My goodness, talking about the headscarf law has brought up some interesting discussion on the blogs. It appears that my mistake was to think that this was ever about improving the lives of Muslim girls. From the responses there is one thing that is clear – this law is about legislating conformity.
For example, from Lilli Marleen:
So who is wetting their pants about what French do in their schools and Germany – hopefully – will do soon after? The girls can go to school, all they have to do is to behave like anyone else.
I’m sure that will make a stirring addition to the EU constitution: You have the right to be just like everyone else, especially if you’re under age. Any failure to take advantage of this right will be punished in the law. It is exactly this sentiment that leads people to think xenophobia towards non-Europeans is a deep seated problem.
From Stefan Isaacs, responding to the discussion on Crooked Timber:
Few in the discussion seem to grasp that different societies have different social rules. Most of the discussion seems to revolve about whether the French are right or wrong. There are some dissenters to the general chain of thought (I am one of them) who feel that either the French have the right to mandate certain changes in order to maintain the structure of their society or that these young women don?t have a freedom of choice (in their home or Muslim society) to not wear the veil and that it is a control mechanism.
What is striking to me is the general arrogance exhibited by most in the discussion. The presumption is that the French don?t really understand freedom of expression or religion. The commenters seem to be erudite and well educated but the narrowness of the viewpoint really bothers me.
I wonder how many other places we might apply this logic. Did the Taliban have the right to mandate that women wear the hijab in order to defend the structure of their society? And I wonder how many children of any religion have the freedom to choose whether or not to go to school, or what school they get placed in?
No, the French government and a large part of the French population doesn’t really understand freedom of religion and they don’t understand it in exactly the same manner that most Americans don’t understand diversity, multi-culturalism or freedom of expression. Islam is entirely secure in France, so long as it has no measurable significance and makes no meaningful demands on believers.
In the same light, we have this comment on a previous post:
Integration starts from the willingness to be integrated. For those who’d rather pay for private schooling and keep forcing their children to submit to an absurd dictate that demeans them as a person, it’s clear there is no willingness at all there. You can’t blame this on others.
So, this law really is about separating those who want to be just like everybody else from those sticks in the mud who thought that France was a place where people were free to be who they are. Perhaps we should attack other absurd dictates, like dietary rules. Any child who won’t eat pork should be excluded from the schools. We could do the same for Frenchmen who move to America. If you won’t drink Budweiser and can’t stand the Superbowl, then you don’t really want to integrate, do you?
From Phersu at Larvatus prodeo:
La loi sur la la?cit? devait simplement permettre aux Musulmanes non-voil?es de ne pas porter le voile si elles le voulaient, m?me si pour cela il faut exclure la minorit? qui veut transgresser la la?cit?.
So, forbidding girls from wearing headscarves (and boys from wearing yarmulkes and turbans), is in fact permitting girls to not wear headscarves. You’ll excuse me if I find interdiction is permission a touch on the Orwellian side.
The one good argument of this kind comes from Henry Farrell over at Crooked Timber, who is not using it in support of this law. He uses the example of anti-dueling laws, which provided an excuse for people to avoid duels. Does this law provide girls with an excuse to not wear the headscarf? It seems unlikely. If the kinds of parents who force their girls to wear the headscarf are really so disturbed that they are brainwashing their daughters into submission, why would this law not simply provide them with an excuse to not send their children to school? If girls wear this for fear of reprisals and out of peer pressure, will this law relieve any of that pressure? If they wear it out of choice, do you think the kind of girl willing to make a choice that is so contrary to social norms will be disuaded by pressure from school authorities? If you think so, you must have forgotten your own adolescence.
Indeed, the depth of unreason in this argument is just incredible. The headscarf is a symbol of oppression, so ban the symbol even though it will only further oppress its victims. Nevermind that it will only reinforce the will of its advocates. Nevermind that a ban will do more to hinder integration than to advance it.
But then, this law makes perfect sense if its intent was never to help Muslim girls at all. This is about compliance, identification, and above all about power.
Le foulard islamique engage peut-?tre l’avenir de la R?publique mais je ne crois pas que ce soit pour les raisons invoqu?es par ceux qui souhaitent l’interdire. Si l’on veut mettre fin ? l’histoire de la nation, alors on peut se permettre, en effet, de d?finir le “type fran?ais” par un code vestimentaire. Le citoyen “de souche” sera enfin reconnaissable, comme sur les photos exotiques des vieux livres de g?ographie : “la Fran?aise” t?te nue c?toiera “l’Alg?rienne” voil?e ou “l’Abyssin” en peau de lion.
A ce compte, pourquoi ne pas l?gif?rer sur le port obligatoire du b?ret basque – sans oublier la baguette? Il faut que l’extr?me droite soit devenue bien influente pour que tant de gens de bonne foi prennent pour un “sursaut r?publicain” cette ethnicisation de l’appartenance fran?aise. Mais si la R?publique a encore le go?t de l’avenir, alors elle ne peut d?finir une fois pour toutes le prix ? payer pour lui appartenir.
The Veiled Republic
The Islamic headscarf question may well involve the future of the Republic, but don’t believe that it’s for the reasons given by those who want to forbid it. If we want to end the history of the nation then we can allow ourselves, in effect, to define “Frenchness” by a dress code. The “native” citizen will finally be clearly recognisable, just like in those exotic photos from old books of geography: the “French woman” with her head uncovered next to the veiled “Algerian woman” and the “Abyssinian” wearing lion skins.
So why not pass a law requiring people to wear Basque berets – not forgetting the baguette? The far right must be pretty powerful for so many people to take this ethnisation of Frenchness for the defense of the Republic. If the Republic still has any taste for the future, it can define once and for all the exact price of being a part of it.
This isn’t about oppressed Muslim girls. If it was, we would see the state insisting that all French children enjoy the right to public school. We would see people demand that the government relieve oppressive conditions in the suburbs, both oppression from those who live there and from the general environment of ghettoisation, unemployment, and public racism towards north Africans that prevails in much of France. Is it any wonder les beurs press for the visible signs of Islamic identity when they are told so often that they aren’t really French?
This is about provincialism. It is the French people saying that their model of immigration and multi-culturalism defines being French as acting French. That large numbers of Muslim women support the ban – some 40% is the number that gets bandied about – only says that this model has succeded with some Muslims and not with others. This is about deciding who is really French. It serves no purpose but to tell the inhabitiants of the suburbs that if France isn’t really willing to accept them, then it must be their own fault. It covers up a French failure to deal with the ghettoisation of its north African population.
It’s a farce of secular values and a pathetic parody of tolerance. It shows the world how little pious French declarations about les droits de l’homme really mean.