Andrew,

?You don?t want to invade another country? Fine. But don?t allow the Islamists to invade ours.?
“Well maybe you should of f*ing thought of that before you colonized their countries.”

Here we go. “Islamic” countries, like the ones colonized by france, right?

Well, they may have been arab or muslim, i don’t see how they could be qualified as “islamic” countries, just arab, or muslim.

It makes a difference, because, fyi, every arab is not muslim, every muslim not an “islamist”.

And being wary of islamists means nothing of france’s attitude towards arabs or muslims.

Funny you should mention the national front in your other post : that kind of mish mash between these different notions is one of this party’s speciality.

58

Pierre 02.13.04 at 2:17 pm

As Yabonn pointed out, Andrew, you seem to delight in conflating terms. What Rana was warning against was not Islam (or Islamic people) but Islamism (and Islamists). Try consulting a dictionary before spouting Front National nonsense.

P.S. I am French and Arab and support Rana fully.

59

Ophelia Benson 02.13.04 at 3:02 pm

Hurrah! It’s about time!

Last time we had this discussion here there were no French participants, and I think only one of (possibly) Muslim background, with the result that one ban-opponent felt free to call me a racist repeatedly. And also, it seems to me, with the result that the as it were orthodox view – that the ban is simply intolerant and anti-freedom (cf. Chris’ mention of tolerance and freedom in his post as if all the tolerance and freedom were self-evidently on the anti-ban side) and that’s all there is to be said about it. I think that’s a peculiarly over-simple view that simply ignores the views of people like Rana, Luc and Pierre (and as I mentioned at B&W, like Phersu at Fistful of Euros, whose points yesterday were simply ignored).

So hurrah.

60

n/a 02.13.04 at 3:32 pm

“”It makes a difference, because, fyi, every arab is not muslim, every muslim not an “islamist”.”

But somehow every Muslim woman who dons the hijab is oppressed and her behaviour is the product of Islamic fundementalism?

Isn’t it possible that some women really want to wear a hijab and simply disagree with the idea that it inhibits their freedom and is a symbol of subjegation?

“Chris’ mention of tolerance and freedom in his post as if all the tolerance and freedom were self-evidently on the anti-ban side”

I don’t see how refusing to allow Sikhs and Jews (not to mention Muslims) the very minor accomodation of head coverings can be construed as tolerant.

It seems more like a demand that these groups assimilate according the government’s rules or else face explusion from the public school system and public service jobs.

How is that tolerant? “My way or the highway” is not an example of tolerance.

61

Randy McDonald 02.13.04 at 3:47 pm

Isn’t it possible that some women really want to wear a hijab and simply disagree with the idea that it inhibits their freedom and is a symbol of subjegation?

That’s the biggest flaw of the legislation. How do you deal with women who voluntarily don the hijab, accepting its cultural baggage?

Fortunately, the law minimizes the issue. It concerns itself with public schools and other fora for which the state is responsible, and concerns itself with children below the age of majority.

In Canada, teachers and schools have certain obligations in loco parentis; if a teacher in Ontario, for instance, suspects a child is being abused but does not act, that teacher is liable. I hardly think that French schools and teachers should be less responsible.

62

Ophelia Benson 02.13.04 at 3:56 pm

Rana,

Since email is not encouraged, I’ll ask here. If you would like to write an article (brief or not so brief, as you choose) for the website I edit, Butterflies and Wheels (it has thousands of readers, articles often get republished in other periodicals, etc) – please email me. (We have an article by Ibn Warraq for example, and articles by Meera Nanda and Latha Menon on the danger of Hindutva in India.)

63

Ophelia Benson 02.13.04 at 4:02 pm

“But somehow every Muslim woman who dons the hijab is oppressed and her behaviour is the product of Islamic fundementalism?”

No one said that. But the ones who don’t want to and do support the ban have just been ignored in this discussion until now. As if they weren’t even there.

“Isn’t it possible that some women really want to wear a hijab and simply disagree with the idea that it inhibits their freedom and is a symbol of subjegation?”

Yes, of course it is. (As of course it’s also possible [and in my view probable] that they’ve been trained, educated, raised to think that way [as we all have to think what we think, so that in the end we have to decide such things on the merits].) My point so far has merely been to point out that there are also women who take the opposite view, and it’s no good just blithely ignoring them.

64

Luc 02.13.04 at 4:51 pm

How is that tolerant? “My way or the highway” is not an example of tolerance.

It isn’t tolerant. Why should the French tolerate that what they don’t want to tolerate? They want their public schools secular, they consider the hijab an unwanted expression of religion in their schools and thus have given the schools grounds for forbidding the hijab.

But it is silly to make this intolerance of that what is considered wrong, into a negative aspect of the French (or the French National Assembly as in the original post).

I still remain with my original observation:


I see little discussion here of the actual reason of this law. It is that the hijab or the nice euphemism ‘conspicious religious symbol’ was causing problems in the French schools and it was interfering with the secular nature of the public schools.

65

yabonn 02.13.04 at 4:54 pm

?But somehow every Muslim woman who dons the hijab is oppressed and her behaviour is the product of Islamic fundementalism??

Not “every muslim woman”. The premisses are here that not that all muslim women are going to be happy of the law, but rather that they will be better off, overall.

And, once again, they seem to agree (53% against 18).

66

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.13.04 at 5:22 pm

“It is the state taking action to reduce conflicts within a state-owned environment like public schools.”

Results, results, results. I know the left likes to look at form and damn the results, but you have to look at the results of your actions, not just the damn intentions.

You spend pages and pages talking about how oppressive the hijab is. I agree, it is oppressive. You spend paragraphs on vicious control that some Islamist men exert of women in their neighborhoods using rape, murder and the threat of the same. I agree with all that.

You then talk about banning the hijab in public schools. And if you were forcing the girls to attend these public schools, you might be taking one pathetically small step toward doing something about the above oppression. You would do far better to police the gangs of Islamist thugs, but I’ll move on. But instead you are going to let these men yank their daughters out of the schools and put them in an EVEN MORE REPRESSIVE ENVIRONMENT THAN THEY NOW LIVE IN.

A policy which increases the problem it is trying to address is by definition a bad policy NO MATTER HOW GOOD THE INTENTIONS.

67

Andrew Boucher 02.13.04 at 5:50 pm

“Funny you should mention the national front in your other post : that kind of mish mash between these different notions is one of this party’s speciality.”

No, it’s not funny that I have to mention the National Front. As you may or may not know, Le Pen uses the word “invahir” all the time, as in “The French are being invaded by foreigners.” Apparently you (and R.) seriously think that it’s okay to say something like that, only with a different word for “foreigners”.

“It makes a difference, because, fyi, every arab is not muslim, every muslim not an “islamist”.

Gosh, I didn’t know that. Thank you for pointing that out.

“P.S. I am French and Arab and support Rana fully.”

Well the French part is relevant, but not the Arab. See previous comment: “every arab is not muslim”.

68

n/a 02.13.04 at 5:57 pm

“It isn’t tolerant. Why should the French tolerate that what they don’t want to tolerate? They want their public schools secular, they consider the hijab an unwanted expression of religion in their schools.”

Well Luc, thank you for proving my point. ‘The French’ do not seem to include Jews, Sikhs or Muslims living in France unless they conform to what majority of the population deems appropriately French behaviour.

For all its beauty, this makes me glad I don’t live in France.

“Not “every muslim woman”. The premisses are here that not that all muslim women are going to be happy of the law, but rather that they will be better off, overall.

And, once again, they seem to agree (53% against 18).”

Ummm… HOW? This has yet to be answered.

I still don’t believe these girls will be better off. Stating it doesn’t make it true. Tyranny of the majority doesn’t make it true. Strife amongst the muslim community doesn’t make it true. Just because a woman is Muslim, doesn’t mean she speaks for Muslim women. Even those that wear hijabs have individual brains and hearts.

Besides, this doesn’t ban the hijab it only bans it in school and government offices. That means that women who wear the hijab (by choice or not) will simply stop frequenting these places. Thus they will become even more removed from mainstream society.

All this will do is make the French (and we have already established that these minorities aren’t French) feel better because they will no longer have to see these women and their offensive ways.

But that doesn’t mean any problems have actually been solved nor have these women been helped.

69

Pierre 02.13.04 at 6:11 pm

And Muslim. Three-quarters, at least — my maternal grandmother was French Christian, the others Algerian Muslim. Plus my Bosnian Muslim wife… Pierre is a nickname.

70

Andrew Boucher 02.13.04 at 6:18 pm

“Pierre is a nickname.”

Confess, you’ve assimilated and you think everyone else damn better assimilate like you. ;-)

71

Pierre 02.13.04 at 6:29 pm

Yes, I’ve “assimilated”, (the “Pierre” nickname dates from my childhood) but I know Arabic (literature) well enough to teach it and my wife teaches maths. We are both adamantly in favour of the hijab ban.

72

Randy McDonald 02.13.04 at 6:35 pm

Sebastian:

You would do far better to police the gangs of Islamist thugs, but I’ll move on.

Who’s to say that this isn’t being done? The one action doesn’t preclude the other.

n/a:

‘The French’ do not seem to include Jews, Sikhs or Muslims living in France unless they conform to what majority of the population deems appropriately French behaviour.

“The French,” as you’re currently using the term, doesn’t include people who are hostile to the existence of a democratic republic that guarantees equal access to rights for all people. Compare the attitude of anti-democratic Catholic legitimists towards the Third Republic–they certainly didn’t feel themselves to be “French,” at least as it was generally defined.

You’re conflating two different uses of “French,” one a term used to reflect attachment to basic French political and social principles, the other a term used to reflect membership in the French nation (whether by ethnic origin or by citizenship).

That means that women who wear the hijab (by choice or not) will simply stop frequenting these places. Thus they will become even more removed from mainstream society.

This is a problem. More importantly, though, the hijab gives women who don’t want to wear that garment a legitimate excuse not to, enhancing their maneuvering power. Working from the edges, inward.

Mr. Boucher:

Confess, you’ve assimilated and you think everyone else damn better assimilate like you. ;-)

Surely, sir, you’d think that a society where it would be possible to assimilate would be better than one where it would be impossible to assimilate.

73

ginger 02.13.04 at 6:56 pm

Sebastian, you, like some others screaming “intolerance” here, are still ignoring the scope and motive of the law.

It’s targeted at state schools, not at families and communities.
The latter are private environments, the former is a public one. Controlled by the state. Where the state sets its standard for the education of all citizens. So it has a right to set standards that respect is principle of laicite – which is: total separation of church and state, with religion out of the public sphere of education.

Like Luc and Ophelia pointed out, the actual status of the girls, the support of the majority of Muslim women, the specific context of this law, are all being ignored by those who embrace the “illiberal” condemnation of it.

— “You would do far better to police the gangs of Islamist thugs, but I’ll move on.

First, not every Muslim man who wants their daughter to wear a hijab is an “Islamist thug”.

Second, if by “Islamist thug” you mean people actually comitting violence of any kind, there are already laws to that effect and the violations of those laws are already being policed. For Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

–“But instead you are going to let these men yank their daughters out of the schools and put them in an EVEN MORE REPRESSIVE ENVIRONMENT THAN THEY NOW LIVE IN.

That may be ONE side effect for SOME people who take that decision – and that is a free decision, you cannot force anyone to attend state schools instead of private ones, just like you are NOT driving anyone out of state schools just by setting your own (the state’s) standards. Ok?

You don’t seem to really know how state schools work here. They are completely under the management of the state. Get that?

Secondly, not everyone is going to pull out of state schools just because they’re too fond of the headscarf. For one thing, state schools are free, private schools are not. I can hardly picture ALL Muslim parents pulling their kids out of schools, especially since 40% to 53% of Muslim women (depending on polls cited here and elsewhere) seem to support this measure. You’ll get all kinds of decisions because there are different kinds of people here. There’ll be more intransigent Muslims, and less intransigent ones. There’ll be parents willing to compromise in order to benefit from state schools, there’ll be those who won’t.

You can’t take only the latter and make it representative of the whole and THEN also decide that’s why the law is bad.

–” A policy which increases the problem it is trying to address is by definition a bad policy NO MATTER HOW GOOD THE INTENTIONS.

You cannot say the only effect it is going to have is to “increase the problem”. The problem it wants to decrease is not how each Muslim parent decides to bring up their daughters; the problem it is specifically addressed to is how those Muslim girls (and therefore their parents) that are sent to state schools should relate to the school (and state) itself, to its standards, to its principles, namely that of laicite and equality among all pupils.

THAT is something the state can and must legislate about.

How each family brings up their daughters, is not.

Tu comprends maintenant?

This law is addressed to a classroom setting, and based on experiences of problems within the classroom when groups are set apart by their religious identification. It is NOT addressed at reforming Islamists and turning them into cuddly loving liberal parents.

Because NO state can do that. What it can do, is guarantee its standards are respected and its laws observed, in those fields where it has power to legislate.

Feel free to ignore this point as well…

74

gwendolyn 02.13.04 at 6:56 pm

Rana, I went to a Canadian public high school that had a very high population of Iranian students among others (I was the only person who spoke English as a first language in one of my math classes, for example), many of whom were Muslim, some of whom chose to wear headscarves and hijabs, some of whom didn’t. I also had the good luck to take a comparative religions class with many of the same students. Some girls disagreed very strongly with covering their heads – and discussed this frankly; some honestly seemed to prefer to wear it, and also discussed their reasons.

They may have been brought up to believe this – as Ophelia has mentioned – but to me it seems rather unfair to assert that these girls and women cannot make their own choice about what they wear to school or to work. Even if they are below the age of majority, it seems likely to me that they do have reasons for it; some of them at least will have given it a lot of thought, and some will have come to Rana’s conclusion, but some will not have. Maybe I look at this from the perspective of a Canadian – at my high school, at least, we didn’t have a uniform and the dress code only required that we be decently covered, so there were no rules already in place about religious symbols. It is clear that the French perspective is different, but I’m not entirely sure it’s the best perspective.

How exactly are people harmed by the presence of religious symbols in their classes? If we’re talking about individuals who are being forced to wear symbols, than those individuals are being harmed, and that has to be dealt with, but is banning any overt religious expression the right way to do it? My Canadian instinct tells me that having people confronted by the reality of other belief systems and traditions is good for them – they have to come to terms with the fact that people have different opinions and make different choices. It seems to me that we can learn to get along better when we are truthful about what we believe than when we pretend that our beliefs do not exist while we are in school. Less trouble comes of openness and frankness than of hiding.

Perhaps it might make more sense if the girls who would like to wear the hijab *and* would like to attend public school were asked to write an explanation giving their reasons for wanting to wear it, privately, if there is a large problem with girls being forced to wear them to school? Also, I don’t know how much effort is being made to get the parents of Muslim students (and other religious students) to come out to whatever the French equivalent of the PTA is and to give their opinions, but perhaps increasing this sort of dialogue would help with integrating these students, rather than requiring them to hide their religion?

In short, an outright ban on students wearing religious symbols in school seems like a really drastic step – especially as it seems to have been taken fairly quickly. How many alternatives were considered before the ban was chosen?

(Again, this may just be because I’m from a country that makes a big deal of multi-culturalism, but the rigid secularism of the French seems like a strange way to deal with religious issues. So while I understand that the French have had a rather different history than Canada, I can’t help but apply what I’ve seen here to France.)

75

yabonn 02.13.04 at 7:11 pm

“No, it?s not funny that I have to mention the National Front. As you may or may not know, Le Pen uses the word ?invahir? all the time, as in ?The French are being invaded by foreigners.? Apparently you (and R.) seriously think that it?s okay to say something like that, only with a different word for ?foreigners?.”

It’s “envahir”, actually.

Too, try (no, really, do try) to imagine that not all arabs are muslims, or “islamists”. So “foreigner” is not synonym with “islamist” and being against islamists doesn’t translate into “i hate arabs”. On the contrary. You say you knew it already but you’re doing it (“gosh”) again.

Noticed how people disagreeing with you end up, in one way or another, being racists? What a time saver it is to be On The Good Side : the ones disagreeing with you are fascists. Comfy.

n/a,

“I still don?t believe these girls will be better off. Stating it doesn?t make it true.”

For some reason, as for the repercutions of this law on french muslim women life, i’d tend to pay attention to what french muslim women state, yes. How “tyrannic”.

“All this will do is make the French (and we have already established that these minorities aren?t French”

Hu?

76

ginger 02.13.04 at 7:15 pm

As an extra, please keep in mind, that “state school” means not only “controlled by the state” but also “supported by taxpayers”. All taxpayers. Of all kinds of religions and beliefs, including political and ideological ones, or none.

The majority of the French representatives have decided, on the basis of direct experience of those attending state schools, that the best way to guarantee that a public schooling system is really fair and equal to all taxpayers, is to leave religion completely out of it. Starting with symbols, and all they entail in terms of behaviour.

The inspiring principle is the peculiarly French concept of secularism. It might not work elsewhere; it might be different from other countries; it might seem too strict. But just as it is the right of the US to put whatever they want in their constitution, it is the right of France to pass whatever laws they want on how their schools, subsidised by their citizens, should operate.

Is that so difficult to accept? Why is it “intolerance”? Is the idea of “tolerance” that a state gives up its founding principles and its right to legislate on its own concerns?

I remember an article that outlined the problems met within classrooms with groups of girls from traditional, strict Muslim families. Those parents not only wanted the girls to wear the veil but also to avoid participating in certain common activities or classes. You know there is a lot more behind the scarf than just the scarf. Everyone knows that, in France. So don’t ignore that and pretend this is only about a symbol.

The French state, its representatives, have a right to take that decision based on their own assessment. Not the assessment of someone living in another country or forcing the issue to be framed within an entirely different context than that of French state schools today.

77

gwendolyn 02.13.04 at 7:37 pm

It isn’t just an issue that’s occuring in French state schools today, though, although that’s where the current debate may be; for example, it’s an issue in Quebec at the moment, too. Beyond that, given immigration, it’s an issue that other countries will likely have to deal with as well. Given that, I don’t see why it’s a problem that the French solution should be examined and – where it’s warranted – criticized.

Is it really giving up on the founding principle of secularism to allow people to express their own religious beliefs within the classroom, if those beliefs are not being forced on others? That seems far-fetched.

The issue of girls or their families not wanting (them) to participate in some activities is a deeper one, but *will* legislating mandatory participation solve it? Particularly if those families choose to remove their daughters from public institutions and put them into religious schools.

I am not saying that this is intolerance on the part of France, because there is a genuine problem, and they are trying to find a way to deal with it. But I think the solution – even if that is the choice of most of the people in France – may not necessarily make things better for the people who are really likely to be harmed by the institution of the hijab and by oppression (i.e. girls who are forced to behave subserviently, and who are at risk of assault or worse if they are seen without the hijab, etc). Everyone makes mistakes, and a majority of taxpayers is quite capable of doing so, too; the fact that they do believe they are doing right shouldn’t stop others from explaining why they think otherwise.

78

Ophelia Benson 02.13.04 at 7:46 pm

“Surely, sir, you’d think that a society where it would be possible to assimilate would be better than one where it would be impossible to assimilate.”

Beautifully (and succinctly) said. I’ve been musing on the way assimilation has become a kind of crime (but only for certain people – it’s yet another of those asymmetrical things that ought to give us pause) but I didn’t think of saying that. Brilliant point.

79

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.13.04 at 7:54 pm

“You would do far better to police the gangs of Islamist thugs, but I’ll move on.

Who’s to say that this isn’t being done? The one action doesn’t preclude the other.”

The actions are not logically exclusive. But the gangs of Islamist thugs are not being well policed, as any one who knows the slightest bit about the situation will attest.

“You cannot say the only effect it is going to have is to “increase the problem”. The problem it wants to decrease is not how each Muslim parent decides to bring up their daughters; the problem it is specifically addressed to is how those Muslim girls (and therefore their parents) that are sent to state schools should relate to the school (and state) itself, to its standards, to its principles, namely that of laicite and equality among all pupils.”

Sorry, but that is complete crap. If we were really limiting ourselves to this, we wouldn’t have spent pages and pages on the general oppression of women that the hijab represents. You are retreating to this position only now. Both you and ophelia have spent vasts amount of time on this thread documenting (accurately) that the hijab is used to make women invisible and that in some neighborhoods they are forced to wear it by their parents AND gangs of thugs who will rape those who do not wear the hijab. The problem is that the hijab is used to oppress women. It does this through both social pressure
and the threat of violence.

The French legislature has decided that instead of doing much about the threat of violence or the anything to encourage assimilation, they will ban the hijab in public schools. In other words a purely cosmetic reaction to a much deeper problem. Then, people like you can pretend that the problem is being dealt with.

But in reality the MOST VULNERABLE of the Muslim girls get pulled from the schools, most probably losing the only secular contacts that they have. But at least you won’t have to see them any more.

80

Ophelia Benson 02.13.04 at 8:40 pm

“The French legislature has decided that instead of doing much about the threat of violence or the anything to encourage assimilation, they will ban the hijab in public schools.”

No it hasn’t. It has decided to ban the hijab in public schools, without the ‘instead’ bit.

“Then, people like you can pretend that the problem is being dealt with.”

People like what? Who and what are ‘people like you’?

And who is pretending any such thing? Who has said anything like that? I certainly haven’t.

81

Randy McDonald 02.13.04 at 8:43 pm

Mr. Holsclaw:

The banlieues, as they currently exist, seem to be about as uncontrollable as many of the worse-off ethnic/racial neighbourhoods in the United States, perhaps sensibly enough given the common factors underlying their development. Extending state authority to the banlieues, including the rule of law and the safety of all individuals, is essential. This is one element in this process.

This whole debate often overlooks the point that the state is under no obligation to support, in secular school systems, parochial religious or cultural dogmas, particularly where they’re harmful.

If (for instance) you’re a Baptist Christian who’s anti-gay, and if you want your child to be taught by public school teachers that being gay is wrong, you should be (ideally in a non-homophobic society) disappointed when the teachers refuse to accept your dogma.

Likewise, if you are a parent of daughters, and if you’re motivated by a particular variant of misogyny which holds that all females must be kept from public sight, you should be under no expectations that public school teachers will connive in this misogyny.

Will some parents try to withdraw their daughters from public life? Given the size of the French Muslim community (4-5 million), that’s inevitable. Does that mean, though, that no recourse should be taken on behalf of the large majority whose parents won’t react? Should the threat of impending child abuse be accepted as a legitimate deterrent to state policy?

Gwendolyn:

I favour multiculturalism, and cultural diversity. I also favour the right of people whose ancestral cultures would fall under the aegis of the multicultural to dissent, to remove themselves, to opt out.

The voluntary assimilation of an individual belonging to a minority can be hindered by outside hostiility, i.e. by external prejudice and bigotry. It can also be hindered by minority cultural enclaves themselves, hostile to letting their membership leave voluntarily. If the one is recognized as problematic, surely the other must be.

82

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.13.04 at 9:01 pm

I say ‘instead’ because France is taking quite public action in one area and not taking action in the other area. They of course make no public statements saying ‘we have chosen not to deal with Muslim gangs, instead we will deal with the innocent Muslim girls….’ But you have to look at actions. France has let its Muslim communities fester for decades, and is still doing so. The action France is taking is cosmetic. The actions France are not taking are those which have more than tangential relationship to the real problem.

If you are comforted by by an action which will leave the most vulnerable girls in a worse situation than before, I must bow in awe to a reasoning I cannot understand. If you are willing to persue policies which you admit will cut off these girls from their only secular contacts, I must admire your steely resolve to fulfill the dictates of French secularism despite its horrible cost to these young women who will be pulled from school.

I would think it better not to take action which might have a minor positive effect on many Muslim girls but which will dramatically damage the chances of the most vulnerable Muslim girls. But then again I’m a conservative, clearly I’m irrational and racist.

83

Ophelia Benson 02.13.04 at 9:12 pm

I haven’t said a word about being ‘comforted.’ You keep extrapolating from what people have said to what they haven’t said. How about just sticking to actual posts instead of imagined ones.

84

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.13.04 at 9:57 pm

So you aren’t even comforted? Extrapolation is what argument is all about.

Hmm, you haven’t said a word about the girls whose fate your favored policy makes worse either, how dare I bring that up, again.

I’ll rephrase to avoid the word and perhaps you can respond to the issue instead of complaining about phrasing:

You are advocating a position which abandons the most vulnerable Muslim girls by depriving them of what is likely their only contact with the secular world. You defend this position by saying that the hijab is a horrible tool of oppression. You imply (if I may dare to extrapolate) that you disapprove of the oppression of these women. Yet you are willing to advocate an action which will doom the very ones that you state you are worried about–those who are most susceptible to opression by their fathers, brothers and gang members. The action you are advocating does nothing to protect them and in fact makes things worse for them.

I guess (only for the sake of of speeding things along, correct me if my guess is incorrect) that you believe other measures could be taken later to help these girls. Why not take those measures first? Because they don’t have the broad support in France that this ban does. If the ban comes first and the other issues are not addressed immediately you have effectively exiled these women by cutting them off from one of their most substantial secular contacts. The real steps to protect these women should be taken BEFORE the cosmetic steps. By putting off the hard changes until later, you are taking a huge risk with these women’s lives.

Instead you are advocating the reverse, condemn the oppressed women in France to deeper opression in the mere hope that sacrificing them now might make things better in the future. That is the steely resolve which I refer to. I fear that even the hope is misplaced, and you are sacrificing them for no real gain.

That is the result of the action you are defending. This is not the intended result, I would hope, but the intentions are not nearly so important.

85

Andrew Boucher 02.13.04 at 10:28 pm

Sorry my last post, this discussion is going nowhere.

Me: “Well maybe you should of f*ing thought of that before you colonized their countries.

R: “Well maybe you should have f*ing tried reading my previous posts. (I was born a Muslimah in Lebanon, wore hijab until the age of 18, and currently practice medicine – with many Muslim patients – in Canada.)

Well actually I did and I realized what your background was. I wasn’t using “you” to mean you personally, obviously, because unless you’re bordering old age, you obviously didn’t have anything to do with French colonisation, for instance. If I offended, apologies.

“Surely, sir, you’d think that a society where it would be possible to assimilate would be better than one where it would be impossible to assimilate.” And, surely sir, a society where it isn’t necessary to assimilate is better than one where one is forced to. Which is actually more what I’m talking about.

“Beautifully (and succinctly) said. I’ve been musing on the way assimilation has become a kind of crime…” Great, the whole world should become little Americans and eat at McDonald’s… Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

“So “foreigner” is not synonym with “islamist” and being against islamists doesn’t translate into “i hate arabs”.” Of course it’s not. Not for all, perhaps not even more most. Don’t know. But for some it is. You would say you’re not one of them. Good, that’s a start. But I am worried about your leaps of logic, so I really don’t know.

“Extending state authority to the banlieues, including the rule of law and the safety of all individuals, is essential. This is one element in this process.”

And this is why I’m most worried. It’s not the Ophelias who are interested in the rights of girls – I think they’re mistaken, but I think reasonable people can disagree -, it’s the people who want this for other reasons. Because the act is different or unFrench. Because the banlieues need to be taught a lesson.

It would seem that both sides thinks the other is intolerant. Which is tolerance: intolerance of intolerance or tolerance of intolerance. (That’s not quite what we’re discussing, but it sounds better…) Is letting the Nazis walk through Skokie an example of tolerance or intolerance? I’ve been through that argument too many times, and presumably readers (down to here!) can figure out where I would stand on that.

Anyway, my last comment on the subject.

And now to bed.

86

ginger 02.13.04 at 10:52 pm

gwendolyn: you make good points there, and some I share to some extent. It’s true, even if the problem is real, the outcome might not be the best, or might be mixed — but then again that happens with all laws… What interests me here is the inspiring principles and motives, and I think those are right.

However, don’t misunderstand me – I wasn’t even addressing your previous post really, sorry if it seemed so, I was referring more to those calling this intolerance on the part of the French state, which you aren’t doing. You’re right also that this situation doesn’t affect only France.

But, really, I wasn’t saying “no one can criticise this law”! I was only saying, _first_ we have to consider the context, which is France and French state schools; the whole background there is different from other countries, even if the specific situation (Muslim girls in class) might be the same.

And regarding founding principles, this is not about secularism in general, but _French secularism_. That idea of “laicité” is rather different from the Anglo concept of secularism.

For instance, we can all agree England is a secular country too, but it has an official Church of England. The US is a secular state too, in that there is no religious imposition there either, but the concept of freedom of religion in the US means, everyone can bring their religion into any field, politics and education included. France’s secularism is more like an allergy to the very presence of religion in the public sphere. It may even seem paranoid, or too radical. But it has its specific motives, and specific historical roots, that date back to long before the current situation with Islamist groups within France, or the specific problems this law addresses.

Of course the law is criticizable! anything is. But one first has to understand and accept the context in which it has been developed. Doesn’t mean agreeing with it; it only means, not applying to it a framework which isn’t its own.

I had very mixed feelings about this ban myself. In principle, I don’t like the idea of a state telling people what to wear or not to wear, either, in any place, public or private.

But that’s in the abstract, in an ideal setting, where clothes are only clothes, and symbols only symbols (and religions only religions…).

Because of personal experiences, though, also related to this very topic, I totally understand the needs and problems that brought about this law.

In other words, I’m not even 100% sure I’d fully endorse the ban in itself, it is a drastic step, and it has something unpleasant about it, as any ban; but I do understand and subscribe to the motives behind it, if you know what I mean here.

Of course members of parliament, taxpayers, politicians, x percentages of Muslim women supporting it can all be “wrong”. But I’d rather try and understand *their* motives and *their* experiences before even trying to discuss who is right and who is wrong on the basis on an abstract or non-French model.

87

ginger 02.13.04 at 11:23 pm

Sebastian: you really practice what you preach rather badly. What I said was, policing _violent_ and _criminal_ behaviour by everybody, of every ethnic and religious group, is _already_ the duty of the law, in France just like anywhere else on the planet. It doesn’t have _anything_ to do with _this_ law. This is not about crime, it’s about rules in state schools.

Also, again, a Muslim parent pressing her daughter to wear the hijab doesn’t have to be an “Islamic thug” as you said, and isn’t it ironic, you’re seeing racism in other people’s post and then you don’t even get taht difference. Religious and ideological brainwashing doesn’t have to happen through abuse and violence. This is a mentality issue, not a crime issue.

I’m certainly “retreating” into other arguments, I made a series of observations along that point, and it seems you also got them confused with others (I didn’t talk about rape, for instance). The point is, again: the law is targeted at schools. Its _first_ practical aim is to faciliate mingling in classrooms and leave religion completely out of _state_ schools. Of course its desired, ideal effect is also that, by doing so, the mentality that _state_ schools promote is that there is a) equality between all religions and b) equality between boys and girls.

I understand you do NOT agree that banning religious displays and behaviour altogether from state schools equals equality between all religions. Ok. But it is a fact that that is the _principle_ that inspired this law, because it is that “laicite” principle that inspires all of the relations between state and church in France.

That’s what I’m interested in, that’s what I think is important to understand before discussing this law.

I get your point about there being the possibility of a counter-effect, of course, the controversy has already caused an even more rigid reaction from _some_ Islamic groups.

That is simply not enough to discredit a law, you agree or disagree with a law on its principles and effects, not _only_ on what you have already decided will be the ONLY effect, ie. an adverse one.

You follow me now? I thought it was so simple…

But, oddly enough, once again, you choose to completely ignore those groups that favour this law, and are supporting it – including Muslim women organizations.

We have a law that’s very controversial, that can be seen as strict and intolerant or practical and radically secular, and there’s all kinds of reaction to it, as only natural. Why pick only the catastrophic scenario? Again, do you seriously think ALL Muslim parents will pull their kids out of state schools and put them in Koranic schools?

And even if it were, do you understand that – as long as private religious schools of any kind are allowed (something I don’t personally approve of, but that doesn’t matter because no one will ever ban private religious schools…) – that is a free choice, not something the state can legislate about?

Whereas it can legislate on what happens in state schools…

It doesn’t void the point about this being intended at affecting mentalities. But the state can only affect mentalities (cultural factors) by targeting what it _can_ target in respect to culture, ie. state education. Which _is_ the main way a state can affect culture.

Removing religious identification means promoting equality – it may backfire, it may be ill-advised, it may result in the catastrophe you foresee, but that is the principle: a state legislating on its own state education, on the setting for where that education takes place, and on what place – ie. none – religious identification should have in it.

The rest is all up to individuals. Like _everything_ in education, the idea is to have a ripple effect. By removing the scarf, the cross, the kippa from _state_ schools, you give a powerful message to everybody attending (and their parents), a message saying: you are all equal here, I as a state will treat you as equals, and you as citizens are expected to behave as equals, and respect my founding principle that dictates that religion has no place in the state education of citizens, _as long as you decide to take advantage of that state education_. In other words: You want to benefit from me (state), then you will have to follow my rules, not that of your religious leaders.

So, the target is specific, because the state cannot legislate on the mentalities taught within a family or community (or within a church or mosque); but it also far-reaching, because state education is far-reaching, for those who are subject to it!

IT is really a blindingly obvious point, and it’s one single argument, not a different one.

I’m not expecting you to approve of the ban, for gosh’s sake. I’m not even trumpeting the ban itself as this marvellous solution to all problems, am I. I’m only expecting you to try and follow the reasoning here, instead of pursuing your disaster vision of millions of Muslim girls being “yanked” out to the sound of chains and whips to Koranic schools…

88

ginger 02.13.04 at 11:24 pm

… oops, obviously should have been: I’m certainly NOT “retreating”.

89

ginger 02.13.04 at 11:30 pm

This whole debate often overlooks the point that the state is under no obligation to support, in secular school systems, parochial religious or cultural dogmas, particularly where they’re harmful.

If (for instance) you’re a Baptist Christian who’s anti-gay, and if you want your child to be taught by public school teachers that being gay is wrong, you should be (ideally in a non-homophobic society) disappointed when the teachers refuse to accept your dogma.

Likewise, if you are a parent of daughters, and if you’re motivated by a particular variant of misogyny which holds that all females must be kept from public sight, you should be under no expectations that public school teachers will connive in this misogyny.

Randy: absolutely perfectly said. Nice comparison as well. That’s exactly the point here, the state refusing to submit to particular religious dogmas. Amazing how it keeps getting ignored by some…

90

yabonn 02.13.04 at 11:34 pm

andrew,

?So ?foreigner? is not synonym with ?islamist? and being against islamists doesn?t translate into ?i hate arabs?.? Of course it?s not.

You seemed to imply so. You brought le pen (arab hater) to accuse someone talking about “islamists” (religious fanatics). You talked about “islamic” countries invaded by france.

“Not for all, perhaps not even more most. Don?t know. But for some it is. You would say you?re not one of them. Good, that?s a start. But I am worried about your leaps of logic, so I really don?t know.”

I’m so glad you’re not absolutely convinced i’m a racist -if i understood correctly your disgusting innuendos?

Glad too you seem to have finally grasped my -admittedly confusing- pet peeves and “leaps of logic”, such as the difference between “arab” and “muslim”, as an example. God knows why, but it’s the kind of distinctions that someone calling another a racist is supposed to be aware of, have i heard.

91

ginger 02.13.04 at 11:45 pm

As a last addition, I was just reminded of a scene from a documentary by an Afghan director, made after the overthrowing of the Talebans. There were a few scenes in a school with very young girls sitting in the class, all still wearing the burqa, and the teacher, a young nice woman wearing no burqa or hijab at all, trying hard to persuade them to uncover at least their faces, as a start… But she managed. It started with one girl, then another, then another again. The teacher was adamant they should uncover their faces, and even if some girls protested, saying their fathers would be furious, that Allah would strike them down, etc., in the end, they had to do it, or the teacher would kindly send those who refused out of class (after all her gentler attempts had failed). And you could finally see some smiles of mixed embarassment and fun.

It took some very hard convincing efforts on the part of the teacher, though… With one of the girls, she even had to devise a silly trick to get her to uncover. They were learning to spell the word for “water”, and the teacher asked this girl to wash her face in front of the class to demonstrate the use of water. She obviously had to take off her burqa to do that. A whole hour before she finally gave in…

Ok, entirely different setting, different situation, different story. But, somehow, I suspect those seeing the French law as intolerant and shameful would also see that teacher as shamefully abusive towards the girls.

92

ginger 02.13.04 at 11:57 pm

Last comment, for real. I just noticed there’s been a feast of extrapolations – ie. putting words in people’s mouths and inferring all sorts of nonsense – courtesy of sebastian and andrew, like this:

“Great, the whole world should become little Americans and eat at McDonald’s… Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

“Is letting the Nazis walk through Skokie an example of tolerance or intolerance?”

(??)

“That is the result of the action you are defending. This is not the intended result, I would hope, but the intentions are not nearly so important.”

“But in reality the MOST VULNERABLE of the Muslim girls get pulled from the schools, most probably losing the only secular contacts that they have. But at least you won’t have to see them any more.”

Ah yes. So, if I may extrapolate a bit myself, we have to conclude that everyone who supports this law and its principles, including those annoying (and best ignored!…) 40 or 53% of Muslim women and the Ni Putes Ni Soumises organization, are racist bigots. All Le Pen voters. It so figures…

93

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.14.04 at 12:18 am

“What I said was, policing violent and criminal behaviour by everybody, of every ethnic and religious group, is already the duty of the law, in France just like anywhere else on the planet.”

You are confusing things that ought to happen with things that actually happen. Of course France has a duty to police violent and criminal behaviour. That doesn’t mean that the French do a good job with the banlieues.

“Again, do you seriously think ALL Muslim parents will pull their kids out of state schools and put them in Koranic schools?

And even if it were, do you understand that – as long as private religious schools of any kind are allowed (something I don’t personally approve of, but that doesn’t matter because no one will ever ban private religious schools…) – that is a free choice, not something the state can legislate about?

Whereas it can legislate on what happens in state schools…”

What? I don’t have to think that ALL Muslim parents will pull their kids. I just have to think the girls who are most vulnerable, the girls with the most rigidly fundamentalist families, the girls in the most rigidly Islamist neighborhoods, these are the girls who will be pulled from the public schools and put (if anywhere) in Koranic schools. The fact that this is an ‘individual choice’ is completly beside the point. It is an obvious and predictable consequence of the ban which the French legislature is doing nothing about, and about which the bans defenders do not voice much concern (at least here or in public venues that I have access to.).

Of course I don’t think it effects millions of Muslim girls, from what I can tell the number of girls wearing the hijab number in the low tens of thousands. You evidence so much apparent concern about girls who are forced to wear the hijab, and then turn right around and use rhetoric suggesting that they will be leaving school as an ‘individual choice’. They will be forced to leave by the same oppression that makes them wear the hijab. They will be forced into a much worse position by the very same forces that forced the girls to wear the hijab in the first place.

“By removing the scarf, the cross, the kippa from state schools, you give a powerful message to everybody attending (and their parents), a message saying: you are all equal here, I as a state will treat you as equals, and you as citizens are expected to behave as equals, and respect my founding principle that dictates that religion has no place in the state education of citizens, as long as you decide to take advantage of that state education.”

This makes you look amazingly cold-hearted if you also believe that the hijab is forced on girls in school. You evidence awareness that the girl is not free to make choices about her hijab, and then pretend that she will be making choices about her education. If she does not control her own clothing, what is the likelihood that she will control her own schooling?

If this was some subtle side-effect of the law, I could excuse you for being blinded to an effect that isn’t the direct aim of the law. But this is no mystery. This is not a surprise. You know full well that the girls in question do not make their own choices on these matters. Yet you still use rhetoric as if they were making the choices. If they were making free choices there would be no question of the ban at all!

Obvious and predictable results from a law like this can’t just be ignored because the aren’t the ‘aim’ of the law.

94

Randy McDonald 02.14.04 at 12:40 am

Mr. Boucher:

“Surely, sir, you’d think that a society where it would be possible to assimilate would be better than one where it would be impossible to assimilate.” And, surely sir, a society where it isn’t necessary to assimilate is better than one where one is forced to. Which is actually more what I’m talking about.

A certain degree of assimilation is implied by most multiculturalisms, in their visions of a diverse society where different subgroups are able to coexist without infringing on the rightful liberties of others.

This vision implies that all groups should assimilate basic liberal-democratic principles of tolerance, for instance that majority populations shouldn’t oppress minority populations. It also implies that minority populations, in their dealings with other subgroups as well as in their internal relationships, should embrace the same principles.

Multiculturalism certainly wasn’t intended by its creators to conflict with the goal of a just and equal society for all. It was intended to supplement the latter goal, in fact.

Besides, Henry Farrell on this blog argued that the ban would be justified if the headscarf was being used to oppress women. It’s insulting to assume that immigrant minorities are incapable of absorbing the norms of the societies they live in; these norms include a basic respect for female autonomy and rights.

95

Randy McDonald 02.14.04 at 12:48 am

Mr. Holsclaw:

What? I don’t have to think that ALL Muslim parents will pull their kids. I just have to think the girls who are most vulnerable, the girls with the most rigidly fundamentalist families, the girls in the most rigidly Islamist neighborhoods, these are the girls who will be pulled from the public schools and put (if anywhere) in Koranic schools.

On a side note, if France is anything like Canada, private schools have to meet certain basic requirements. Parents who provide inferior educations to their children are held legally responsible in most developed countries, inasmuch as it involves negligent parenting.

On your main note, the goal of this legislation is to empower as many French Muslim young women as possible, preventing the hijab as it is being imposed from becoming the footsoldier for the spread of this sort of misogyny. It’s a defensive holding action, aimed at ultimately destabilizing the hold of conservatives in the French Muslim community on women. It’s an imperfect first step–I, like Ginger, am concerned by the effect that this may have on the minority of young women who voluntarily and freely wear the hijab–but politics isn’t for the pur et durs.

96

Ophelia Benson 02.14.04 at 12:56 am

Double quote here (quoting Ginger quoting Andrew) –

“I just noticed there’s been a feast of extrapolations – ie. putting words in people’s mouths and inferring all sorts of nonsense – courtesy of sebastian and andrew, like this:

““Great, the whole world should become little Americans and eat at McDonald’s… Wouldn’t that be wonderful?””

That is so not what I said or what Randy said.

I’m exhausted at the moment and can’t go through it line by line, but both of you have been misreading wildly. The discussion would be so much more interesting if you didn’t do that.

Also more concise. You go on and on at great length but addressing phantoms. A tad pointless.

97

Ophelia Benson 02.14.04 at 1:02 am

Postscript. I too, like Ginger and Randy, have reservations, worry about the consequences, etc. Nor did I ever say otherwise. My main point was that opponents simply ignore the fact that (as I keep saying) many Muslim women support the ban. I don’t see why their opinions should just be ignored. Or why what Rana and Pierre said should.

98

ginger 02.14.04 at 10:10 am

Andrew, look, I have understood your insistence that France do more to police the banlieues.

But that is a crime issue, if you’re referring to policing you’re talking about crime.
There is already policing of crimes, so my question is, what extra measures do you advocate that would be targeted specifically at Muslims? Police measures? New laws? That would target what crimes exactly that are not already covered? Or simply more controls for crimes already covered?

Then fine, but point is, that is entirely a separate matter. Not even related to the topic here. This is about how the state rules for its own state education. It’s about mentality, culture, principles. Not crime. Ok?

And for the 100th time, pressures on a young girl to wear a headscarf and behave accordingly to a strict and repressive tradition do _not_ have to come by way of beatings and violence. It can all be a lot subtler. As within any family with a strict and authoritarian father, he might be a loving parent as well. That’s exactly what makes it more complicated, in fact, for such situations. Because a girl might love her authoritarian father and may be convinced she has to respect his rules.

Here, you tell the girl attending a state school in France that the first rules she has to respect, when there is a conflict between those set by her tradition and the state’s, are the latter. That’s also a message that goes out to the parents. Since we’re talking individuals, there’ll be all sorts of reactions. There’ll be mothers and fathers who will accept that compromise. There’ll be those who won’t.

But, when the pressure from parents, father or mother or both, is still too strict, you are giving the chance to that girl attending a state school to free herself from that pressure.

It doesn’t have to result in further intransigence. To use your example:

the girls who are most vulnerable, the girls with the most rigidly fundamentalist families, the girls in the most rigidly Islamist neighborhoods, these are the girls who will be pulled from the public schools and put (if anywhere) in Koranic schools.

Well, have you ever heard of social services? They exist in France too, you know. A girl getting such pressures from her family has the chance to go to her teacher and talk about it. If those pressures fall within the scope of psychological abuse, then the state has a chance to intervene. A girl will be more encouraged to come out and “rebel” if she understands that the rules of the state are on HER side, not her father’s.

I should add, I’m a female, I went to school for a certain time in a Paris banlieue, indeed, with Muslim girls. Some of whom had that rebel instinct, some not. Some submitted to the rule of behaving like a good-Muslim-girl, which is not just about wearing a hijab I can assure you. Just like choosing not to wear it is not just about not wearing it; and it’s not easy either. I can give you tons of examples but I can’t explain it if you don’t get it.

I don’t expect you to share my views at all. But it seems to me you’re stuck on abstract reasoning, catastrophic hypotheses, unconnected arguments, and not facing the reality of all the implications of wearing or not wearing that “conspicuous religious symbol”.

The law may backfire for some, or be positive for others.

But keep in mind the first and immediate purpose (and principle) of the law is to make it easier for classes to operate on an equality basis – between boys and girls, different religious groups, and non religious ones. It is functional to how state schools operate. Randy said it perfectly above. Teachers will no longer have to condone a tradition that entails a physical and psychological wall between Muslim girls and others, girls and boys alike. In class, there should be no such wall. And since state school is where future voting citizens are educated, I see it as a good move in this specific respect.

The fact that some parents will still be able to pull their girls out of state schools and put them in Koranic schools (unless the girls rebel and ask for the support of the teachers and social services or something) is a matter of individual free choice granted to families *is very relevant*. The state cannot do anything about it, unless there are the premises for state intervention in that particular case (abuse, as said above). Just like the state in the US cannot do anything about parents wanting to put their kids in Koranic schools either. Or in schools where creationism is taught instead of scientific theories. Or in schools where, to use Randy’s instance, teachers preach about how gays are perverts.

No (democratic) state in the world can do anything about it, if I as a girl am being brought up by parents who teach me things that are not productive to my psychological growth, wellbeing, independence, and self-realization. UNLESS I or someone else close to me takes a step in the direction of escaping something which becomes suffocating to me. But it can’t be forced by law, unless there is abuse, and unless I or someone else caring for me denounce it.

WHEREAS the state can do something about how young girls and boys in its own state schools should be expected to relate to each other and to the state’s own rules.

Understand my point?

If the state wants to pass a law reintroducing school uniforms, it can. Actually, that’d have been an even smarter idea, eh… Let’s have nice uniforms for everybody so it’s not even a matter of “the ban of religious symbols”. But I guess that would have brought other problems.

Laws are compromises, always. After months of hearing all the different arguments, after my initial perplexity, I simply have come to think this compromise, of removing any and all religious identification and everything that’s associated with it, is a rather pragmatic and intelligent way of setting that principle of equality and French secularism in the environment where principles must be set, ie. schools. It is a way of dealing with a practical situations and the problems that have arisen in these last years. It is a way of setting rules for integration – I, the state, shall respect all religious habits as long as they respect me first. I, the state, am based on that idea of laicite, and if you want to take advantage of the kind of education I, the state, have envisioned for my citizens, then you have to submit to that simple rule that sets equality for all and total separation of religion and public life.

I don’t expect you to agree, but you cannot escape the _principle_ the law is set on, and judge it only on an adverse effect you pick out and turn into a damning condemnation of the law itself. That effect, even if it included 99% of people affected by this law (which is unlikely), is _outside_ the scope of this law.

If you don’t understand that, try and name an instance of a state in the world that can force parents to NOT put their kids in the wackiest private school there is just because they can. (Excluding factors of abuse).

the girls who are most vulnerable, the girls with the most rigidly fundamentalist families, the girls in the most rigidly Islamist neighborhoods, these are the girls who will be pulled from the public schools and put (if anywhere) in Koranic schools.

No, “individual choice” refer to the parents – again, excluding factors that can trigger state intervention, in any country in the world parents can do what they like with their children’s education. If I teach my kids that gays are evil, you cannot do anything about it. You will try and correct it by way of state education, but you cannot force me to send them to state schools if there are also private schools.

My concern is with the law itself, not just the overall situation of girls in Islam. It would be LOVELY if that could be tackled as a whole; but it cannot be tackled as a whole from the outside. IT can only be tackled in each specific setting.

If for instance I own a restaurant, I can set rules that all my employees will have to wear a uniform on the job. They won’t be allowed to wear religious head covering while they take orders and deliver them to customers. That is a much simpler instance, and nothing much in common here. But say, my best waitress is a Muslim girl and she wants to keep wearing the scarf, OR she has been brought up with intense pressures to wear it and doesn’t want to give it up for all the reasons such pressures cause. She’ll have to pick wether to keep working for me or not. It’s her choice (assuming she is old enough legally to decide for herself). _I am only setting my own rules for the environment I own and operate_. Because that’s what I can do. I cannot force her to rebel to something I (and other Muslim girls) view as oppression if she’s been brought up not to consider it so. Compris?

Similarly here. I, the state, do what I can and have a right to do on my premises. I cannot do more than that. But what I can do already has a tremendous weight in setting a principle about the prevalence of state principles over religious principles, in a state environment.

That is of huge relevance to the issue of integration of communities where there may be an excessively strict adherence to religion over state rules. The whole basis of the conflict between those among Muslims who are most intransigent and the democratic state where they live is there, in that strict instransigent Muslims want the state to come second, and their religious traditions to come first. When the latter conflict with the idea of that state’s secularism and equality between the sexes and between all citizens of all faiths, then the state can take action to re-establish that its own rules come first. That’s what it did here.

The rest – as with any law – is up to individuals, in all their different individual reactions that cannot be boiled down to one, be it catastrophic or overoptimistic.

But since we’re talking girls under the legal age to decide for themselves (not sure, as I don’t live in France- but it should be 18), then there is also more of an opening for the state to intervene in case of pressures and psychological abuse within the family, and that opening can be even larger once the state has set a precise rule about equality.

The girls need not be forced to leave schools. Those who have internalised those set of repressive rules, and do not see the headscarf and the Islamic idea of woman associated to it as repressive, will not make a fuss if their parents want to move them to Koranic schools. Those who feel those Islamic views of women are repressive, will have more of a chance to stand up because now *they know that the state does not endorse those views in the school*.

Why don’t you even consider that?

That is a clear dividing line. Those other factors – how the girls themselves perceive the Islamic tradition about women, and how they relate to it, how they react, and what room for manoeuvre they have – depends wholly on individual cases. But the state has set a clear principle from which to act there.

Besides, there will be also practical factors at play. I doubt there’s as many Koranic schools in France, as as nearby and accessible everywhere, as state schools. I even doubt they all legally comply with what’s required even of private schooling. I doubt all parents, even among the strictest ones, will be willing to give up the advantages of state schooling just because of this law.

I can think of many different cases and different outcomes. The law cannot legislate on that, it can only set a principle. Disagree or agree with it, but that is the only thing it can do. The rest belongs to the private sphere and parental rights over their children, and the state can only act when there is a conflict there, and a case of abuse, and/or a call for help from the girl herself.

Sorry for repetitions and redundances, but you don’t seem to be getting that…

99

ginger 02.14.04 at 10:26 am

oops, sorry, that was in reply to Sebastian, not Andrew…

Sebastian, to make it absolutely clear again, I did not say what you infer here:

You know full well that the girls in question do not make their own choices on these matters. Yet you still use rhetoric as if they were making the choices. If they were making free choices there would be no question of the ban at all!

I know I wrote a lot, but please if you’re interested in discussing at all re-read carefully and you’ll see I’m considering a range of *different* individual cases. What I know full well is that some girls have choice, some others don’t, some others don’t see it as a matter of choice, some others see the scarf as something to be proud. I assume you know full well yourself, even if you’re a man, how strict rules and authoritiarian education from parents can work, be it on girls or boys. They can be internalised so much that one does not see that strictness as repression. THAT is where the whole problem lies, dear Sebastian. IF it was only a matter of giving voice and choice to girls who ALL want to be free from the most oppressive aspects of strict Islamic tradition, then it’d be a lot simpler, n’est-ce pas?

It’s not about being cold-hearted, it’s about being objective on what the state powers of intervention are.

Again, name me one democratic country in the world where you or me or anybody else or the social services can PREVENT a parent from putting her daughter into a private school of any kind, unless there are factors for state intervention.

You’re demanding something that cannot be done, and would open up a whole can of worms of state interference (where would you draw the line, do you want those girls sent to Koranic schools to be all removed from parental custody?), and refuse to consider what can and is being done, and is *not* state interference because the state is only legislating upon its own state environment.

There are a lot of aspects to this legislation that you are ignoring to keep hammering on something (how parents bring up their children, in the absence of identifiable factors of abuse that can trigger state intervention) that is totally outside the scope of *any* law in any democracy.

100

ginger 02.14.04 at 10:35 am

Ophelia: that also amazes me, how the opinions those women, like Rana here who’s speaking from first-hand experience, can be ignored.

Thanks to you and Randy for putting the main points so well. I’d also like to hear Sebastian and Andrew answer _your_ posts, possibly without straw men and arbitrary inferences.

My apologies to everyone for not managing too keep concise, English is a second language for me and I get repetitive and redundant when trying to explain something that’s very obvious to me.

101

Ophelia Benson 02.14.04 at 2:00 pm

Ginger,

Yes indeed, isn’t it maddening. And thanks back, triply and with bells on – because last time this was discussed here, as I mentioned, there weren’t any Ranas or Randys or Gingers (or Pierre, Luc, Yabonne), so my mentions of Ni Putes ni Soumises were simply dismissed as racism. At least that ploy is more difficult this time.

102

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.15.04 at 4:31 am

Oh good heavens ginger, you are engaging in blatant doublethink. Whenever it helps your argument you assume that the girls in question are able to resist– now apparently they can go to social services. We won’t analyze the fact that this doesn’t strengthen the social services that the hijab-wearers were already not using. At other times when it will help your arguments in different ways the girls cannot resist, they have to wear the hijab. I’m sure that you believe you are engaging in amazingly subtle distinction-making, but frankly it appears to me that you flip-flop on definitions any time you think it gives you a positional advantage. That is great for successful argumentation, probably not so great for analyzing the problems of the oppressed Muslim girls in question.

I find the most problem with this: “I don’t expect you to agree, but you cannot escape the principle the law is set on, and judge it only on an adverse effect you pick out and turn into a damning condemnation of the law itself. That effect, even if it included 99% of people affected by this law (which is unlikely), is outside the scope of this law. “

You don’t give a damn about the actual consequences so long as the principle is something you cherish. I’m astonished to see you admit this, even though I could tell from your arguments that you believed it. You say yourself that even if my supposition about the greatly increased repression for the vulnerable Muslim girls in question is correct for 99% of the people, I can’t use that as an argument because it is beyond the scope of the law.

That is a ridiculous way to make policy, but it is so typical. I am pointing out a completely forseeable problem that this policy will make worse, and you want me to ignore it because you celebrate French secularism so much.

Ridiculous.

Furthermore you have spent so much time talking about the oppression caused by the hijab, that I think I can be forgiven for mistaking it as important to the topic at hand–at least as important as the ‘cherished secularism’ side of the debate.

Furthermore your whole ‘individual choice’ analysis is hopelessly muddled. You admit that the choice to pull from the state schools belongs to the parents, but you refuse to look at that any further. You suggest that the state can’t do anything about these choices. Clearly they can. For example they could choose not to ban the hijab when they know full well that this will cause the most vulnerable Muslim girls to be cut off from nearly all secular contact. The state could do that couldn’t they? In fact the state has done that until now, haven’t they? They could decide that it was more important not to doom these girls to a completely insular Islamist life by allowing them at least to attend schools. Oh, I’m sorry, they are ALLOWED by the SCHOOL SYSTEM to attend. We are all supposed to pretend that their PARENTS will not pull them from the schools, the very same people who (as you even admit) oppress their daughters with the horror of the hijab. We are supposed to bow at the altar of secularism and avert our eyes at the consequences for the Muslim girl with fundamentalist parents.

After all, you aren’t ordering the parents to make life worse for their daughters. It is all about good intentions. Damn the real-world consequences and the Muslim girls who get hurt on the way. So long as the principle of the thing is defensible, we can ignore the rest.

103

ginger 02.15.04 at 12:10 pm

Oh good heavens ginger, you are engaging in blatant doublethink. Whenever it helps your argument you assume that the girls in question are able to resist— now apparently they can go to social services.

Sebastian, what part of “different individual cases” didn’t you understand?

No matter what the social and religious pressures there are, there are still different cases. Can you at least make an effort to imagine that, or is your mind only filled with visions of catastrophe to blame on this law only, rather that on individual decisions?

Did you read the part about: some girls may have internalised the pressure to wear the veil, some others will be more likely to rebel, and all degrees in between – and now that there is a clear rule that says that pressure won’t be accepted in school, those already inclined to rebel to that pressure will know the state – starting from the school itself, from teachers to social assistants – is on their side, not their fathers and mullah’s?

Do you have any idea whatsoever of the many ways in which parental and social pressures in a traditional environment can work?

If you still insist on ignoring that point, as well as all others raised by Ophelia, Randy, Rana, Luc, Pierre, etc., only to go around and around in your unbelievably close-minded and mysoginist circles, well, it’s a waste of time.

You don’t give a damn about the actual consequences so long as the principle is something you cherish.

No, Sebastian, you haven’t understood one single thing there. You haven’t even understood what the law is about. You are sticking to what you decided will be the one consequence and that it will be catastrophic and you believe that is enough on your part to dismiss everything _real_ that motivated this law. The reasons Rana and Randy and Ophelia and others explained so well. So much better than I could. No wonder you’re not even replying to them….

It seems to me you’re the one stuck on abstract arguments. I don’t care about reasoning in the abstract, I’m speaking also out of experience in a French school, and experience of Muslim girlfriends in class and with their parents. You don’t care about anything that relates to reality here. You don’t care about considering these girls and their parents as individuals, and what their different situations and attitudes might be. So who’s indifferent here?

You say yourself that even if my supposition about the greatly increased repression for the vulnerable Muslim girls in question is correct for 99% of the people, I can’t use that as an argument because it is beyond the scope of the law.

But that was to emphasise the point about what the law is about, and about what the state can and cannot do! A point you also entirely ignored. Or is your entire interest to show how cold-hearted it is to simply observe the *limits* of state intervention? You’re unbelievable really… Do you want those limits lifted? Do you want more or less state intervention? You’re so contradicting yourself.

The heart of the matter here is that this is about setting rules in state schools. No state can interfere *directly* with parenting and upbringing of children in the home, in the community, in the family, in the mosque, unless there are clear signs of abuse and all premises for state intervention to protect children – a rule that applies to all situations, not just to religious groups.

You refuse to accept the reality of what state laws can do in terms of education, and you want to throw the law away and not even try and consider its premises, just because it cannot automagically bring ALL Islamic traditions up to date with feminism and secularism! When that intent is not and cannot be within the scope of the law, or any law, in any democratic state – and that’s a fact, not my belief or anyone’s, it’s simply the reality.

And again, you know too that is highly unlikely, not to say outright impossible, that 99% of French Muslim girls will be “yanked out of state schools” as you say.

Do you want to reason on reality for once, or only on if’s?

I am pointing out a completely forseeable problem that this policy will make worse, and you want me to ignore it because you celebrate French secularism so much.

You’re so dishonest in arguing it’s amusing really. I never said or implied I want you “to ignore it”. I’m pointing out to you that no state can prevent parents from putting their kids in private religious schools, either as a consequence of this law or as a decision already taken before it; and that you will have to consider all aspects of your catastrophic hypothesis, including:

1) there are not as many Koranic schools in France as state schools

2) they’re not free and not as accessible as state schools

3) there will be also many parents who are not so strict on the hijab and will be willing to compromise in exchange for the advantages of state schooling

4) there will be many girls who are already against the obligation to wear the veil and the may be more encouraged to rebel now that they know the state does not tolerate that obligation either;

5) the scope, intent, motivation, _practical_ principle of this law is to set rule in its own schools that will favour both integration and equality between religious groups and boys and girls

Also, it’s been pointed out to you that the majority of French Muslim girls and women _support this law_.

Do you still want to ignore all that, fine, but don’t turn it around and blame it on others.

Furthermore you have spent so much time talking about the oppression caused by the hijab

No I haven’t really. It’s not the main point here. But I’m not sure what’s so annoying to you about talking of the hijab _and the associated view of women_ as a form of oppression?

In any case, I have pointed out it can be also something embraced freely, either because of internalisation of pressures, or because of choosing one ‘s group identity over one’s personal and sexual identity. I have specifically pointed out to you that those pressures from within the family can also come in a gentle, loving way that a girl will not be willing to rebel against. I’m thinking of instances I’ve known of first-hand. Repeating myself again, if it was only a matter of giving voice to girls who all already want to be free from the hijab and all that’s associated with it in terms of behaviour, it’d be a lot simpler. Reality is not simple, Sebastian.

your whole ‘individual choice’ analysis is hopelessly muddled.

No, it’s that there are *different individual cases* (this is getting boring, isn’t it?), different ways by which the pressures on Muslim girls to behave accordingly to strict traditions can act, different ways by which parents can push that tradition, different ways by which girls can react and relate to it. Reality is “muddled”, in the sense it’s more complex than ONE single monolithic picture like the one you seem to entertain.

French Muslims are not all “Islamic thugs” beating their girls into submission, you know that?

How about that big slice of Muslim women supporting this law, for instance?

Care to comment on that? OR is that too much of an annoying fact for you?

You admit that the choice to pull from the state schools belongs to the parents, but you refuse to look at that any further.

Oh dear. I’ll try again: I’m only _observing_ the state cannot interfere with that choice, be it in France or in the US or Britain or Germany or Canada. Understand that?

(And again, you keep reasoning like that will be the only one outcome of this law, for everybody affected…)

You suggest that the state can’t do anything about these choices. Clearly they can. For example they could choose not to ban the hijab when they know full well that this will cause the most vulnerable Muslim girls to be cut off from nearly all secular contact.

Thats completely self-defeating circular reasoning.

You’re saying, basically, that because the law cannot *prevent* what remains a matter of choice for all parents in any democratic country in the world (ie. send children to private schools of any kind whatsoever), then the state should do *nothing at all*, and refrain even from setting rules in its own *state schools*.

!

Do you see how absurd your argument is? Whether or not there are religious schools, and independently of how many parents will choose them, the state has a right to set the standards for its own state education. Crikes, t’s such a simple, clear concept I’m amazed you keep ignoring it.

Plus, it’s not just a principle. See the five points above. There are many factors, from economic to geographical to mentality-related, that will lead a good number of people to still want to benefit from state schooling rather than private schooling.

We are supposed to bow at the altar of secularism and avert our eyes at the consequences for the Muslim girl with fundamentalist parents.

Oh yes, that’s precisely my argument here, indeed… sing the praise of French secularism just because. Oh you soo got it right.

I have a better idea. Let’s make all state schools in France rule-free. You can come in covered in a burqa as well. Who cares about teaching a secular foundation that can grant respect for all religions as long as they respect basic principles like the separation of state and religion and the equality between the sexes? AS long as we can feel all warm and fuzzy that we are doing our best to prevent you from being “yanked out” by your parents to a private school, anything goes.

So the state should basically give up its own laws, its very right to legislate on itself, its right to manage its own state education in its own schools, to “compete” with fundamnetalist religious schools.

A wonderful idea, isn’t it?

By the same reasoning, creationism should be accepted in state schools in the US, as long as this can be argued to be likely to “prevent” parents from pulling out their kids from those schools to put them in some wacko institute where they’ll learn man was made out of clay, not evolved from monocellular organisms.

Does it even cross your mind that there is no proven direct “prevention” effect there, because as long as private schools and religious schools of any kind are available, they are available as choice to any parent, no matter what?

What you’re advocating is, that _legislators refrain from doing anything just because they cannot do everything_.

We should all tolerate and accept and endorse views and behaviours even if they are not compatible with the few simple basic rules that are accepted to work for everybody and to accomodate all religions, all beliefs, or none, as long as they respect those basic rules. We give up on all that, we allow fundamentalist views into secular state schools, and that’s how we beat their competition! So smart! All girls and boys in the class should all accept that the stricted Islamic views of women are ok even for the state (and therefore, for the school, for the teachers, etc.). Kids should accept that creationism is ok even for the state.

You’re right. It’s such a wonderful solution. Now, let’s go tell those teachers in Afghanistan to stop trying to tell girls to take off their burqas…

104

ginger 02.15.04 at 1:40 pm

As a last attempt to ground this discussion back to reality rather than sophistries, compare the discussion on the French law with the discussion on the ban of the Islamic veil in Turkey.

Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that Turkish women enjoy many rights not extended to women in other Muslim countries:

Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern republic, allowed women to vote as early as 1934 and encouraged them to work and shed the Islamic-style veil.

Ataturk saw the veil as a symbol not only of sexual repression but also of Islamic militancy. Such thinking is shared today by Turkey’s powerful generals, who view themselves as the custodians of Ataturk’s secular legacy, a role enshrined in the current constitution, which they drew after their third and last direct intervention in 1980.

Out of sheer curiosity, I’d really like to know, do the people who criticise this French law as intolerant or short-sighted or “racist” or whatever also criticise Ataturk’s and the Turkish secularists position establishing the very same principle in the law and in the Turkish constitution?

105

Betty 02.16.04 at 8:43 pm

“By removing the scarf, the cross, the kippa from state schools, you give a powerful message to everybody attending (and their parents), a message saying: you are all equal here, I as a state will treat you as equals, and you as citizens are expected to behave as equals, and respect my founding principle that dictates that religion has no place in the state education of citizens, as long as you decide to take advantage of that state education.”

This is absolutely disgusting. They are not in any way equal. No Christian is being prevented from wearing a cross. They are prevented from wearing large crosses. No Christian dictate is being voilated. (As I understand, Christians are not required to wear a cross.) A Jewish dictate has banned from a school.

So Jews are not equally able to follow their own faith (by following a dictate that harms no one and bothers no one unless you are an antisemite) in the so called secular equality of France. Seems to me that Jews are only to be tolerated if the French cannot tell they are Jews.

When France has school days on Sundays, then I might agree. But it seems to me that some are more equal than others. And let me tell you, it isn’t the Jews who are the pig in this senario.

106

ginger 02.19.04 at 8:10 am

Betty: we all know this law is not primarily targeted at Jews and the kippa, because that’s not what’s creating problems of divisions in classes (Jewish boys do not ask to be exempted from certain classes or not speak to female teachers, do they?), and Jewish groups are not being the fundamentalists here. The problem is with Islamists using the issue of the hijab as a lever to push their agenda into state schools. Everybody knows that, that’s why the controversy is all about that.

So this doesn’t look like it has much to do with antisemitism. It’s just that the rule has to be enforced for everybody, even in those cases where it’s about symbols that don’t really cause any significant problems.

107

ginger 02.19.04 at 8:12 am

Betty: we all know this law is not primarily targeted at Jews and the kippa, because that’s not what’s creating problems of divisions in classes (Jewish boys do not ask to be exempted from certain classes or not speak to female teachers, do they?), and Jewish groups are not being the fundamentalists here. The problem is with Islamists using the issue of the hijab as a lever to push their agenda into state schools. Everybody knows that, that’s why the controversy is all about that.

So this doesn’t look like it has much to do with antisemitism. It’s just that the rule has to be enforced for everybody, even in those cases where it’s about symbols that don’t really cause any significant problems.

108

betty 02.19.04 at 3:51 pm

That’s oppressive and disgusting in my opinion. If the school offered a lunch program, would it be right to force Jewish kids to eat pork? Afterall, making accomodations would be wrong, right? You really can’t budge an inch to be understanding to a fellow human being’s faith. Not when your vaunted seclularism might have to actually evolve beyond it’s narrow (and outdated) fight against the Catholic church.

Are Christian children being hindered from practicing their faith? As far as I know they don’t have to go to school on Sunday and there is nothing that they are forced to do that goes against their beliefs. The so called secular school system, really isn’t that secular. The whole culture deliberately makes accomodations for Christians (as they are the majority). It provides children with Sunday off. It provides them with important Christian holidays off.

I’m all for keeping religion out of classrooms. I don’t want Jewish kids to have to hear about Jesus or Hindu kids to have to teachers telling them they are idolaters. That doesn’t mean conversely it is proper or kind to force kids to conform to what is essentially, at its heart, a Christian-centric culture.

REASONABLE accomodations can be made if one has an open mind and a good heart.

This has a great deal to do with anti-semitism sentiment. You just have your own battle to fight and you don’t care who gets hurt in the crossfire so long as you get what you want. It’s insensitive and wrong. You don’t care that Sikh, Jewish and moderate Muslim kids get tred on and forced to conform, so long as you can publically stick it to your fundementalists.

Nor do you really care whether this law helps kids caught in a culture that is looking for a reason to demonize multicultural life. All you care about is misguided principles and a show of force against fundementalists. The actual victims mean nothing so long as the principle is clean and shiny in your eyes.

I believe all public school educated kids should take science. It’s important for ensuring all kids attending public school receive have a proper education so they can then choose to do what they want. I believe even that they should probably take gym (which I view as rather unimportant but still part of the coursework).

It’s really not the Jewish or Sikh community’s fault that YOUR community is plagued by fundementalism.

I don’t believe covering one’s head harms anyone.

If your community has problems, solve it without hurting others and without promoting the idea that Jewish or Sikh victims need to be forced to change because prejudiced scum find their exsistance offensive to the narrow minded view of what it means to be properly French.

Solve your own problems without harming my community.

Comments on this entry are closed.