“Contrary to the values of the republic”

by Chris Bertram on January 27, 2010

Sometimes a thought occurs about something that might make for an interesting blog post, but I realise that whilst I know enough to have the thought, I’d have to do a great deal of research to write something that would survive the scrutiny of people who know their stuff. Still, it may be that commenters who know more than me can say something of value, and that I could at least serve as a prompt. So here goes. An article on the BBC website discusses the recommendations of a French parliamentary committee which described the veil as :

“contrary to the values of the republic” and called on parliament to adopt a formal resolution proclaiming “all of France is saying ‘no’ to the full veil”.

Hmm, I thought. It wasn’t so long ago that “all of France”, at least for some values of “all of France” had a more divided view about the veil. Roughly at this time, in fact:

(Picture nicked from the very excellent Images of France and Algeria blog, which has, incidentally, lots of interesting stuff on the 1961 Paris massacres of Algerians.)

But then I also remembered that official France had not, in fact, been very tolerant of the veiling of Algerian women. The photographer Marc Garanger is famous for his many pictures, taken during the war, of Muslim women forcibly unveiled so that they could be photographed for compulsory ID cards. There are some here . So how did that all work out then? A little googling reveals that this very month, historian Neil MacMaster has a new book entitled Burning the Veil: The Algerian war and the ‘emancipation’ of Muslim women, 1954-62 (Manchester University Press). I couldn’t find any reviews, as yet. The blurb writes about a campaign of forced modernisation followed by a post-revolutionary backlash involving a worsening of the position of women in Algeria.

So two thoughts then: (1) far from being an aberration in France, there was a very recent period when very many French women (or perhaps “French” women) were veiled; (2) attempts by the state to change that didn’t lead to female emancipation and the triumph of Enlightenment values.

{ 146 comments }

1

John Meredith 01.27.10 at 2:55 pm

Insisting that the veil is ‘contrary to the values of the republic’ (which it manifestly is if those values are summed up as ‘liberte, fraternite et egalite’ or rough equivalent) does not imply that wearing the veil is ‘aberrant’ if by that you mean uncommon, which you seem to here. A practice can be very common in a locality and still contrary to the local values.

2

NomadUK 01.27.10 at 3:07 pm

attempts by the state to change that didn’t lead to female emancipation and the triumph of Enlightenment values.

And that’s simply because the state, in this case as in so many others, isn’t interested one whit in emancipating women or establishing Enlightenment values.

3

alex 01.27.10 at 3:10 pm

Since it isn’t much longer ago than the example you cite that ‘official France’ [for some values thereof] was shipping Jews off to Auschwitz, I remain to be convinced of why this intervention is more than just a cheap crack. French official discourse is severely f*cked-up on this issue, as it is on almost every issue where ethnicity, culture and politics intersect. But one of the key reasons why it is, is that the French left-leaning intelligentsia continue to think that ‘the values of the republic’ are some kind of magic wand.

4

Linca 01.27.10 at 3:12 pm

Muslims in Algeria never got the French citizenship. The place to look at if you want to see French women that have been wearing the veil for a long time is the island of La Réunion, where there was a significant veil-wearing muslim community.

5

Chris Bertram 01.27.10 at 3:22 pm

#3 Alex, did you mean the parliamentary committee’s intervention or my blog post?

#4 Linca, thanks for that helpful clarification.

6

Zamfir 01.27.10 at 3:34 pm

the French left-leaning intelligentsia continue to think that ‘the values of the republic’ are some kind of magic wand.

The French references to Republican values are a lot like American references to the constitution.

7

JoB 01.27.10 at 4:07 pm

Full marks for understatement on 6!

8

Walt 01.27.10 at 4:08 pm

Don’t criticize that which you don’t understand. I had chronic psoriasis until I invoked the power of the American Constitution.

9

ajay 01.27.10 at 4:30 pm

“The power of the Constitution compels you!”

I think it’s rather shaky reasoning to say “France tried to unveil Algerians, and then Algeria became independent, and the new Algerian government stopped trying to unveil Algerians, and now Algerians are not doing very well; therefore France should not have tried to unveil Algerians”.

It’s analogous to saying: “I tried to insulate my house. Then I moved house, and the new owners ripped the insulation out again. And their heating bills are huge. Therefore I should not have tried to insulate my house.”

Plus, as alex points out, this was half a century ago, for Pete’s sake.

10

Chris Bertram 01.27.10 at 4:44 pm

#9 Alex: well no-one was saying that, exactly.

As for “this was half a century ago”, well the Algerian war was more recent than the Holocaust and the US Civil War … presumably you don’t doubt the resonances of those events in contemporary politics. Rent yourself a DVD of “Hidden” whilst you’re thinking about that.

11

Phil 01.27.10 at 4:56 pm

that’s simply because the state, in this case as in so many others, isn’t interested one whit in emancipating women or establishing Enlightenment values

Like ajay, I think the fact that the backlash was preceded by a war of national liberation complicates the picture a tad. It’s a bit late to ask, but I do wonder to what extent metropolitan French citizens’ conception of ‘France’ included the overseas départements.

12

Hidari 01.27.10 at 4:59 pm

What’s the matter with you, Bertram? Don’t you realise that that this is about female emancipation?

Look if feminism isn’t about heterosexual, wealthy, white males telling poor Arab women what they can and can’t wear, then surely the word has lost its meaning.

I blame Jacques Derrida, for reasons that are no clearer to me than to anyone else.

13

alex 01.27.10 at 5:12 pm

[That ain't me @9, evidently]

But, @11, it is always fun to see that, according to the weather forecast on the telly, St Pierre-et-Miquelon, Guadeloupe, Tahiti and several points in between are definitely part of the Hexagone.

Notice how the French were much more cunning about their decolonisation than the British. What did her Maj keep? The Falklands, St. Helena… The French hung onto a full range of stunning holiday locations.

[OK, I'll give you Bermuda, but nobody actually goes there on holiday.]
[And St Pierre-et-Miquelon are two rocks in the North Atlantic, but the exception merely proves the rule.]

14

Marc 01.27.10 at 5:55 pm

Does Ataturk ring a bell? There is a precedent for banning traditional clothing (in his case, for men and women) to make a societal point.

A custom that prevents you from seeing someone’s face, at all, can be regarded as a bit different from other apparel choices (try walking into a bank wearing a ski mask, for example.) So, although the idea of laws banning certain kinds of clothes does strike americans as bizarre, there actually are reasons why this particular one is different.

I’m also not seeing serious engagement with the idea that laws of the type being discussed in France can free women from being forced by their family to do things that they actually don’t want to do. I have my doubts, but isn’t that the alleged justification?

15

Chris Waigl 01.27.10 at 6:14 pm

But the Muslim Algerian population did not, even when “L’Algérie est la France” was accepted in wide circles, receive citizenship rights, unlike the Christian and Jewish population in the colonized Algeria. So the “Algérie” that WAS “La France” does not, in fact, include the Muslim Algerians, other than in a mechanical sense of the land being inhabited by them.

16

Linca 01.27.10 at 6:29 pm

Well, @13, the problem with colonies in great vacation spots is that with all the lefties in power, the indigenous population has access to 1st world level social help, which makes them too uppity to be proper subservient, hardworking, cheaply paid hotel employees like in the nominally independent colonies ! (That was tongue in cheek. But a commonly heard criticism of “Vacances aux Antilles” is that the Dominican Republic definitely has better and cheaper service than the Martinique… Oh well.)

17

yabonn 01.27.10 at 7:10 pm

How it works, in my opinion : the right has realized that a swift little pre electoral backstab of the arab minority pays well – think Chirac 2, Sarkozy. The media always follows. Cops will even participate, with a little push in the stats, just to show good will.

So I think it is precisely the dog whistling it appears to be. If the matter is still alive in 6 month maybe it was a Grave and Pressing Matter after all, that just happened to begin before an election, poor thing.

Sarkozy – generally the racist friendly new right – thrives on communautarist tension and doesn’t really care about the republican model – apart as a fig leaf. I just bang my head against the walls and hope for no long lasting damage.

Silver lining : it is slowly (maybe it’s just me) dawning – even on the right – that arabs vote too, and that racism/security is not anymore the silver bullet it once was.

About the decolonisation background, or the backlash thing : yes, no, maybe, don’t know, don’t see how I could know for sure.

18

Russell L. Carter 01.27.10 at 7:54 pm

“…can free women from being forced by their family”

or even just by other people in the community.

I would be more easily convinced that stupidly blunt, top-down government intrusion in this particular case were unwarranted were I to be given a plausible reason why the abuse women have suffered from disregarding this particular “custom” is unimportant. “Doesn’t exist!” or “Never Happens!” are not a valid replies.

I might view sympathetically an argument demonstrating that the collective magnitude of the unintended negative consequences significantly outweighs the erosion of individual liberty of some unfortunate freethinkers.

I have to say as a fairly provincial American that it seems a bit unusual for a Government to step in on behalf of a small (in absolute numbers), essentially powerless group. Usually it has to be dragged kicking and screaming, by the Judiciary. So it seems probable that justice is not the primary motivation.

Yet my sympathies remain with the freethinkers.

19

Geoffrey 01.27.10 at 8:27 pm

Not too many folks here making the point that, at its heart, this is the kind of ignorant political babble we deride in the US. Because it’s France, where even foreign “experts” tend to be at sea, we give this racist crap a pass?

Sorry.

This is another version of the Swiss decision to ban minarets. It’s anti-Muslim hysteria being couched as something noble, even in the “spirit” of the “Republic”. French Tea Baggers might support it, but this American does not.

20

Chris Bertram 01.27.10 at 8:36 pm

#18 Well those “negative consequences” include the loss of freedom of those coerced by the law. Normally, it doesn’t enhance freedom to coerce _everyone_ not to do a thing in order to prevent some people from coercing _some_ people to do that thing. In order to think that freedom is thereby enlarged you must believe that most of the people who do the thing are (a) coerced or (b) so badly deluded as to their true wants as to justify paternalistic intervention. You could be right about (a) or (b) but some evidence would be nice.

21

Russell L. Carter 01.27.10 at 9:22 pm

Ah. That didn’t take long.

#19 is a “Doesn’t exist!” response and Chris’s #20 is “it’s ok if most of the people are not coerced” response.

Let’s get down to details. Here’s the main assertion:

“Normally, it doesn’t enhance freedom to coerce everyone not to do a thing in order to prevent some people from coercing some people to do that thing.”

The problem is that not “everyone” is doing the thing, right? Roughly half are already not doing the thing. They’re exempt. Yet it’s clear that some nontrivial fraction of the exempt half are doing the coercing.

So the above quoted principle transforms to something along the lines of (I think): “Normally, it doesn’t enhance freedom to coerce a minority of the population to not do a thing in order to prevent some people (including some other exempt people) from coercing some people to do that thing.”

I don’t think that’s a particularly strongly founded principle. Looks pretty muddy to me. And I haven’t even touched on the underlying power relations. Which only make it muddier, and weaker.

Which is not to say that a Government can on balance “fix” the situation by applying top down blunt instruments.

(Can we stifle the stupid racism accusations? Tx)

22

Chris Bertram 01.27.10 at 9:43 pm

_Chris’s #20 is “it’s ok if most of the people are not coerced” response._

Well no, it isn’t actually, as more careful reading on you part would have revealed to you.

23

Mrs Tilton 01.27.10 at 10:35 pm

Russell @18,

Yet my sympathies remain with the freethinkers

Don’t presume you know what “the freethinkers” think about this. This freethinker deplores the veil, but deplores even more attempts to use the force of the state to ban it (esp. when such attempts are transparent xenophobic demagoguery at the expense of a powerless minority). Freethinker Steve LaBonne, sometime contributor to CT‘s comments threads, is really, really not a fan of religion (of any kind); yet regards veil-bans as an appalling abridgement of liberty by the state. And he’s right.

24

Marc 01.27.10 at 10:42 pm

One note: in the USA a number of laws, aimed at the KKK, have banned the wearing of hoods and masks in public places. The courts have been split on their constitutionality, but there is precedent. See the ADL faq .

Ataturk also thought that traditional garb was a barrier to progress for his people, accounting for the 1925 ban on the fez and the campaign to discourage veiling among women. He didn’t pass a law, however, although there was a law banning the fez.

The advocacy of anti-veiling laws does at least in part come from within the community – see for example this MSNBC report from last summer. So it’s not (at least not completely) imposed on the community from the outside.

25

Lemuel Pitkin 01.27.10 at 11:14 pm

I would be more easily convinced that stupidly blunt, top-down government intrusion in this particular case were unwarranted were I to be given a plausible reason why the abuse women have suffered from disregarding this particular “custom” is unimportant. “Doesn’t exist!” or “Never Happens!” are not a valid replies.

Is it valid to point out that there are lots of ways to expand the freedom of Muslim women that don’t involve deploying the coercive power of the state against those women? One could devote resources to improve access of Muslim women to schools, to employment, to housing if they need to flee an abusive family situation, etc. This kind of law, by contrast, makes it harder for observant Muslim women to benefit from higher education and other public services, and so leaves them *more* dependent on the men in their immediate communities.

26

Farren 01.28.10 at 1:05 am

Having read a careful and nuanced defence of the ban by an ordinary Frenchman I know to be an egalitarian and not a bigot or crypto-racist or any such thing, I’m convinced that much of the impetus for the ban was not simply political opportunism or bigotry in disguise.

Its late and I must sleep so I can’t go into too much depth, but the writer of whom I speak described in great detail how the veil in schools was undeniably an instrument of control on far too many cases. How girls who chose not to wear it in school had to return to neighbourhoods where they faced the threat of assault or worse still, gang-rape for a lack of modesty. How those same girls were set apart by their unwillingly adopted attire, clearly identified socially segregated from non-Muslim peers they wanted to befriend and ghettoised in school as much as they were in the banlieue’s where they lived. How no amount of apparent access to opportunity could sufficiently ameliorate this early controlling and dependency sustaining influence.

Finally he detailed about how the above considerations were a very vibrant and honest part of the national debate among secular French citizens, not just a cover for some other unspoken and unfair biases. And I believed him. Sure, it would be naive to believe that bigots wouldn’t sieze the opportunity to target some aspect of a culture they hate and/or fear. But I don’t think that invalidates his perspective. I think there is a danger that critics on both the left and right in other countries might be projecting their own ideological biases and suspicions onto the issue and losing perspective in the process.

27

Farren 01.28.10 at 1:13 am

There’s a lot of meta bandied about in this discussion but it all looks far more reasonable when the detail is examined, unlike, say the Swiss minaret idiocy.

A few further thoughts along similar lines: Decades-old examples as a means of implying hypocrisy are sometimes absurd when no effort is made to show that they have an enduring legacy that makes them relevant to the contemporary situation. The human world is accelerating, especially the industrialised part, and a cultural gap of decades in the late 20th and early 21st century is like a few centuries, a few centuries ago. Also, its shallow to compare veils as fashion accessories to veils as an instrument of control.

28

Substance McGravitas 01.28.10 at 1:25 am

Having read a careful and nuanced defence of the ban by an ordinary Frenchman

Well if anonymous Frenchmen are invoking gang rape I’d expect it to be careful and nuanced.

29

tomslee 01.28.10 at 2:29 am

Context matters, particularly when it comes to big statements of apparent principle. This paragraph in a newspaper report put the French law in a different light for me:

Women wearing the head-to-toe covering, which leaves just a narrow opening for the eyes, are a rare sight in France. The French domestic intelligence agency said late last year it has even counted them, and found precisely 367 niqab-wearers in a country with a Muslim population estimated at close to six million.

If true, it seems incompatible with Farren’s statements.

30

Çaboum 01.28.10 at 2:46 am

Although most discussion in the French sensitive left is against a ban, it tends to miss a real reason for a ban, which is aesthetic.

If you’ve been to London recently, say Hyde Park on a warm spring weekend afternoon, you know how spooky, not to say creepy, it is to see all those women in billowing black robes with only eye-slits revealing any humanity.

This hasn’t happened in France yet, probably because most post-colonial immigrants really are Frenchified, if not French. Right now might be a good time for whoever is responsible for the quality of the patrie, be it heterosexual wealthy white men or poor north African women, to nip this thing in the bud. Here’s hoping they can manage it without hurting too many feelings.

31

Tom T. 01.28.10 at 4:02 am

…Muslim women forcibly unveiled so that they could be photographed for compulsory ID cards.

France is not alone in this. If memory serves, there was a case in Florida a couple of years ago in which a court ruled that the state could require a woman who wanted a driver’s license to be photographed without her veil. A driver’s license is not compulsory, of course, but it’s awfully central to modern life.

On the other hand, an ID without a picture loses a significant component of its utility.

32

Nur al-Cubicle 01.28.10 at 4:56 am

Am I mistaken or are there still a number of veiled Catholic religious orders in France? Will Carmelites now be forced to speak? Or is it just a “face covering” issue…you could go around in in the buff or in jeans and a t-shirt but a face covering will put your ass in the slammer.

Anyway, the anti-veil law will not make at past the Constitutional Council. Critics point out that such a law is an example of “integraliste” extremism, as bad as the “Islamism” that its seeks to combat. A veiled woman may not be able to cash a check, receive certified mail, pick up a relative’s child from daycare or drive, but that would be her choice.

33

S. Turner 01.28.10 at 5:05 am

The French President is actually making sense. The garments he is referring to were conceived by oppressed women to make themselves invisible and so able to go out without being seen in PUBLIC. If any such woman was involved in a crime, she would be executed.

While visible as a garment on the streets of my city, these clothes nevertheless conceal identity making it impossible to get helpful descriptions of persons in them.

Should there be a religious exemption from being identifiable in certain public and private places (banks)? I would argue no on both utilitarian and deontological grounds. As for women who “choose” to wear the full covering, well, I understand. Most women don’t tolerate the male gaze well and anyway, I should not be prevented from taping myself up like a mummy if that’s what I want to do when I am at home.

If you claim the right to use a public realm or realm of equality, then you must abide by one of any public realm’s central organizing tenets: Whatever rules you want, they have to apply the same to everyone. The extent to which individuals are free to choose whether or not to conceal their identity is the point at which the public realm begins.

If there is no absolute limit on concealing one’s identity, then there is no public realm and therefore no political equality.

34

Chris Bertram 01.28.10 at 6:37 am

#30 Tom. T. Yes, but you’re not reading carefully either. The forced unveilings for ID cards that form the subject of Garanger’s pictures were in the context of a rather brutal war in Algeria. The colonial power was going into indigenous communities and making the women unveil for idenfiticatin purposes. A bit different from getting your Florida driver’s licence.

35

Zamfir 01.28.10 at 7:36 am

Tomslee, not only are there hardly any niqab wearers, another (or perhaps the same) report mentioned that a large fraction of them were converted women who used the rather strict dress to show devotion to the new faith.

Basically, the muslim groups in France have no full-veil tradition at all, making it very unlikely that pressure from old-fashioned family members is making women wear them.

36

yabonn 01.28.10 at 7:39 am

This is another version of the Swiss decision to ban minarets

Butbutbut… there is no “decision”. No law. It’s just a commission Raoult (or something) giving its report. The plan is to bury it after the elections.

37

Farren 01.28.10 at 9:24 am

Tomslee et al, its my understanding that the source of contention was not simply niqabs but far more common variations of headscarf being banned from classrooms and other public institutions. Am I wrong?

38

Farren 01.28.10 at 9:26 am

Nur al-Cubicle, AFAIK these laws target religious garments in state institutions. How would that apply to Carmelites?

39

Farren 01.28.10 at 9:34 am

I think a some people on this thread would benefit from acquainting themselves with the opinions of some French Muslim Women who’s experiences are pertinent to the discussion.

40

ajay 01.28.10 at 10:06 am

37: it wouldn’t. Carmelites don’t wear face coverings, their “veil” is a headscarf and scapular.

I liked 10, 22 and 33. Clearly the “careful reading” Chris is so keen on doesn’t extend to, er, getting people’s names right.

Is it also worth pointing out that, in terms of access to public services etc, the sort of strict Muslim who wears a full veil has already imposed several very severe restrictions on herself? She can’t, presumably, be in the same room with a male civil servant (doctor, teacher, pension clerk or whatever) without the presence of her guardian. Meanwhile, for the vast majority of French Muslims who don’t wear the full veil, but just a headscarf, this will make absolutely no difference at all – except for discouraging the spread of the view that all Muslims ought to wear it. (And this view is spreading, as noted above).

41

Alex 01.28.10 at 10:30 am

If you have to take it off to use any public service, it’s going to be a mite tough to get out of Aulnay sous-Bois and integrate into the republic as a fully empowered citizen, ‘cos they won’t let you on the RER…this is pretty much a classic bit of the discourse of the Modern Thinkers.

A: We should ban manifestation x of these brown people’s culture.
B: That’s authoritarian, illiberal, and just bloody rude. You’re pandering to the far-right vote and the tabloids.
A: How dare you suggest such a thing! These people are poor and oppressed. They need our help!
B: They’re poor? Perhaps you should give them some money?
A: We can’t just throw money at the problem. We need a new model of service delivery that engages local communities, uses private sector market disciplines, and works through the third sector.
It’s the failure of the project of 1968 and the traditional, top-down welfare state approach.
B: You know, that reads just as well forwards as backwards. Anyway, these people are oppressed, you say. Obviously, what they need is another excuse for policemen to stop them and demand their papers.
A: Are you with the terrorists? Ban ban ban!

42

magistra 01.28.10 at 10:33 am

Meanwhile, for the vast majority of French Muslims who don’t wear the full veil, but just a headscarf, this will make absolutely no difference at all – except for discouraging the spread of the view that all Muslims ought to wear it.

No, it will also show them that the French state is happy to ignore the rights of minorities in order to make cheap political points. I think it is a bad idea for anyone to wear the full veil, but it is a worse one to tell adults that they are not free to dress as they like. In a free society, people are allowed to wear clothes in public that others find offensive, whether it’s veils or six inch heels or tattoos saying ‘Hate’. People have no duty to reveal their faces or be ‘identifiable’ on public streets or in buses: I saw someone today (since it’s cold), with their hat pulled down and a scarf over their face, showing nothing but their eyes, and I’m not breaking any public duty if I choose to put on a wig, coloured contact lens and lots of makeup and go out looking unrecognisable.

If Muslim women in France are being coerced to wear the veil or coerced in any other way, there should be services to help them escape this (as Ni Putes Ni Soumises are calling for) and punishments for anyone proved to be carrying out this coercion. It does not help for the state to decide that they are going to coerce Muslim women as well, by penalising them personally.

43

alex 01.28.10 at 11:04 am

Ah, but the trouble with allowing everything which is ‘offensive’ , without permitting anything to be done in response except further expressions of offence, is that you end up with a real world that starts to look like the blogosphere – lots of people screaming apoplectic abuse at each other, and nobody’s mind changing about anything, ever. It may be wonderfully free, but it’s hideously ugly, futile and dispiriting, and if there’s a better way of getting people to live together, I’d much rather someone tried to find it.

44

Mrs Tilton 01.28.10 at 11:05 am

Farren @38,

in response to your post, my first thought was similarly to invite pro-choice readers to acquaint themselves with the opinions of “Feminists For Life”, but thought the better of it, as the comparison would be deeply unfair: NPNS are, unlike “FFL”, on the whole a laudable rather than a loathesome organisation. Instead, I will simply note that the burden is on you to explain why the opinions of Muslim women who reject the veil (as I should hope they all would) are in the least relevant to the question whether it is legitimate, in a liberal democracy, for the state to forbid other Muslim women to choose the veil.

As Magistra notes @41, there are other and better actions the state could take if its aim truly were to stop the religious-patricarchal oppression of Muslim women in traditionalist households. If the state fails to take those actions but does take steps (or at least makes loud, public pre-electoral noises about taking steps) calculated to make slope-browed mouthbreathers grunt and stamp their feet in approval, the conclusion that Occam’s razor bids me draw is not that the French state gives a monkey’s about the empowerment of Muslim women.

45

ajay 01.28.10 at 12:18 pm

In a free society, people are allowed to wear clothes in public that others find offensive, whether it’s veils or six inch heels or tattoos saying ‘Hate’.

This is actually not true – or if it is then “free societies” is pretty much a null set. Nazi regalia are banned in Germany. Parading in masks is, IIRC, illegal in some US states (an anti-Klan measure). Public nudity is illegal in a lot of countries. Strippers are heavily restricted in almost all. Parading in political uniforms was made illegal in Britain in the 1930s in response to the BUF.

If Muslim women in France are being coerced to wear the veil or coerced in any other way, there should be… punishments for anyone proved to be carrying out this coercion.

And I’m sure that enforcement of such a law would be completely possible.

46

sg 01.28.10 at 12:23 pm

I would like to contrast comment 30 with my view of Regents Park in London (which is what I think is being referred to, there is a mosque around the corner). I find those women and their families quite unspooky and unthreatening compared to the majority of unveiled white British thugs and dandies I’ve had to deal with there. I would also point out that the tall, rich veiled women drifting like exotic ghosts through the upper levels of Selfridges aren’t particularly scary either.

I’ve always thought it strange that a state as powerful as the French state is worried about the effect of a couple of women hiding their faces. I remember when they were trying to stop 14 year olds going to school with veils – when your state is scared of schoolgirls, you’ve got a problem and it isn’t the schoolgirls.

The apartheid govt in South Africa also used the removal of headscarves as a means of intimidation for black women during the 80s. It worked really well for them too, didn’t it?

47

Farren 01.28.10 at 12:27 pm

magistra @ 41 and Mrs Tilton, who further endorses that view:

“there are other and better actions” should be amended to “there are other actions”. When a form of oppression has achieved the status of being an ambient cultural one, it need not manifest itself explicitly. The awareness that some boys from your neighbourhood might gang rape you out of school need not entail any explicit threats that can be taken to authorities that might help. It is simply an awareness, fostered by a history of such events. Such an awareness might force you to comply without ever being personally threatened.

The state cannot intervene on a female child’s behalf on the basis of such an awareness alone. It cannot offer you a personal police escort. And it is too late when you have worn those jeans and that t-shirt and left your hair uncovered, and been raped for that lack of modesty, to jump in and bring the full weight of the law down on those boys.

So you dress with extreme modesty, maybe wear a simple headscarf that doesn’t cover the face. But you don’t want to. It sets you apart. The Jewish or Christian or Atheist boy you are interested in will not even look at you, because you are signalling a that you are a conservative and insular Muslim, even though you are not. You find it difficult to make friends among the other girls, who find the glowering looks of some young Muslim men in the school when they are friendly to you too uncomfortable, and feel too culturally disconnected from you, even though you yearn to while away the hours talking about whatever it is most French teenagers talk about with them.

I cannot see how the state can address this in other ways, other than to respond to the ambient threat when it is too late.

I think the thinking evident here is founded on a false dichotomy, that victims cannot themselves ever be treated as perpetrators. Muslims, especially from the Maghreb, are a victim community. The French bear a historical guilt for actions against them. But they also harbour in their midst a subculture of brutal, primitive and deplorable savages who’s savagery is a product of culture. While that cultural savagery may be moderated or exaggerated by external forces such as French oppression, it existed before that oppression and it is wrong, wrong, wrong to handwave it away in the name of guilt and cultural sensistivity.

Such handwaving is no different from exhonerating Israeli Apartheid because of the Holocaust, or because of Muslim bigotry in the ME. It is no different from exhonerating the hate speech of Hamas because of Israeli colonialism and Apartheid. It is no different from exhonerating and ignoring Afrikaner-forged Apartheid because their women and children were hearded into concentration camps, where they died in their thousands, by the British. All of these things are simultaneously wrong. And at least part of a state’s responsibility to right wrongs.

And this is why NPNS sides with the headscarf ban. Because it addresses a means of oppression that no suggestions I have seen on this thread actually address. Comparisons to Carmelites are facile, IMHO. There is no social compulsion for Carmelites to don the veil, only personal choice.

48

JoB 01.28.10 at 12:31 pm

Some of you make it sound so easy. As if all arguments were on one side of this. Or one of them was infinitely heavy (maybe because it’s tied up with Republics and Consitutions). & As if all of you lived in a continental European urban environment.

In Belgium we’re having this discussion as well (when it rains in Paris …). Just like in my city we have seen a ban on all head scarfs and religious symbol in all schools.

Undoubtedly many that argue for such bans are suspect. Maybe some argueing against it aren’t well informed. Personally I don’t know on the burqa’s whether we should bother. But I am since last year convinced by the head mastress of the last school to ban head scarfs in my city that it should be banned in schools.

Yes, I changed my opinion on this. The reason was that the facts changed. Wearing head scarfs was becoming more and more pervasive. The scarfs themselves became tighter and tighter. It’s fine that many women come out to defend that they can wear whatever they want. But it’s also a fact – basically undebated by these women – that the peer pressure on girls is increasing not just to wear a scarf but to wear one that is tight, where the symbolism is not just ‘I wear a scarf’ but where the thing escalates.

I haven’t been to French urban areas lately but given these rain drops are falling in Belgium, I’d not dismiss the thought that in some areas of France the rain is really coming down. And in any case I would not dismiss the ability of the French to have a public discourse on it with standards that are not necessarily lower than those upheld here.

49

Farren 01.28.10 at 12:51 pm

A little personal background to flesh out why I find so much of the stereotypical (if erudite, as I would expect CT commentators to be) left dialog here.

I’m a white South African former Catholic atheist. I have dated a dark-skinned Muslim hippy. I have lived with a dark skinned Muslim DJ friend. I have celebrated Eid-El-Fitr with a Muslim family who treated me like a son. I have worked for, with and employed Muslims.

And it is these experiences that make, for instance, the rabid Islamophobic hate speech of confederate-flag-waving American neanderthals and Le Pen-style French nationalists repugnant to me. I know, in the very intimate and visceral way that goes far deeper than simple intellectual acknowledgement, that Islam qua Islam does not make people misogynists, terrorists et al.

I have also lost a Muslim friend, a successful architect, who chose to disappear off the face of the planet, cutting all ties with her social circle and starting a new life like someone in a witness protection program, after explaining to each of us her reason why. Her family had selected a husband for her, a man twice her age, and expected her to leave her career, marry this complete stranger, and spend the rest of her life in the back of his cloth shop, modestly covered and working towards his welfare. If she maintained one link to the past, she explained, her brothers might track her down, violently assist her into the boot of a car, and frog march her to a wedding. And this is merely one of several similar stories I have direct personal experience of.

So my impassioned feelings about the plight of Muslim women in misogynist Islamic subcultures is in absolutely no way informed a fear or hatred of an alien culture predicated merely on their differentness and in every way on the anger one feels at seeing one’s friends and loved ones so imposed upon.

Yet throughout this thread, and, in fact throughout left dialog (and though I depart from the norm on this topic the sum of my views place me firmly on the left) I detect a powerful subtext that views similar to mine must always be premised on fear and hatred of the other, and that those that think in this manner must be simply unaware of their own prejudices if they honestly believe its just about these poor women. That is exactly why stridently independent voices from these communities, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, end up tacking to the right and finding themselves very strange bedfellows.

Because so many on the privileged left will not even entertain the idea that while yes, as historical hegemons we must guard against purported humanitarian intervention as a cover for cultural imperialism, there are nonetheless cultural practises and ideas that should be abhorrent to anyone who calls themselves an egalitarian and they should be opposed.

50

scathew 01.28.10 at 1:01 pm

I think this is one of the few places us Yanks got it right – there is no way we would ban veils, minarets, or similar. While we’d happily waterboard every Muslim on the planet, but religious freedom is sacred to us. It honestly would not occur to us to block this sort of expression.

It’s a weird dynamic – I think Americans tend to be more less racist in person and more racist in distance than other countries. That is, we are all friendly if you’re our (literal) next door neighbors, but if you’re in Yemen or something we enjoy sharing a good cruise missile now and then.

On the other hand, having visited Switzerland quite a bit and reading about this ban, I’m inclined to think Europeans (or at least those close to France) are a lot more directly racist to Muslims. I saw it personally visiting Switzerland – the attitudes toward Muslims, even from people I’d consider otherwise enlightened, were not pretty. That’s kind of ironic I think `cause about half of the money in their banks is Arab but…

In any case, some of this smells an awful lot like the communist fears of when I was growing up. As a quote from a certain movie from the time, it seems that they’re afraid that Muslims will “sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids”. Or perhaps rather, that Islam is like some sort of virus that threatens to turn all the white kids in George Romero Muslim zombies. Only by protecting us from Islam’s visible signs can we “inoculate” our culture from the “disease”.

And that I think is the subtext – they, and certainly some right wing Americans as well, think that somehow white people are going to start converting in droves and we’ll slowly be absorbed by the Borg. One day we’ll wake up and we’ll no longer be surrounded by our safe and friendly Wonderbread whites, but a bunch of “them A-rabs”.

It’s kind of laughable really. And while I’m no fan of the religion (nor almost any other for that matter), if it offers a better mousetrap, then so be it. If it offers more than “drive us over a cliff, materialism/capitalism is God” Christianity, well I guess I can’t be totally negative on it.

But that’s not going to happen. It would make a good movie though – “Zombie Muslims Take America!”

51

Farren 01.28.10 at 1:07 pm

scathew @ 50 kind of proves my point @ 49. No, we are not all secret racists. Some of us are the diametrical opposite.

52

NomadUK 01.28.10 at 1:40 pm

Mrs Tilton @ 23: You go, Mrs Tilton!

S Turner @ 33: The extent to which individuals are free to choose whether or not to conceal their identity is the point at which the public realm begins.

Rubbish. If I wish to conceal my identity, that’s my business. In the highly unlikely event that I then commit a crime, that becomes the state’s business. The state will, however, have to deal with the difficulty of ascertaining my identity, given that some of my fellow citizens are also concealing their identities and making me difficult to distinguish from them. Life in the security services is hard; it’s not my job to make it easier.

53

ajay 01.28.10 at 1:42 pm

46: who said the French state is “scared” of women in veils? You’re setting up a straw man there. They want to ban them: not the same thing. Might as well say that the British police are scared of people parking on pedestrian crossings.

I think this is one of the few places us Yanks got it right – there is no way we would ban veils, minarets, or similar. While we’d happily waterboard every Muslim on the planet, but religious freedom is sacred to us. It honestly would not occur to us to block this sort of expression.

Quite right. It’s unthinkable that Americans would, say, conspire to burn down black churches.

54

ajay 01.28.10 at 1:46 pm

If I wish to conceal my identity, that’s my business. In the highly unlikely event that I then commit a crime, that becomes the state’s business. The state will, however, have to deal with the difficulty of ascertaining my identity, given that some of my fellow citizens are also concealing their identities and making me difficult to distinguish from them. Life in the security services is hard; it’s not my job to make it easier.

This is also an argument against, for example, having a number plate on your car. Are you arguing that the aim of legislation should actually be to make law enforcement more difficult, just out of general principles?

55

magistra 01.28.10 at 2:00 pm

Farren@49 – I am not arguing that you or NPNS are motivated by racism, I am arguing that the French government is, basing that on how little they care about immigrants generally. And I don’t see how this particular act will help oppressed Muslim women, because it’s entirely symbolic. It will not stop forced marriage, it will not stop women being coerced in other ways. What specific difference, for example, would a ban on veils have made to your friend?

Indeed, the French government’s specific proposals may make it worse, by making it harder for oppressed women to get out and meet people with different views. At my daughter’s school, one woman currently wears a veil when she comes to collect her child. If she is banned by the state from coming like that, will she still be able to come and have a chance to talk to other parents? Or will she instead feel obliged or be made to stay at home and lose any chance for interaction with those who don’t share her views? And how easy it for a veiled woman to go and talk to someone about her problems if she’s banned from going on the bus in the first place?

Aside from concerns on principle about bans on what women can wear, I think veils and headscarfs shouldn’t be the key. There are a lot of ways that the lives of Muslim women can be improved and most of them involve giving them better access to the public sphere and to a wider range of views. Anything that acts as a barrier to that, however well-intentioned, seems to me unhelpful.

56

engels 01.28.10 at 2:19 pm

The stuff about ‘concealing your identity’ is a bit of a red herring really as to the extent that it is true that it isn’t, or shouldn’t be, allowed it is dealt with under existing regulations, or should be, by rules that aren’t specifically intended to apply to headscarves.

57

ajay 01.28.10 at 2:31 pm

At my daughter’s school, one woman currently wears a veil when she comes to collect her child. If she is banned by the state from coming like that, will she still be able to come and have a chance to talk to other parents?

Yes.

Or will she instead feel obliged or be made to stay at home and lose any chance for interaction with those who don’t share her views?

No.

And how easy it for a veiled woman to go and talk to someone about her problems if she’s banned from going on the bus in the first place?

Extremely. All she has to do is take off her veil. They come off fairly easily. And anyway, I thought (see 35) that these veiled women were supposed to be doing so out of free choice? Now you seem to be arguing that they’re all under the thumbs of their families, who wouldn’t let them out on to the street at all unless they were wearing full veils.

58

JoB 01.28.10 at 2:45 pm

What I referred to in 47 is exemplified in 54.

59

magistra 01.28.10 at 2:48 pm

ajay@56

If you say that women who wear the veil can freely choose to take it off whenever they like, then they are not being coerced into wearing it. So why should they be forced to take it off? The only semi-liberal argument for banning the veil is that women are being forced to wear it. (The arguments about identity and offensiveness are transparently bogus because they’re not been applied to other forms of costume).

If you believe that women are being forced to wear the veil, then the state banning it just means that women have two coercive forces being targeted at them – I don’t see how that helps them.

60

sg 01.28.10 at 2:51 pm

ajay, when they were banning veils at school the French govt made it explicitly clear that they thought 14 year old girls wearing a religious symbol was a threat to the principle of the republic (separation of church and state and all that). If it’s seriously the case that the underlying principles of a nuclear-armed post-colonial superpower are threatened by the actions of a few schoolgirl citizens, it has much deeper problems than their clothing choices.

But we all know that this “reason” had no relationship to the real motivation for the campaign, which is cheap dog-whistling.

Your claim that women can just take off their veil is completely at odds with how these women think and with the whole point of this post (and the linked pictures). And, more to the point, they don’t have to change the way they want to dress to suit anyone else’s insecurities. Isn’t there a whole branch of feminist theory devoted to that principle? Or is feminist theory about clothing only relevant when it’s encouraging women to wear less, not more?

61

Substance McGravitas 01.28.10 at 2:56 pm

Farren, I just don’t see the role of veil-banning in prevention of forced marriage and gangbangs.

62

JoB 01.28.10 at 3:02 pm

58- If one force is that of social peer pressure then the other force may help them to be have a zone where there is an excuse for them not to comply with it. Are you suggesting that in the case of social peer pressure no counterforce can ever be helpfully deployed?

63

sg 01.28.10 at 3:05 pm

JoB, the effective counter measure is a strong civil society which gives women in subculture and migrant communities safe exit strategies, and in the long-term provides these communities with the sort of external support they need to reduce coercive peer pressure based on lifestyle or personal choices.

Everyone knows that this sort of environment is not fostered in a community that feels it is under attack from a coercive state or a racist external community. I don’t understand how the liberal left ever managed to let any part of their discourse get captured by this right-wing concern trolling.

64

NomadUK 01.28.10 at 3:05 pm

This is also an argument against, for example, having a number plate on your car. Are you arguing that the aim of legislation should actually be to make law enforcement more difficult, just out of general principles?

It should not, in general, be the aim of legislation to accommodate law enforcement by curtailing civil liberties. Law enforcement could be made much easier by embedding RFID chips at birth, tattooing ID numbers on everyone’s forehead, enforcing curfews, dispensing with search warrants, and maintaining armed sentries on all street corners.

I should have thought that the difference between wearing clothes (or even a mask, should I wish to do so) in a public space and obtaining a licence to operate a motor vehicle safely on public roads was sufficiently obvious as to require no further analysis.

65

ajay 01.28.10 at 3:06 pm

If it’s seriously the case that the underlying principles of a nuclear-armed post-colonial superpower are threatened by the actions of a few schoolgirl citizens, it has much deeper problems than their clothing choices… And, more to the point, they don’t have to change the way they want to dress to suit anyone else’s insecurities. Isn’t there a whole branch of feminist theory devoted to that principle? Or is feminist theory about clothing only relevant when it’s encouraging women to wear less, not more?

See 45. Desirable or not, pretty much every country has laws that limit the way women (and men) dress. And in many cases it does so to avoid its underlying principles (whether democracy, pluralism, tolerance, or “public decency”) being threatened. Germany is the most obvious example here.

Your claim that women can just take off their veil is completely at odds with how these women think

Ah, “these women”, with their strange, alien way of thinking. Othering much?

66

ajay 01.28.10 at 3:09 pm

I should have thought that the difference between wearing clothes (or even a mask, should I wish to do so) in a public space and obtaining a licence to operate a motor vehicle safely on public roads was sufficiently obvious as to require no further analysis.

I should have thought you would know that a numberplate does not indicate that the driver has a licence, but instead serves as a way to identify the vehicle uniquely. The proof that you’ve got a driving licence is… your driving licence.

67

Farren 01.28.10 at 3:12 pm

@Substance McGravitas, maybe if my post @47 finally stopped “awaiting moderation”, you would understand

68

sg 01.28.10 at 3:29 pm

oh come on ajay, don’t be silly. Using a phrase like “these women” in this case is not necessarily othering (whatever the f**k that is). Passing coercive laws because you’re scared they might be hiding their identity certainly is though.

There’s also an obvious difference between passing laws about “public decency” and passing laws transparently aimed at attacking a religious icon. I just can’t believe that commentators on the left continue to conflate these kinds of principles.

69

JoB 01.28.10 at 3:32 pm

63- I guess it is because that in schools the peer pressure was mounting and that girls that were not wearing scarfs started wearing them only in school. Since school is the safe exit strategy, it is a bit rash to denounce all concerns as trolling. Or are you sure that you know better than the head of the biggest non-Catholic secondary school in Antwerp?

70

ajay 01.28.10 at 3:50 pm

There’s also an obvious difference between passing laws about “public decency” and passing laws transparently aimed at attacking a religious icon.

… and it is? Sorry, what exactly is the bright line between the French government banning veils and Councillor Harvey Prodnose deciding to ban topless sunbathing on the town beach?

71

JoB 01.28.10 at 4:03 pm

69, & where have “commentators on the left” picked up this tendency to be specifically cautious when talking about religious icons?

72

engels 01.28.10 at 4:04 pm

‘Desirable or not, pretty much every country has rules that limit the way women (and men) dress’

Well I know for sure that Saudi Arabia does. It’s no biggie, right?

73

Farren 01.28.10 at 4:11 pm

Talk about missing the point, Engels.

The point being that laws governing dress are not inherently oppressive. Laws that virtually imprison half the population (dress being one component of that), as found iun Saudi Arabia, are. But they are not oppressive simply because they govern dress

74

ajay 01.28.10 at 4:13 pm

72: see my earlier comment at 45, for heaven’s sake. If you think that your own country (whatever it is) is some sort of paragon in this regard, try the experiment of going for a walk down the street without any pants on.

75

scathew 01.28.10 at 4:14 pm

@Farren

I absolutely know that many Europeans aren’t racist, in fact I am sure most aren’t or at least don’t intend to be. The same is actually true of Americans, I just meant more to point out that when we are racist, it seems like we express it differently, which is curious.

Anyway, it strikes me the the tolerance for Islam is a special case for Europeans – it’s more in your face there I think. I live in the “boonies” of the North East and we really have very few Muslims in our area, and probably about half of those we think are Muslim are actually Indian (they “all look the same” to us unfortunately)(I don’t mean that as racist as it sounds – it’s just the sad truth. We are unable to discriminate because of our lack of cultural understanding). Thus it’s easy to claim a higher ground, when we’re not faced with the issue. Same goes for African Americans.

It’s easy to be enlightened from 1,000 miles away. And then of course to prove we’re not “racist” we’ll launch a couple cruise missiles in Yemen, so there you go…

76

engels 01.28.10 at 4:16 pm

And remind me who was arguing that a headscarf ban would be oppressive ‘simply because [it] govern[s] dress’?

77

scathew 01.28.10 at 4:25 pm

As far as anyone arguing about veils being outlawed because they hide identities, that is an enormous red herring. Also it is patently legal to wear a hooded jacket anywhere or anywhy you want, so someone who has something to hide has plenty of options.

No, this is about suppressing the Islam, its symbols, and it’s possible rise in power (with perceived cultural takeover) in France. At best it could claim to be the misguided attempt at giving women their “freedom” while at the same time taking away another (the freedom of expression). At worst, and I am inclined to believe this is it’s real cause, it’s Xenophobia and the fear that France will become Muslim ala “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”.

It’s the kind of thing that if I were Muslim (er, not to mention a woman) would want to make me wear a veil more just to protest the blatant unfairness of the thing. It would be akin to not allowing women to wear crosses out in the open. Thus it’s really counterproductive, and certainly not a way to win the hearts and minds of the world Islamic community.

78

sg 01.28.10 at 4:38 pm

JoB at 69, we know this wasn’t the reason the laws were introduced – the reasons were documented as being about the preservation of the principles of the republic, not to do with a bit of bullying. Just because a few people are concerned about a particular kind of bullying in a particular context doesn’t mean they should line up behind the latest oppressive government campaign. I don’t understand your question at 71, but it seems pretty obvious to me that some people on the lef think they can advance the cause of liberty or feminism or something by lending a “liberal” voice to an essentially right-wing campaign; in just the same way that some atheists have seized the war on Islam as a chance to get their anti-religious views a sympathetic airing.

I have a pretty clear memory of the original anti-veil laws in France running afoul of concerns about racial discrimination (gee, however could that have happened?) so as an afterthought the visual signs of all religions (crucifixes, skullcaps and pentagrams were the oft-cited cases) were thrown into the mix. But it was an afterthought, making even clearer the original racist intention of the ban. Now a few years later people like JoB, ajay and those supporting the recent legal moves are trying to pretend that the original moves were justified on the basis of public order concerns, and ignoring the historical development of the original laws.

Even if you genuinely think that these clothing styles are oppressive (and women I speak to who wear them don’t, and neither necessarily do the women whose clothes were forcibly removed in the pictures linked to in the OP), that doesn’t mean you should support discriminatory laws passed for racist reasons, which will have the exact opposite effect to the oft-stated goals of leftist supporters of multi-culturalism, which I attempted to describe at comment 63.

Particularly since these clothes already mark out these women (yes, “these women” – the ones who are a separate group from the lawmakers, who are being attacked by a law targeting them, how’s that for “othering”?) as distinct from the majority of the community, and in an environment where these clothes are being described as suspicious, shifty, spooky, or symbols of these women’s distinctive and alien cultural character (they’re a threat to the republic!), overt legal moves will encouarge people to harass these women on the basis of their striking difference. Nothing creates a supportive environment for fostering feminist principles like an atmosphere of constant harassment, eh? Harassment of women in minority communities is a classic tool of oppression, and muslim women have really been singled out in the last 10 years as symbolic of the alienness of islam. Why would people wanting to foster a harmonious multicultural community bother to support laws which foster this atmosphere, at this time?

79

scathew 01.28.10 at 4:40 pm

@ajay

I don’t argue that some forms of expression via clothing are limited throughout the “free world”, but to me this seems quantitatively different. It’s the only example I know of where a symbol of a single religion has been expressly targeted. I mean, anyone can wear a devil worshiping pentagram on their chest, but not a veil, right?

I don’t argue that the veil has cultural implications that I find offensive, however depending on your interpretation, wearing a cross means that you should be subservient to men as well. At least that’s the US Southern Baptist’s interpretation, thus it is potentially equally offensive. No one is going to suggest banning crosses being worn.

As far as anyone being coerced, well we’re all coerced by religion. If you’re brought up Christian you are brainwashed with Christian dogma, if you’re brought up Hindu you’re brainwashed with Hindu dogma, and if you’re brought up Muslim you’re brainwashed with Islamic dogma. Few children if any are given a choice, and if that’s not “coercion”, well I don’t know what is.

Moreover, even after you’re “of consent”, you’re constantly coerced to go to church, not have sex, etc., etc. Same thing, different religion.

Unfortunately the only answer in my mind is to let people work it out in their own consciences. After all you can take the veil off of the woman, but you can’t take the veil out of the woman. They will be just as suppressed without the symbol. If they are going to cast this thing off, they will have to do it themselves.

80

scathew 01.28.10 at 4:48 pm

@sg

I am certainly “left”, but I often watch the left come round circle to the right. In America when “P.C.” (politically correct) was all the rage, left wing women were saying that pornography was bad because it exploited women (which I can’t entirely argue against) while the right wing women (and men) we’re saying it was an affront to God.

In the end, even though they would claim otherwise, much of the subtext was the same – “sex is bad”. I think this if often the case where you find liberals agreeing with conservatives – the subtext is the same, just the expressed rationale is different.

Similarly everyone knows that so called leftists like “Stalin” looked not all that much different than fascists like Hitler. The charms of authoriatarianism and totalitarianism are equally strong for right and the left, regardless of “best intentions”.

81

JoB 01.28.10 at 4:52 pm

sg, I chose the example of the school in Antwerp because it is politically not suspect in the way the burqa ban in France is. I only want to argue that I don’t see how you all can condemn any a ban on principle. If there is social peer pressure then there is a point at which it becomes quite defensible for the state to barge in. Whether or not that point is reached in this or that case is a matter best left to those that know the details of the case. In the Antwerp case it is the head of the school that was questioned quite heavily in public discourse and whose credentials are – as far as racism and discrimination goes – quite beyond any doubt.

(and yes you’re right some people have allowed themselves to be abused by the right in helping an anti-muslim sentiment but that still doesn’t prohibit me from saying something without being subsumed under those ‘some people’)

82

sg 01.28.10 at 5:02 pm

that may be true JoB but sometimes the environment of the times is such that you can’t have your special needs recognised, because they’ll be subsumed into the general racist atmosphere. Liberal, multicultural values are under threat enough from these attacks on muslims without concerned people giving additional propaganda value to them. And in any case, bullying is always solved better by local initiatives than by national laws, regardless of the sincerity of the cause.

83

ajay 01.28.10 at 5:44 pm

sg, you’re just refusing to believe that anyone disagreeing with you might be arguing in good faith. You’ve taken the position that anyone on the other side is either a racist or a dupe of the racists, and I can’t really think of any way to argue against that. People like JoB or Farren keep popping their heads up to say “no, actually, forced veiling is a real problem, and people with otherwise unimpeachable liberal credentials and plenty of relevant experience think so too” and it doesn’t seem to make any impression on you.

84

JoB 01.28.10 at 6:00 pm

sg, actually I’m more mild then ajay on your response. I just can’t get it why people are saying that this is bad ‘on principle’. That’s where the stigmatizing begins & the debates are stopping. If bullying needs to be dealth with locally:

1. why are people making blanket global statements to the effect that banning veils and stuff are de facto bad things to do

&

2. How local is optimal? Is it the personal level? If so, tough luck if you’re bullied. Is it at the school level? If so, tough luck if the bulliying organization bullies the head of the school? and so on and so on. As somebody remarked above, was Ataturk the right wing racist bastard that you suppose others banning veils necessarily need to be?

But I’m happy you at least acknowledge that bullying might be a part of it and if so that it would be good to do something about it at a level.

As for me being subsumed: hell, shit happens.

85

Mrs Tilton 01.28.10 at 6:34 pm

Farren @47,

But [the French] also harbour in their midst a subculture of brutal, primitive and deplorable savages who’s savagery is a product of culture

And so, of course, the way to deal with these awful savages is not aggressively and relentlessly to prosecute and imprison the savage boys who rape the savage girls, but rather to forbid the savage girls to wear veils.

The much less distasteful Farren revealed @49,

A little personal background to flesh out why I find so much of the stereotypical (if erudite, as I would expect CT commentators to be) left dialog here

You seem to have left out a word here, but that’s OK as I can probably guess what it was.

Look: what Magistra said @55. I don’t think you’re a racist (or even some milder form of xenophobe). And I quite take your point about the tribalizing, isolating potential of the veil and some other Muslim (and for that matter non-Muslim) cultural practices. Indeed, as I’ve said, I hope every currently-veiled Muslim woman will, for her own sake, shed her veil and, for that matter, her religious beliefs in general. (I hope you don’t think I take the position I do because I like the veil.) Even if I do not think you and NPNS are right on the veil issue, I think the reasons for your anti-veil positions are laudable.

But neither do I think that French governmental anti-veil campaigns are, in the main, motivated by what motivates you or NPNS; and I don’t think it is the votes of people like you that these campaigns are, in the main, intended to hoover up. I do think that positions like yours, well-meaning though they be, unwittinghly assist a fairly unpleasant mainstream French right as it seeks to protect its right flank against far more unpleasant, non-mainstream French rightists while motivating unpleasant right-wing French people who might not otherwise vote to head down to the urns and put those horrid Muslims in their place.

I am well aware that you could, with (from your perspective) equal justice, accuse me of unwittingly assisting horrifically oppressive and superstitious religious fanatics. I’d disagree, as I would (if I were the French government) at the same time seek any and all ways consistent with the constitution and basic human rights to minimise the fanatics’ ability to influence society or stunt the minds and lives of anybody but themselves. But I’d take your point. Nonetheless, in my view anti-veil legislation is an unacceptable violation of the liberty of traditionalist Muslim women. (That I detest their tradition and deplore their choice is neither here nor there.) Depriving women of liberty in order to make them be and act as I think they should be and act? That’s what Mullahs (and Christianists) want to do. And I don’t want to be like them.

86

Farren 01.28.10 at 7:07 pm

Mrs Tilton, your reflexive distaste to the use of the word savage and the sarcasm that elicits is a sad reflection on your values, not mine. Men who rape women as a means of control are savages. Cultures that endorse such behaviour are savage cultures. I say it unashamedly. It sickens me that some on the left are so inured to the trained reflex of avoiding passing uninformed judgement on the other that they cannot unequivocally condemn even blatant savagery. My entire point in recounting my experiences was to show that my life experience is one of engaging and celebrating other cultures. Since its salient to the discussion I mentioned my interaction with Muslim friends and love interests, but it extends far beyond that. When I described celebrating Eid-El-Fitr, I left out the part about another guest being Jewish. In my early twenties my social circle consisted of Jews, Muslims, Christians, atheists, gays, blacks, “coloureds” (who mostly self-identify as a distinct culture here in South Africa) and indians, all of whom hung around together. I’ve likely had more long term and deep exposure to many different cultures than most on this thread, thanks to the time and place I grew up in. And my default position is one of enjoyment and appreciation of those cultures.

And there are subcultures within the Muslim community that are savage. I make no apologies for using the term. Neither do I reserve it for Muslim subcultures. I feel the same way about renegade sects of the LDS in the USA that use polygamous tradition as a cover for pedophilia, and Africans who abduct and chop off the limbs of infants and albinos because they believe it will grant them special powers. Such examples of humanity are savages in my book. I don’t use the term to mean people who are less technologically sophisticated or economically developed or English. Some of the world’s least technologically advanced people, like the Khoi-San, are the very soul of nobility in my book. That is not a patronising statement, “look at these noble primitive people”, it is an expression of very real admiration from someone who places little stock in development, economic or otherwise, as a means of evaluating the worth of humans.

And that is what distinguishes me from, for instance, Randroid American bloggers who advocate denying Haitians aid because they are “savages” who at the very least deserve their fate because they were too slack to be prepared for the recent earthquake and should have built better houses. Yet I’m quite sure you see no distinction, are even unable to see a distinction, because of ideological blinkers. I’ve spent decades on the left politically and not just as a net slacktivist. And I’m roundly sick of a misguided sensitivity that stretches to condoning savagery.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.28.10 at 7:14 pm

Yeah, a whole lot of concern trolling in this thread.

If you are a minor and your parents tell you to wear a headscarf – then you wear a headscarf. If that somehow prevents you from being popular – tough luck. But it could be worse; be happy you’re not stuttering.
If you are being bullied, assaulted, threatened, etc. – for whatever reason – you go to the police. And that’s, pretty much, all there is to it.

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Farren 01.28.10 at 7:16 pm

Forgive my angry response above. I realise that some language cannot be invoked without making one at least thing of the blithely racist language of the European colonial era, or the hate speech of modern nationalists. But that is only because the language of disgust has been so thoroughly appropriated by hatemongers. The correct response of egalitarians is not to strip our language of any means of expressing disgust. Disgust is necessary and appropriate sometimes.

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Farren 01.28.10 at 7:27 pm

.. just a further comment to Mrs Tilton, which I forgot to write down because I got carried away with another stream of thought. I grew up in an environment of savagery (under Apartheid), where the savages were all white racist scum. Would you chide me sarcastically for expressing my disgust thus about people that share my skin tone and language?

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Farren 01.28.10 at 7:48 pm

Finally (@Mrs Tilton), I accept that one cannot simply assume that because one woman is compelled, another has not chosen. The blog post above describes an attempt at forced modernisation and westernisation apparently conducted on the just such a false assumption. And I realise the dangers of making such assumptions and the blowback they can generate, which is why I have no time for similar contemporary American efforts and dialog.

But it is evident to me that even advocates of the most careful, sensitive engagement with other cultures must recognise that a society cannot function without drawing lines in the sand somewhere and saying “this, we feel, is a reasonable imposition in the service of our values” (those values being arrayed around the pursuit of equality). One could, for instance, make the same argument for women who might choose to remain at home all the time. One could make the same argument for women who cannot (in some hypothetical minority culture) even be in the same room as one who is of a different gender or not of their faith. And so on, until one finds oneself, in the name of thoughtful, culturally sensitive engagement, condoning customs that allow actual imprisonment of humans of a certain age, gender, sexual orientation or what have you, with no actual, physical way of seeking assistance should they not choose that life. Reductio ad absurdum.

In this light, I think the correct response when you know something might be either and instrument of control OR a personal choice, should be to consider whether denying that choice will have better or worse consequences than allowing the involuntary compulsion. The example in the blog post above about earlier Algerian experience, at least from the precis of the book I found on Amazon, appears to be one where no such consideration took place, where it was simply assumed that forceful efforts to “liberate” women in Algeria would be met with a social revolution, in which newly empowered women took the gift they had been given and provided a local impetus for continued equality. Actual mass forced unveiling ceremonies and re-education camps to not sound like the product of such consideration.

In contrast, the contemporary effort appears, from a distance at least, far less ambitious and more reasonable. There is plenty of evidence here that such consideration of the pros and cons is, in fact, taking place.

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Salient 01.28.10 at 8:10 pm

If you are being bullied, assaulted, threatened, etc. – for whatever reason – you go to the police.

Yep, six-year-olds are really good at this.

It’s a good thing we give them sufficient free reign to ensure this opportunity is available to them, and that they understand that unlike the white bullies who torment them, the white cop is guaranteed to make everything OK and ensure that no violent retribution will ever occur. (It’s also a good thing we found all those cops who always take victims’ accusations of abuse with appropriate gravity and act accordingly.)

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Farren 01.28.10 at 8:15 pm

…finally, in my ranting above (which, moments later, I am embarrassed about), I neglected to engage another of your points. That however reasonable the position of NPNS may appear to me at a distance, efforts to ban the veil may still in the main be a subterfuge of the right to advance the agenda of xenophobes. And I must admit, having read that again, that I am not sufficiently aware of French political or social currents to have an informed opinion of that. I have only my personal experiences in another country entirely and the testimony of one or two reasonable sounding French people and activists on the topic.

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yabonn 01.28.10 at 8:31 pm

I am not sufficiently aware of French political or social currents to have an informed opinion of that.

Neither I am, I suppose, but I can try.

The veil law and this proposition have little in common. The first is about the veil for children, and in some circumstances. The second is about creating a non existent problem to get the racists before an election.

The first one passed with a big majority, left and right. The second will -I think- dodo quietly after the elections.

Welcome to the wonderful world of French pre elections, Sarkozy era. Maybe we’ll have still time to squeeze in a few cemetery desecrations, synagogue/mosquee burning – with lots of cops on TV.

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Mrs Tilton 01.28.10 at 8:39 pm

Farren, @several places upthread,

well, I’m glad you got that off your chest @86. Your arguments are better when you’re not ranting.

(Are you really sure, though, that you want to claim the French Muslim culture of the banlieues — as opposed to the gangs of youths who actually commit the crimes — “endorses” les tournantes? I have to say, that verges uncomfortably close on sounding like “inner-city US blacks endorse drive-by shootings by gangbangers”. No, they don’t; very much the opposite. I doubt whether even the worst sort of conservative French mullah, whatever other horrible things he advocates, affirmatively approves of rape as a means of enforcing religious norms.)

You’re misreading me, though. My views are not informed by “white liberal guilt”, multicultural relativism or excessive concern to be “respectful” of exotic cultures. They are what I said they were upthread. I am concerned about the liberty of an individual, even if she exercises that liberty in ways that I believe unfortunate (not least for her). It is as obnoxious for the French state to force a woman to remove her veil as it is for the Saudi state to force her to put one on. (Of course there are myriad other obnoxious things that the Saudi state does to women, some of them far worse, that have no counterpart in French law.)

But again, I strongly doubt that the proposed French law is informed much, if at all, by the things you are arguing. It reeks of the Swiss minaret ban; it reeks of the attempts by the more conservative German states to ban headscarves (very minimal affairs compared to burqas etc.) worn by German Muslim schoolteachers (whom nobody forces to wear scarves; it is they themselves who fight these orders in court). The German conservatives are at least open in their bigotry; they have made no comparable attempt to force Roman Catholic nuns teaching in state schools to wear civilian dress instead of the habit. When called on this their response is, in effect, “Well, duh. That’s different; nuns are like us“.

And to answer your question: yes, of course I’d characterise apartheid as savage and those S. Africans who upheld it as savages. I still wouldn’t forbid them to wear a Bokke top.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.28.10 at 8:58 pm

It’s a good thing we give them sufficient free reign to ensure this opportunity is available to them, and that they understand that unlike the white bullies who torment them, the white cop is guaranteed to make everything OK and ensure that no violent retribution will ever occur. (It’s also a good thing we found all those cops who always take victims’ accusations of abuse with appropriate gravity and act accordingly.)

The allegation was that girls are assaulted not by “white bullies”, but by Muslims that belong to some “savage subculture” or some such; so your theory about “the white cop” being necessarily (or only likely?) a racist doesn’t really help.

And yes, if assaulting six-year-old girls for wearing jeans is a common phenomenon (which I highly doubt), then the authorities should know about it, and take care of it.

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Mrs Tilton 01.28.10 at 9:50 pm

Henri @95,

not so much six-year olds as teenage girls (including very young teenage girls). Your doubts notwithstanding, it is a common occurrence, happening often enough for there to be a specific term for it in French. You can learn a bit about it here. As you generally represent a conservative viewpoint, of course, I expect you’ll conclude the sluts were asking for it.

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Mrs Tilton 01.28.10 at 9:52 pm

Me @96,

My last sentence was unfair and uncalled for. Withdrawn, and apologies to Henri.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.28.10 at 10:31 pm

That’s Okay, nothing’s wrong with being conservative.

So, there is gang violence in underclass ghetto communities; what else is new. And in Angers a few years ago 60 people (including a priest, IIRC) were convicted of sexually abusing 40 children.

But what does any of it have to do with headscarves?

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Farren 01.28.10 at 10:59 pm

@Mrs Tilton

Seriously, forgive the rant. I’m very, very tired (I worked till 2am on some software dev for a product demo at 8am this morning so I’ve had hardly any sleep in 2 days) and struggling with a mixture of feelings on this issue after reading two stories of cleric endorsed rape elsewhere in the world recently.

You make a fair point. I don’t know if its just gangs of hooligans or youths taking their cues from their elders. I do know that there are several places in Africa and Asia where clerics do prescribe such measures and am making a leap from that. It really, really makes me angry, but that doesn’t give me the right to leap to assumptions.

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Mrs Tilton 01.28.10 at 11:16 pm

Henri @98,

what does any of it have to do with headscarves?

With priestly child abuse? Probably nothing.

With les tournantes, though: girls who wear the headscarf and otherwise comport themselves as good little girls who know their place should do are (usually) not attacked. It’s the girls who wear western garb and, well, hang around outside the house with boys (shocking, I know, but hard as it is to believe it sometimes happens) who are typically the victims.

Thing is, I don’t think the rapists are particularly religious, save in a sort of cultural-background way. Rather, they have internalised the old classification of all females on the virgin/mother/whore schema (a schema hardly limited to Islam), and act accordingly. The girls are, in the (no doubt sincere) belief of their attackers, “asking for it”. (It is my anger at this way of thinking, by the way, that provoked my intemperate remark above. You were just collateral damage.)

Some of the younger girls who wear the scarf do so because their parents make them do it. I am keenly aware of what that sort of thing can do to a kid’s self-esteem and social standing (I myself had to put up with similar things, translated into a different religion and culture). Sucks for the kid, but as you point out, them’s the breaks. One hopes that the experience will at least steel them to reject the whole parcel of nonsense when they are old enough to decide for themselves.

Some of the girls who wear the scarf do so in order not to attract unwanted attentions, in the worst case from the rapists. It is appalling that they should feel they have to do so. But it is incumbent on the state not to forbid girls to wear the scarf but to pursue the rapists so aggressively, and punish them with such breathtaking severity, that as many as possible of their would-be fellow-criminals do a fast and fundamental rethink.

But many girls wear the scarf because they truly wish to do so. However unfortunate and deluded that wish be, it is no business of the state to override it.

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Mrs Tilton 01.28.10 at 11:31 pm

Farren @99,

no problem. As you’ll have seen from later developments in this thread, I am myself not immune.

Are clerics in Africa and Asia really preaching rape? Horrible. In the culture I come from, they never do that. As I was reminded watching Deliver Us From Evil last night, they save the kiddies for themselves.

A different note: South Africans and apartheid. I knew a few (white) S. African expats back in apartheid days; emphatically not fans of the system. Here is a memory I have from those heady days when apartheid was consigned to the rubbish tip — far from the most important thing but it still brings a smile to my face. After the first free elections, one of my S. African friends said to me, “Well, now I can finally stop telling Americans that I’m from Australia”.

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sg 01.29.10 at 12:51 am

Mrs Tilton, how do your arguments in 100 and elsewhere, which seem to be in support of state intervention in individual clothing choices to stop bullying, work elsewhere? Should we perhaps ban mini-skirts, because they expose girls to the risk of sexualisation and subsequent harassment and bullying by boys? Should we have rules about the length of the pants a boy wears, so that if his parents make him a Harry high-pants his unfortunate bullying-prone situation will be remedied by the state? I was thrown around the school yard (literally) and called a “povo c**t” because my clothes weren’t as new as everyone elses – should the state have intervened to give me new clothes?

If bullying is going on in these communities on the basis of the clothing girls are forced to wear (or choose not to wear) then the atmosphere of conformity needs to be attacked, along with its underlying stereotypes – not the clothing itself.

It’s also worth remembering that the attitude of the girls wearing the veil isn’t always particularly sullen, either. Some of them have gone to court to try and overturn the laws, and others have said they won’t go to school if they have to go “naked”. Something which is being continually forgotten in this debate (despite the point having been made in the OP) is that for a lot of veiled women, being forced to go unveiled is a type of nakedness – like forcing white girls to go to school in their bikinis. If the state things nudism is right, the natural way to get people to do it is not to humiliate teenagers, but to educate them.

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sg 01.29.10 at 1:04 am

JoB (84), this is bad on principle because it’s fundamentally illiberal and it attacks a minority community through a powerful symbol of their religion. I set out these points at 63 but no-one has read or responded, it seems – this is where the debate “stops”. The debate has also “stopped” at the point where commenters claim the women can just “take the veil off”, or would welcome being forced to, without further explanation, directly contra the point of the post. I’m surprised so many people have to be reminded of their liberal principles when religion enters the picture.

I also don’t recognise that bullying may be part of it, but if it is then it needs to be dealt with at a school and community level, not a state level. And always, bullying needs to be dealt with by attacking the bullies, not forcibly shaming the bullied. Why, oh why are so many basic principles of modern society being ignored in this little debate?

ajay, claims of forced veiling do make an impression on me, but I’m a) not convinced they’re at all widespread, b) unsure how banning the veil is going to work for those who choose to wear it and c) not convinced it’s such a big problem that it requires we all side with a far-right attack on Islam. It has been pointed out repeatedly in this and other threads on this debate that there are other, more feminist and more empowering ways to stop forced veiling, which will be good for the community in which it happens and not bad for the wider liberal society. I pointed out some of these in 63, but apparently all I’ve been doing is accusing everyone of being a dupe of the racists.

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Mrs Tilton 01.29.10 at 1:37 am

sg @102,

how do your arguments in 100 and elsewhere, which seem to be in support of state intervention in individual clothing choices to stop bullying [Emph. supplied]

Häh? Your reading of my views is so dazzling far from what I actually think (and actually wrote) as to be positively Straussian.

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roac 01.29.10 at 2:14 am

Speaking of Switzerland, a court has just upheld the women’s basketball league’s refusal to let a (native-born) player wear a headscarf. For safety reasons. And also to preserve “religious neutrality.”

106

S. Turner 01.29.10 at 3:19 am

The ‘republic’ is France’s model of a large public realm. Check out any theory of a public realm. They all entail the complete moral equality of every member of it (though not all dependents on the state are permitted entry into the public realm according to every theory). This equality entailment between strangers is based on trust. When people want to interact with me, if they are purposefully concealing their eyes or mouth, I am uncomfortable and less able to trust them. That’s not just me. That’s the culture that brought me up.

The libertarian response: ‘rubbish’ misses my point by a kilometre. If you can legitimately claim the right or liberty to disguise yourself whenever, however, and wherever you like then you don’t have a public realm. Any such unqualified claim surely resolves into an adventurous but mostly miserable state of nature. Everyone wearing big rubber goggles and carrying tasers?

Anyway, I think there have always been restrictions around clothing and identity at one layer or another of political rules. It’s not surprising really, that at the same time people are warning about totalitarian Big Brother surveillance, there seems a definite push by individuals to retain the right to hide.

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sg 01.29.10 at 3:35 am

sorry Mrs Tilton, I missed a paragraph…

S Turner, how does one reconcile the moral equality of every member of a public realm with a state intervention erecting special rules about the clothing restrictions of a particular subgroup of that public realm? Either everyone has the right to wear what they want, or they don’t.

Other clothing laws – about, for example, decency – are about being required to hide things which the general public consider to be private. They don’t preclude individuals choosing to define other areas of their body as private too – and passing laws which require individuals to make a part of their body publicly viewable is a new and disturbingly weird type of law-making which seems dangerously close to harrassment to me.

What, theoretically, is different between your definition of “hiding” and a definition of make-up as “hiding”? These laws are immediately and obviously wierd, evil and asinine. It’s only the fact that they will affect a much-misunderstood muslim minority in a (very superficially) proto-feminist way that appeals to their liberal interventionist streak which makes anyone on the left consider them anything but abhorrent.

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Substance McGravitas 01.29.10 at 3:55 am

When people want to interact with me, if they are purposefully concealing their eyes or mouth, I am uncomfortable and less able to trust them.

I am uncomfortable around people with ridiculous facial hair, but my legislative efforts have come to nothing.

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Russell L. Carter 01.29.10 at 4:11 am

I waited patiently.

It took till #86 to get to LDS. Lily white LDS. The US Government’s 19th century action and the to-this-day-cold-war against the remnant are, or at least should be, a counterexample to the notion, emphatically on display in the initial comments in this thread, that complaints against cultural oppression of women are always racist[1].

I have to say that I agree with both Mrs. Tilton and Farren (when he’s not ranting). I tried to say as much in my posts (way too succinctly for the Very-Deep-Critical-Reader Chris Bertram, apparently).

Among the things that Mrs. Tilton says that I agree with is that it’s not the pious that are the main source of the problem. Rather, there’s a layered-on paternalistic social element that’s free riding on some vague theology. Thugs are part of the problem.

Some say, well, it’s just bullying children. They’ll get over it. Perhaps we should just remind ourselves what the age of a high school or University undergraduate is.

Others shift the discussion from “what do they wear” to “it’s just a veil”. That’s not right either. It’s a lot more than the veil, but those other parts are mostly not the problem.

Finally, if you read my first two posts’ sentences on what the possible actually-might-make-a-difference solutions inflicted by a Government could be, you’ll see I have none. No confidence in them, that is. In this I’m in agreement with Mrs Tilton #100, especially. Enforce the laws. Maybe they need to be revised. We evolve.

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Substance McGravitas 01.29.10 at 4:15 am

In most of the Soviet block countries there was coursework in atheism required for a degree. It’d be interesting to know if those had any effect, good or ill. Or if you had to show up for class.

111

harold 01.29.10 at 4:25 am

I think for the most part people are not (or were not) allowed to conceal their identity, at least in European society. In Elizabethan England mummers were not allowed to wear masks, which is why the custom grew up of using blackface and strips of paper, instead. Of course, during Carnival or other theatrical ocasions, a certain playful transgressiveness was/is allowed — like on Halloween, especially for children.

Eighteenth C. Spain banned wide brimmed hats at one point because people used them to conceal their faces and commit crimes.

In short, I don’t think hoods and masks were banned in the US only because of the Ku Klux Klan. I suspect it is because of the republican nature of Calvinism, in which citizenship takes place in the public square, and all are supposed to be equal and identifiable before the law. People are also supposed to refrain from staring at or bothering each other or standing out too individualistically in their appearance. (This was carried to ridiculous extremes in the 1950s when everyone strove to look exactly like every one else, down to the last jot and tittle.) It is almost, one might say, as though every citizen were draped in an invisible veil that prevented them from attracting too much notice. But you could also say that coming a citizen could be viewed as a discipline or vocation — as a sort of secular way of “taking the veil”.

However that may be, it seems obvious that in a republic, real veils are not appropriate in institutional settings like schools, hospitals, or the army, for example. And also at work.

Otherwise, I don’t see why in their private time and space, women and girls shouldn’t be allowed to wear headscarfs or veils, like the netting on hats, that, even in my memory, widows used to wear on dress-up occasions.

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Chris Bertram 01.29.10 at 7:03 am

_If you can legitimately claim the right or liberty to disguise yourself whenever, however, and wherever you like then you don’t have a public realm._

Those damned anonymous commenters …..

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.29.10 at 7:18 am

@100 Thing is, I don’t think the rapists are particularly religious, save in a sort of cultural-background way. [...] But it is incumbent on the state not to forbid girls to wear the scarf but to pursue the rapists so aggressively, and punish them with such breathtaking severity, that as many as possible of their would-be fellow-criminals do a fast and fundamental rethink.

Well, we seem to be pretty much in agreement now.

Although I suspect even “cultural-background way” is probably missing the point a bit. Gangs in the ghetto attack people for betraying their ghetto identity, whatever it happens to be; in the US one would be attacked for “acting white”. As long as the ghettos remain this will be going on, in one form or another.

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dsquared 01.29.10 at 7:49 am

Thing is, I don’t think the rapists are particularly religious, save in a sort of cultural-background way.

for “particularly”, substitute “at all” – they drink alcohol and smoke cannabis, don’t pray and don’t go to mass. In general, gang-rape is (according to the very good newspaper article I read a couple of yaers ago) used as a “punishment” for refusing to date a gang member, dumping one, being in the wrong place at the wrong time – in general, the same depressing list that one comes across in books about the Hell’s Angels. And as with white and black gangs, the underlying fact is that the racaille rape and abuse women who hang around with them; it’s true that devout Muslims who don’t socialise and wear hijab won’t tend to be in that category, but regarding the gangs as some sort of religious police is a more or less sure fire way to misunderstand what’s going on (particularly since, of course, the rapists have now begun to read their own media coverage and so are incorporating religious doublespeak into their self-exculpatory speeches – there’s decent evidence of a feedback loop here).

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JoB 01.29.10 at 8:23 am

sg103, I did respond to your 63. I think we’re more or less aligned but I am sure it is against the etiquette of the medium to publicly admit that. You agree bullying can be a reason for action, & I agree that the first action to take on it is not to handle the bullied. However if the bullying is to wear a certain uniform and the bulliers can’t be in a naïvely Vieuxtempian way be stopped (as it is not uncommon in the case of bullies) then I believe that one does not attack the bullied when one forbids the uniform. Once it is forbidden there’s this neutral zone where bulliers and bullied are stripped from the symbol of bullying.

For all the many negative effects such a course of action has, there may be a point where it’s just the best one.

So, not in principle a bad course of action. Kemal Atatütk: OK. Antwerp secondary school: well, seems to be quite justified. Most city administration personel in “Old Europe” – dunno really. & the burqa in France: no, but hopefully it is not a question of probably not yet.

But to restate the impopular point: why do so many people from AngloSaxon origin feel so very comfortable making blanket statements about something in continental Europa where it’s clear things are completely different migration-wise. It seems like you all believe in Old Europe after all; well then maybe you should loose faith in social democracy as well as it is something that we invented over here all on our own.

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sg 01.29.10 at 9:39 am

JoB, I think the concern of this anglosaxon at least is that I come from a country (Australia) with a sophisticated model of multiculturalism, and the kind of things I see happening in Europe, regardless of their social democratic content, don’t seem to make much sense within the framework of my upbringing. Even conservatives in Australia can recognise the success of our model for dealing with these kinds of conflicts, and the madness of what France is proposing (from a multicultural perspective). Note this doesn’t consitute a claim of perfect racial harmony in oz (far from it).

Also I think forcing all girls to dress “provocatively” (i.e. unveiled) because some of them are being bullied for dressing “provocatively” seems to be an awesomely counterproductive measure. It would be much better to treat the bullies like the dickheads they are and tell the girls that the way they dress is up to them. After all, if they’re being bullied for dressing one way by boys, and then bullied for dressing another way by the state, where does that leave them? Shafted, I would say.

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sg 01.29.10 at 10:25 am

I think these guys sum up my opinion of this legislation very nicely…

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JoB 01.29.10 at 10:32 am

sg, well I haven’t been to Australia but I’m sure there are not many places there that are like an urban continental European city. So, if you can kind of see that it would be rash of me to make principled statements about racial tensions in Australia and likewise that there might be more to it in Europe than you can see at first glance from Australia, then all’s well I guess.

Shafted, yes. Definitely lots of people are shafted lots of times through no fault of their own. & I am 100% sure that the women involved here are very shafted indeed. But I do not see unveiling as provocation and insofar as it is seen by some as provocation: too bad for them. I can see why some women want to provoke a little bit by veiling & it can be quite a nice provocation and all – but the fact is that more and more women are feeling that if they dare walk unveiled they are in provocation of male sexual desires. That’s bollocks. Nobody should feel like that. And at some point society well and truely may choose to enforce that point.

But it was nice conversing with you, sg, it really was. Just don’t accuse me of what other people write and think. If you hate subsumption of individuals under a generality, don’t subsume me.

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novakant 01.29.10 at 10:48 am

well, it’s complex, lol

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alex 01.29.10 at 11:11 am

French political culture, even some very left-wing bits of it, is, on balance, ideologically opposed to the concept of multiculturalism at a quite profound level. Such a concept would imply that ‘the values of the republic’, to return to our starting-point, are not the universal ideals spearheaded by a polity that is a beacon of justice for the world, but might in fact be the consequences of a specific, and local, historical development, and not best suited to judging every single case. The appetite for accepting that implication is not strong in France, to put it mildly. Everyone has their exceptionalism, and that’s theirs.

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Alex 01.29.10 at 11:52 am

Also I think forcing all girls to dress “provocatively” (i.e. unveiled) because some of them are being bullied for dressing “provocatively” seems to be an awesomely counterproductive measure.

Well…yes. What is the mechanism of action here? The plan seems at the moment to be as follows:
1. Punish veil wearers.
2. …..
3. Ponies!

What’s step 2 meant to be? If you make the enormous concession of assuming good faith here, it seems that they’ve observed that there seems to be a correlation between unveiledness and socioeconomic status and decided to remove the veils. But, y’know, correlation is no evidence of causation without a plausible mechanism of action.

There’s another point here: this is a bunch of fairly horrible rightwing politicians who are demanding extended police powers over a specific, disadvantaged ethno-religious community, which they justify with tales of racially charged sexual violence and appeals to liberate so and so by force. If this was in Texas, or, say, Berlusconi’s Italy, I suspect a lot of people here would instantly identify it as an ugly exercise in racist pandering. For some reason, attaching Frenchness to it seems to block some people’s immune receptors for authoritarian bullshit.

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ajay 01.29.10 at 11:55 am

Other clothing laws – about, for example, decency – are about being required to hide things which the general public consider to be private. They don’t preclude individuals choosing to define other areas of their body as private too – and passing laws which require individuals to make a part of their body publicly viewable is a new and disturbingly weird type of law-making which seems dangerously close to harrassment to me.

There is really no clear reason I can see why “the opinion of the general public” should be used as a solid basis for deciding what you should cover up, but not what you should expose. Apart from anything else, this would seem to justify Saudi-style compulsory veiling (hey, “the general public” thinks you should be entirely covered up, so apparently this doesn’t count as harassment. Sorry, ladies.) while condemning, say, the sign in my local bank which asks motorcyclists to remove their helmets on entry as an anti-robbery precaution.

123

JoB 01.29.10 at 12:14 pm

120 – Except, Alex (if you can stop shouting for a moment), that it’s more complex than that, & it is not a purely French thing, & a zillion other things mentioned upthread. Carry on…

124

Alex 01.29.10 at 12:26 pm

No, actually, I don’t think it’s more complicated than that. I don’t think it’s complicated at all. I think it’s quite simple. Certainly, a hell of a lot of bullshit has been spread about, but it’s just that – bullshit. It’s crazily generous to accept the claims of good will here, to the level of being naive. We’re dealing with someone who campaigned in part on sucking up to people who are still pissed off about Algeria 48 years on.

If a British politician who campaigned by sucking up to ex-Rhodesians proposed this legislation, appealing to “British values”, and tried to hide behind (say) Southall Black Sisters, I bet everyone here would correctly identify this as ugly, authoritarian nonsense mixed with concern trolling. Similarly, if a US politician who stumped around Texas talking about secession and states’ rights proposed this legislation, appealing to – say – “Southern heritage” or the need to fight “un-Americanism” (equivalent to “contrary to the values of the republic”)…

125

alex 01.29.10 at 12:28 pm

Ah, laws – you can’t base them on some abstract universal principle, and you can’t base them on what a community wants. Apparently. Oh noes, what are we to do?

126

dsquared 01.29.10 at 12:39 pm

If you make the enormous concession of assuming good faith here

exactly – to Alex’s analogies in #124, I’d also add those anti-abortion campaigners who do a big number about the horror of foeticide but also want to ban contraception and sex education.

127

ajay 01.29.10 at 3:35 pm

123: embarking with some trepidation on this analogy, you’d have to imagine a British politician who campaigned on sucking up to ex-Rhodesians, but who also appointed the first black cabinet minister in British history, which complicates the picture a little.
And isn’t the motive of the people introducing this law a bit of a side issue? I mean, for all I know, Lyndon Johnson only backed the Civil Rights Act out of a selfish desire for a place in history. Road to hell, good intentions, and vice versa.

Meanwhile, you have an issue where those in favour include: lots of non-Muslim French people, who think veils are against French principles (and, a priori, they should have a good idea of what those principles are and what’s against them); an unknown number of French racists, who just back anything that can be seen as affecting Muslims; and a lot of French Muslim women (NPNS, etc), who should have an even better idea of the veil issue.

Meanwhile, those against include: a lot of Anglo-Saxons on the internet who are unlikely to ever live in France and are even less likely either to be forced to wear a veil or to be banned from doing so, but who rather like the nice multicultural feel that the occasional hijab gives to Regents Park on a summer evening.

128

Mrs Tilton 01.29.10 at 5:33 pm

Shorter/analogous ajay @127:

Meanwhile in American abortion law we have an issue where those against choice include lots of people, some of whom are even women themslves, so obviously their views trump those of specific pregnant women who might have other ideas about what they and their bodies should be forced to do. And anyway, I do not have to live in America so what do I care, FYIGM.

129

Bloix 01.29.10 at 7:30 pm

“French political culture, even some very left-wing bits of it, is, on balance, ideologically opposed to the concept of multiculturalism at a quite profound level.”

It’s also ideologically anti-clerical, especially the left-wing bits of it. The freedom of religion stuff that Americans get teary-eyed over doesn’t play in France.

130

Sebastian Dangerfield 01.29.10 at 7:43 pm

The philosophical waterfront having been fully covered upthread, I’d like to venture to bring things down to the street level and inquire about just plain efficacy.

If we make the (brave) assumption that an actuating motive behind the headsarf/veil ban is to protect young women who are targeted for gang rape by reason of their failure to wear the headscarf/veil, how is it that increasing the pool of women to be thus victimized in any way a mitigation of the perceived problem. I doubt that gangs of youths intent on perpetrating a violent act are apt to inquire whether the intended victim would have been wearing the headscarf/veil but for the ban (or much care, for that matter).

This justification suffers from a rather grievously bad means/end fit, which is reason enough to suspect that different actual motives are at play.

131

bianca steele 01.29.10 at 7:45 pm

Bloix, that is also my understanding. But I have a hard time understanding how Beauvoir and Sartre, say, treated their IIRC Dominican and Franciscan peers with the very deepest respect. It’s not that I think they are unworthy of respect–it’s that a left-leaning person behaving similarly today would be met with widened eyes and warned off with the words, “But he’s a Catholic and very conservative, you know!”

Henri V makes an interesting point but I think Daniel’s response is correct. Religious fanaticism in the inner city is presented as an alternative to the gang culture, an insistence that when the gang says “joining us is what it means to be a man” they are wrong, but in the US the gangs aren’t usually a matter of immigrants failing to assimilate (may be less true in London and Paris).

132

bianca steele 01.29.10 at 7:48 pm

s.b.: “left-leaning American person”

133

sg 01.30.10 at 2:34 am

JoB at 118, Australia has the 2nd biggest greek populatoin in the world outside of Athens, and I think the 3rd biggest Italian. We have significant Lebanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Malaysian and Indonesian communities and a huge overseas student population. Sydney has, I think, the 4th largest number of nationalities of any city in the world – much more than Paris. Australia has something to say about multiculturalism and, I suppose, I think it’s a philosophy which, if not universal, might give people with significant migrant communities a few more tools with which to manage these issues.

I think you confused my point about provocative dressing – currently the girls being bullied are being bullied for being unveiled. The proposal to prevent bullying is to unveil more. I don’t know how this works?

I’m also really dubious of your claim that “more and more women” feel they will be harassed if they walk unveiled. 132 comments in and I don’t see much evidence of that. The OP does contain some evidence that veiled women feel harassed if they are forced to unveil.

I really don’t think you’ve answered Alex’s points very clearly either. “It’s complex” is never an answer.

134

Keir 01.30.10 at 4:53 am

: lots of non-Muslim French people, who think veils are against French principles (and, a priori, they should have a good idea of what those principles are and what’s against them)

This isn’t very true; the French have historically been a bit rubbish at following the values of the Republic, which is why they’re onto their Fifth already.

135

harold 01.30.10 at 6:04 am

Commenting anonymously is to take advantage of the veil that citizenship affords us — to express our opinions in the public square without being stereotyped because of occupation or origin. It is like an orchestra member who auditions behind a screen so as to get a fair hearing.

The United States has always traditionally permissive about letting people use whatever name they wished as long as it was not for criminal purposes.

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us – don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know!

How dreary to be somebody!
How public like a frog
To tell one’s name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

And in the Western part of our country self-reinvention was just a way to start over:

Oh, what was your name in the States
Was it Thompson, or Johnson, or Bates
Did you murder your wife and fly for your life
Say, what was your name in the States

136

Farren 01.30.10 at 9:52 am

sg a point worth considering is that the suggestion is that they unveil in the environment where it needlessly seperates them, thus removing any perceived responsibility for distinctions that might single them out in that environment (as both potential targets of some of their peers and others) and allowing them to more easily mingle with their non-Muslim peers. Its not an obvious correlate that they must obey this rule outside of that environment. They could don the veil as soon as they leave school. That said, having read all of the arguments on this thread I’m less convinced then I was at the beginning of the discussion that it will have the desired results.

137

JoB 01.30.10 at 11:18 am

sg, what can I say, I said loads of things and then I said ‘it’s complex’ once because this ranter comes in as if nothing has been said before him and nothing van be said after – & you do as if that’s everything I said.

I tried to say something like this:

“currently the girls being bullied are being bullied for being unveiled. The proposal to prevent bullying is to unveil more. I don’t know how this works?”

So you admit (more than) the possibility of them being bullied into a veil, or a burqa. & I will assume that you agree the world would be a better place if they weren’t bullied.

(and I did not want to point to a beauty context between migration policies; I just point to the fact that the migration is very very different between Australia and Europe – and the idea that what works there should work here utterly naïve. But yes, this is universal at least: a world without a need for freedom of religion is a better one, if we can bring it about to have no individual of her own free will to still be religious)

138

Alex 01.30.10 at 11:24 am

Ajay, a large part of my point is at the whole argument seems to wilfully ignore the question of “what, physically, will happen if this legislation is passed?”

Personally, I suspect it might well be more than a tad foxhunty – in practice, most people involved on both sides will invoke the prime directive (“don’t be such a shit about it”) and get on with life, or else find some sort of workaround to obey the law in letter but not spirit. However, the problem with the PD is that there is a small but non-trivial population of shits, and some of them will insist on pressing a confrontation.

At which point, at least some people who are, by the assumptions of the debate, already disadvantaged will be refused public services, which include but are not limited to education, medicine, unemployment benefit, libraries, possibly public transport, and conceivably public housing. Orange-France Telecom is one-third nationalised and about 40% of its employees are civil servants. Is it legal to use the phone wearing a hijab? EDF is 100% nationalised; will they turn off the electricity? As for employment, that’s going to rule out 40-50% of jobs. Extreme argument, I agree, but the problem is exactly the people who will want to force silly extreme cases to make their political points.

And presumably, if they don’t accept this, it will be enforced by police power. In a Bayesian sense, you’ve surely got to put a much higher weighting on the stuff that will physically happen as a result of the legislation than all this talk of republic, etc – it may not be entirely cynical or wholly content-free, but it’s not facts-on-the-ground either.

Further, this proposal trips a number of General Bullshit Warnings. It’s a demand for more police power over a specified minority; not good. It’s certainly very conveniently timed from an electoral and political point of view; suspicious. The combination of both is worse. And, as I pointed out way back, it’s the classic Thatcher/Blair argument – We need to put these people’s kids in a giant database/dock their benefits/lock them up/deport them to Zimbabwe faster…for their own good. As always, one is expected to sign up for the state violence now, and trust in promises that the parenting classes or whatever will be delivered later.

139

bianca steele 01.30.10 at 5:22 pm

The issues here aren’t anything like the same in the French school situation as I understand it. France has secular schools, as well as Catholic and Jewish schools (at the time of the school controversy I think they were considering Muslim schools as well). I think the cost of all of them to the parents is the same (free). I don’t see anything wrong with mandating the secular schools be secular. Students who want a religious environment can choose a different school (Muslims were permitted to wear the headscarf in Catholic schools, for example). They don’t have to pressure the secular school authorities to change school policy to conform more closely to their parents’ beliefs (as happens in the US).

I have not seen any official arguments that the problem is social separation, either. I have heard that officials do not like to talk to veiled women, and the reason they give is that they do not feel the women are “open” with them, which might just not make a woman who wears a veil or headscarf feel a whole lot like changing her mind. And to make the argument about a woman wearing a shoulder-length scarf that leaves her face in full view is stupid.

140

OM 01.30.10 at 8:11 pm

I have read Crooked Timber ever since I followed a link from Brad Delong’s blog, maybe as long ago as a year.
For the first time I am posting a comment or rather a few questions that come to my mind on the topic of the veil.

1. Why are Muslim men not fully veiled? Are Muslim men immodest and irreligious?
If the men were draped in a black chador and fully veiled, would you be comfortable with that? Would you interpret that as modesty and religiousness? Or would you find it threatening?
2. If you are a veiled man or woman and no one can see your face, are you in effect faceless and essentially a non-entity?
3. If you are a veiled man or woman, how can you be recognized by other people you encounter? If you are not recognizable, do you become non-existent?
4. If the veil makes an individual non-existent, then does it make them less than human? Or at least perceived as less than human?
5. If you are veiled and perceived as less than human or very ‘other’ , can you easily obtain employment or acceptance or good-will?
6. In essence is not the veil and also the head-scarf a declaration by the person of ‘otherness’, of separateness? Are not all distinctive religious dress a declaration of separateness, of otherness, of difference and finally of exclusion designed to avoid full integration into society?

141

Alex 01.30.10 at 10:30 pm

1) Essentially irrelevant. I don’t interpret it as modesty or religiousness. What I interpret it as is up to me and none of anyone’s business until such time as I make it public. I do, however, interpret the proposed legislation as being unwise, illiberal, discriminatory, and probably motivated by a desire to get racists to vote for its proposers.

2) No.
3) I would be very surprised if people who actually do this for real go around with no idea who they are talking to. Certainly, in 80s-90s West Yorkshire, I never heard of such an incident occurring. This is anecdote, not data, but it’s usually the responsibility of someone making an unusual assertion to bring the data.
4) No. Nothing does. If someone believes that (something) makes other people less than human, it’s not the fucking dress regulations that are the problem.
5) No – see 4.
6) Define “full integration” and “society”, if possible explaining why in that case we shouldn’t all wear uniform.

142

Ted 01.31.10 at 2:48 am

JoB

Australia’s multiethnic/racial/cultural melting pot makes Europe monocultural by contrast, and that is partly because Europe is much more ghettoized than multicultural. But the main reason is that Australian society and its natural/physical charms are a great enticement for immigrants to WANT to become more Australian than the fetid hellholes from which they fled. Places like Britain, France, and Belgium do not hold these enticements or attractions. The future for civic integration and harmony in Europe is very grim indeed.

143

sg 01.31.10 at 8:20 am

JoB, I’ve said repeatedly that I don’t admit the possibility of much bullying going on, and that I think it’s a smokescreen. But even if the bullying were happening, forcibly unveiling more women to expose them to the same ridicule is a) not going to help and b) is not attacking the cause of the bullying. The only solution to bullying is to attack the cause, and the cause of bullying is always the bully.

I didn’t read Alex’s comments as rants (sorry Alex I think this offends your moniker). There are a number of obvious reasons to think that these laws are racist or colonialist, of the “we know what’s good for them” variety. As I have repeatedly pointed out, and as was the original purpose of this post, “what’s good for them” in this case seems to ignore the opinion of the veiled women themselves, who object to being forced to walk semi-naked through the streets of Paris. Or Algeria. Or wherever. And I still think that the claims of bullying are concern trolling, a smokescreen to enlist concerned dissenters into uncomfortably supporting these laws “for the good of the women”.

This is where I think Australian multicultural policy has something to show Europe. It’s not a beauty contest, as you put it – but we have some ideas about how to manage difference that don’t involve ghettos and guest workers, and I really don’t think Europe is so different to Oz that some of them might not be valid.

144

S. Turner 01.31.10 at 9:37 am

Some day soon, when my naked body is publically examined by a completely ordinary, eventually unskilled person with ‘X-Ray’ vision, based on my cultural values, I will feel as vulnerable and overexposed as a publicly unveiled Muslim woman.

How much weight ought freedom of religion to have when it comes up against a universal value like “personal security”? What weight, if any, should the sometimes very deep natural aversion to naked exposure have against that value?

145

Robin Datta 02.01.10 at 1:32 am

There are a lot of items on the list
“contrary to the values of the republic”
including the many regional dialects of the French language itself, which have been actively suppressed, in honor of a monolithic entity.

146

Z 02.01.10 at 2:47 pm

” but the writer of whom I speak described in great detail how the veil in schools was undeniably an instrument of control on far too many cases. How girls who chose not to wear it in school had to return to neighbourhoods where they faced the threat of assault or worse still, gang-rape for a lack of modesty.”

I don’t doubt the good faith and eloquence of my compatriot, but next time you meet him, offer him the excellent book of L.Mucchielli (Le scandale des tournantes) and he will see that the details he provided are a complete media fabrication, that gang-rapes are not more common than they were 15 or 30 years ago, that when they happen (as they do), they are tied to exclusive male societies (such as police squads, military conscripts, bands of friends and, yes, young unprivileged youths from poor suburbs) but not clearly to Islam, ethnicity or lack of modesty.

“How no amount of apparent access to opportunity could sufficiently ameliorate this early controlling and dependency sustaining influence.”

This is not in agreement with my entirely anecdotal experience. Since I have been teaching in higher education institutions, I have taught about a dozen classes, and in each one of them, there was precisely one veiled young woman (different each time). Without exceptions, they have been serious, hard-working, dedicated, and dare I write, unremarkable students. None of them looked particularly hapless, and trust me that I have had my lot of hapless students.

“Finally he detailed about how the above considerations were a very vibrant and honest part of the national debate among secular French citizens”

The debate of 5 to 10 years ago about the veil in schools might have been, though I suspect that punishing criminal and oppressive behaviors while promoting a policy of affirmative action would have been vastly more productive; the current debate about the burqa seems to me to be pure political pandering to the extreme-right, whose votes the current government will crucially need in the upcoming elections.

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