At least no one can accuse me of being knee-jerk pro-French

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.

La R?publique dans un foulard, par Bruno Latour

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.

91 thoughts on “At least no one can accuse me of being knee-jerk pro-French

  1. Randy McDonald writes:

    Modesty is a requirement. The hijab per se is not; as it is currently worn, however, is a neologism invented in late 20th century Lebanon.

    That may very well be the case (I have no idea myself, but you seem to have looked into it, so I will defer to you). But even if the hijab were invented yesterday, that would matter little.

    Modesty, as you say, is a requirement. As I understand it, one corollary of that requirement is some kind of head-covering. (The exact nature of the head-covering doesn’t seem to matter; some French Muslim women have worn the tricouleur on their heads to protest that they can be good Muslims and good Frenchwomen at the same time.) If the hijab in its current form is a relatively modern invention, then I suspect it had one of two origins (or possibly both):

    1. It was invented to allow women to cover their heads after they had generally adopted western garb that did not lend itself to coverage as would, say, the burqa; or

    2. Conservative as it might seem to us, it was adopted as a modern, less restrictive replacement for the burqa or other forms of total coverage.

    In much the same way, I would imagine that the kippa or yarmulke – the skullcap worn by observant Jewish males that is often so small it must held on with a hair-clip – evolved as a means of allowing Jewish men to fulfil the requirement of head-covering in a minimally intrusive way in an age when men generally no longer wear hats. (Any hat will do, you know; there is nothing specifically ‘sacred’ about the kippa, and one might just as well wear a baseball cap; I’ve known a number of observant Jews who do just that, and not because they are in France and afraid of being attacked.)

    Again, the ‘dog collar’ worn by RC and some protestant clergymen as a badge of office has changed quite a bit from its (I believe) renaissance origins. It was not originally the little white band, but rather a stand-up collar like that of a ‘Nehru jacket’; apparently only clergy wore such collars. The white band we see today is the vestigial remnant of the handkerchief priests would wear beneath the collar to protect it from sweat and dirt. Though it looks quite different to what it once was – so much so that a renaissance priest would probably not recognise the modern version for what it is – the idea is the same: a distinctive garb identifying the clergyman’s office.

    Forms of observance may change with time, but they can do so in a way that preserves their substance.

    By the way, it’s a bit OT, but given your surname perhaps not entirely without interest. As with the hijab, there is nothing ancient about the Scottish kilt. The modern version – the one you will, as Bierce once wrote, see worn by Americans in Scotland and by Scots in America – was invented in the 19th century by an English Quaker. Yet it would perhaps be unwise to intrude upon a Burns Supper, especially after a few drams had been taken, to reveal to the assembled Scots that they were wearing nought but a Saxon’s skirt.

  2. Ginger responds to Sebastian:

    :It is no solution at all for the child who
    :gets pulled from school. It is no solution at all
    :for the girl who is subjected to more abuse from
    :her neighborhood when she goes to school without
    :the hijab.

    And that should be the fault of this law?

    Not the fault of the law as such, but the fault of the state that enacted the law, if the law is its only action in this regard.

    Unlike you, I think this law both offensive per se and likely to lead to other, and less desirable, results than those it aims at. Here we disagree, of course. But I will go further, and hope that here you will agree with me: if this law represents the sum total of the French state’s action to facilitate integration of observant Muslim citizens, then it will be both farce and failure. I do not like this law, but my disaste for it would be mitigated if the state, at the same time it bans hijab-wearing pupils from state schools, would also undertake serious efforts to crack down on the violent gangs roaming the banlieues, to improve access to both academic and vocational education, to facilitate the entry of young and poor Muslims into the corridors of French society.

  3. Mrs. Tilton, you say:

    If the hijab in its current form is a relatively modern invention, then I suspect it had one of two origins (or possibly both):

    1. It was invented to allow women to cover their heads after they had generally adopted western garb that did not lend itself to coverage as would, say, the burqa; or

    2. Conservative as it might seem to us, it was adopted as a modern, less restrictive replacement for the burqa or other forms of total coverage.

    Wrong on both counts. Anecdotal evidence: my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents are/were devout Muslims. All our family photos testify to the absence of the “hijab” (the word really applies to the practice, but for the sake of coherence, I’ll use it for the popular article of clothing). At most, on occasion, my grandmother wore a shawl and or a scarf (a true foulard, not the dedicated concoction called the “hijab”).

    All evidence is that the hijab sprung up among Shiite Muslims in Lebanon and Iran in the 1970s, in the latter case, first as a demonstration of their resistance to the Shah’s efforts at westernization, then as a sign of allegiance to the Khomeini revolution. Elsewhere in the Middle East, the hijab, in several variations, was promoted as a sign of religious devotion (“born-again” Muslims, if you will) at a time when pan-Arab (secular) nationalism was discredited after the Six-Day War. As Wahhabism and other forms of fundamentalist Islam swept the Middle East and Muslim societies around the world, the hijab was adopted as a badge of religious militancy, particularly in Europe and America, often migrating from West to East (where, ironically, it was sometimes adopted as an item of fashion!). In short, the vast majority of hijab wearers (hijabis) were girls/women who had never worn any sort of head covering before. The hijab, as a former wearer (Rana) pointed out elsewhere, far from being any sort of accommodation by orthodox Muslims (in particular the men!) with modern, Western dress, was in fact a militant rejection of such dress. The proliferation of the hijab represents (to borrow Rana’s words) “the triumph of Islamism.”

  4. Mrs. Tilton:

    [I]f this law represents the sum total of the French state’s action to facilitate integration of observant Muslim citizens, then it will be both farce and failure.

    Agreed, but did you see anyone disagreeing with you on this topic?

  5. Randy,

    I have not. But nor have I seen the French state doing any of these things.

    Even if one views the wearing of the hijab in state schools as problematic, surely it is a minor problem compared with massive unemployment in Muslim neighbourhoods, poor education and gang violence. The state has yet to take effective action against these far greater evils. That it makes the hijab its priority shows either that it is opting for a cheap populist fix in lieu of any meaningful programme, or at best that its priorities are strangely ordered.

  6. Tempest in a teapot. The French are simply rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Typical European solution these days, assault the symptom with a mallet and utterly ignore the underlying issue.

  7. Mrs Tilton: I appreciate your arguments both here and at CT, even if I disagree, at least I can follow and understand your motivations for disliking the ban.

    But I cannot attribute the responsibilities for fundamentalist pressures on girls, either preceding or following this law, to anyone else but the fundamentalists themselves.

    It seems to me very unfair to blame the choices of reactionaries on the state, just like it seems unfair (and contrary to the idea the law is equal for all…) to demand the state cave in to their requests.

    if this law represents the sum total of the French state’s action to facilitate integration of observant Muslim citizens, then it will be both farce and failure.

    I understand that, I agree, but I don’t see it as the only measure. Haven’t authorities really done anything else than this law on laicite? Really? I’m not pro-French or anti-French, I don’t have enough to judge there, I’ve only lived briefly in France but as far as I could tell, I couldn’t see this total lack of efforts from the state. The problem is that i’s in recent years that fundamentalist groups have taken a stronger hold esp. among youths, and second or third generation immigrants. But the fundamentalists are not even the majority among Muslims. Most do not even go to the mosques.

    Integration doesn’t mean all the efforts must be on the part of the state only, does it? If fundamentalists’s view of “integration” is that they should get their views endorsed by the state, I’m afraid they got it very wrong there. If those fundamentalists don’t want to respect a very basic principle of secularism and equality in state schools, then it’s clear it’s them who do not want to integrate. Should the state give up on integrating their kids and all the kids of non-fundamentalist muslims, who are actually the _majority_, because of the stubborness and well-organised opposition of a few?

    The problem, as usual with religious groups where fundamentalists demand to speak for everyone, is who are you going to prefer dialogue with? Who are you going to give more consideration to, the many Muslims who have achieved and want the younger generations to continue to be able to achieve real integration, or the bold and vocal reactionary ones who refuse it?

    Since the goal is integration, and equality, and concern for those youths, I’d say we should listen to the non-fundamentalists. Non-fundamentalist Muslims favour this law, because they want their girls to grow up in an educational environment free of fundamentalist pressures.

    I find it very unfair to those Muslims who are in France precisely because it’s France and not Iran or Saudi Arabia, if we were to give more relevance to the voices of the fundamentalists and let them speak for everyone.

    In general, also, I get the feeling the very existence of fundamentalists, and of “violent gangs roaming the banlieues” in France, is often blamed on the French state or on the racists among the French, rather than on the mentality and actions of those gangs and fundamentalists themselves.

    I don’t know why this shift in responsibilities.

    It’s like the fundamentalists always get away with it! It’s always somebody else’s fault…

    If there is not enough policing of the banlieues (I don’t know that first-hand), then of course I agree there should be more. But policing alone is not going to change mentalities. It affects criminal behaviour.

    Whereas rules about education do have an effect on mentalities directly.

    State education is there precisely “to improve access to both academic and vocational education, to facilitate the entry of young and poor Muslims into the corridors of French society”.

    If there are fundamentalists who prefer a Koranic school that’s 50 miles away and will force the girls to spend 3 hours a day commuting, and will cost them money, and will deprive their girls of the advantages of state schools, well, it sucks but there’s no law to prevent that.

    Real hardcore fundamentalists have already been putting their girls through that kind of crap. It’s not a direct and exclusive effect of this law.

    They can’t have it both ways, have free state education intended to give the girls access to integration, and then demand that state education should be tailored to suit their fundamentalism and hence deny integration and equality. That’s their fault and theirs only, and sadly, as always, the faults of the parents fall on their children, and all other actions should definitely be taken to avoid that as much as possible, but – given it’s not possible to force all parents to choose state schools – it’s completely wrong to cave in to the fundamentalist threat of “let us have it our way in your state schools or else we’ll make bigger Koranic schools”. It’s wrong for the state, wrong for the Muslim girls, wrong for the non-Muslim girls.

    I bet that if the same demands were coming from some hypothetical fundamentalist Jewish group, everybody would be saying “and just who are they to demand state schools allow their repressive views of women to be endorsed and special exemptions made for their girls”?

    If it was about creationists demanding their views be accepted in state schools – and issue that has in fact come up already recently – everybody *except the creationists themselves* would know who is right and who is wrong here, and would see it clearly that the state should not give up to reactionaries. Even if the “price to pay” for a part of those kids affected would be that they’ll be pulled out and shipped to creationists schools. A choice the creationists already had anyway, and are only using as threat, blackmail.

    The Islamists have been very, very sly in managing this campaign of theirs.

  8. I think in about 10-20 years, based on the demographics, the French are going to have alot more to worry about concerning Islam then some headscarf for Muslim women.

  9. Will it stop at demanding to wear the hijab at state schools, though? Or will the next question be burqas and niqaabs (complete face coverings)? Then demands for sex-segregated classes? Special prayer rooms on school property? Halal-only food in the cafeteria? Exemption from physical education classes for girls to preserve their “modesty”? Exemptions from homework assignments during Ramadan? All or most of these things are being demanded in various venues of the West, including the US. How far is the secular state required to go to accommodate a religion that describes itself as “a complete way of life”? And if the secular state can’t or won’t draw the line somewhere, what exactly would be the difference between a secular state school and a madrassah?

  10. Ms Tilton
    The state has yet to take effective action against these far greater evils.

    It may not have been reported in the English media but Bernard Stasi (the politician who headed the Commission on la?cit?) presented also another report, on discriminations.

    Nobody denies that immigrants (especially of African origins) are discriminated against when they try to find a job or a housing (they are roughly twice as likely as other French people to be unemployed).

    This is a completely different issue and I do not see why la?cit? should be mixed with economic and social discriminations.

  11. The French are simply rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Typical European solution these days, assault the symptom with a mallet and utterly ignore the underlying issue.

    There you go, stick to clich?s and go on ignoring the majority of French Muslims who support this law precisely because they know it does affect a very crucial underlying issue of the influence and pressures of fundamentalists – an influence most French Muslims have been escaping from.

    Why do most teachers, most Muslim women, and anti-racist organisations support this law? Whereas those against it in France are mostly the religious fundamentalists themselves?

    Ever wondered about that?

  12. Mr. Cook:

    I doubt that, particualrly given the high rates of intermarriage and linguistic assimilation, and the low rate of religious practice, among French Muslims. One might have well predicted in the early 20th century that France would become a northern extension of Italy, linguistically and religiously.

  13. Mrs. Tilton:

    Even if one views the wearing of the hijab in state schools as problematic, surely it is a minor problem compared with massive unemployment in Muslim neighbourhoods, poor education and gang violence. The state has yet to take effective action against these far greater evils.

    Isn’t this a fallacious argument–if the state hasn’t solved major problems, it has no right to solve minor problems?

  14. I guess my problem with this whole thing is that the posters seem to think that the state (the government) of France owns the schools. My thoughts are that the schools are owned by the various citizens of the country and not the state unless you feel that the state also owns the citizens. If the schools are owned by the citizens then the rights and beliefs of the citizens are what should be respected and not the beliefs and rights of the teachers not to be incommoded. It just seems like the French in this case are letting the cart lead the horse.

  15. If the schools are owned by the citizens then the rights and beliefs of the citizens are what should be respected

    The law was voted by the majority of French representatives.

    That’s how democracy works, you know, laws are approved with a majority, not a minority, vote.

    Also in polls, it has the support of the majority of citizens. Including the majority of Muslims. Including the majority of Muslim women and girls whom this law is concerned with.

  16. I agree with banning the Muslim headscarves, but not Christian or Jewish garb. Why? Because the headscarves are like gang propaganda or a KKK hood. They say “If you’re not a Muslim, you should be killed,” and are essentially a threat of violence to every non-Muslim, and especially every Jew. Even if the little girls don’t have those thoughts, wearing clothing that represents those sentiments should not be allowed, just as we (in the US) would not allow parents to dress their sons up in KKK hoods and send them to school.

  17. “The law was voted by the majority of French representatives.

    That’s how democracy works, you know, laws are approved with a majority, not a minority, vote.”

    That doesn’t make it a wise choice, nor does it do anything to protect the more vulnerable Muslim girls. But we know, the outcome isn’t important the words and the process are the imporant thing.

  18. Sebastian: of course you, having lived and gone to school in France as a Muslim girl, are 100% sure, without the shadow of a doubt, that this law is inspired by bad principles and wrong rules and will result in catastrophe.

    I’m not happy about anyone being put in religious schools, but that is a choice that’s always been available to anyone in France as in the US. No law can prevent that.

    On the other hand, there’s many practical examples and views brought up by those among its supporters who are affected by it, including the majority of Muslim girls and women, who seem like an indication to me that the advantages for everybody will be greater, and that the rule being set – or rather, reaffirmed – is right.

    If you think yielding to the blackmail of fundamentalist parents is more important and ethical and useful than the effort to offer to all the girls and boys a space of equality and emancipation from religious and ideological pressures, well, that’s your opinion.

    I’d just like to add my pointing out that this law was voted by the majority was in reply to Dick’s observation that the will of citizens “and not of the state” should be listened to. Since he overlooked the fact it had indeed been listened to, I just reminded him.

    I didn’t say it was a “wise choice” _because_ of having a majority vote. It is a wise choice, in my view, for all the other reasons highligted here and elsewhere.

    Agree to disagree but please at least read what’s actually written, not your own inferred conclusions. Merci.

  19. DS: that’s nonsense, the hijab is not a KKK hood nor a death threat, and the principle of secularism in state schools must apply to all.

    The kippa does not have the same meaning of disequality between men and women that the hijab has, but it’s still a religious identity symbol. If pupils in state schools have to accept that they’re there first of all as French citizens and not as Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, etc. – which they still can be everywhere outside of school – it’s got to work for everybody.

    Try see what happens in schools in Northern Ireland and see if you get it…

  20. The other interesting thing that’s not been discussed is that this law applies to political symbols as well.

    I remember reading of a kid in a US school who’d been sent out of class because he turned up wearing a t-shirt with “Bush=murderer” on it or something like that. The teacher and headmaster were left to decide if it was appropriate or not on their own, and they decided it wasn’t. And this caused controversy, inevitably. Whereas if you set a clear rule for everybody that you cannot come in class wearing strong political statements of any kind, you know that beforehand so you avoid that arbitrariness of leaving the decision to each teacher or school.

  21. So, even if convinced and orthodox Muslims believe that their women should wear that thing on their head, forbid them. Screw them and kick their girls off the school system. Secular fanatics have no repect for other people’s feelings. That’s why they hold this outragious and inhumane idea that Religion should be kept private. That is an insult and a total lack of respect for believers. And beware, because if secularist fanatics keep on persecuting Religion, they are going to provoke a tremendous uprising all over. The times are ‘a changing, no more room for religious persecution anymore, without retaliation. Just watch and see….

  22. Just a comment. If the French schools deny the belief systems of many of the students and parents of students in their schools and, in fact, do serious battle with those belief systems in the cause of secularizing the schools,how are these kids supposed to rationalize the belief systems of their families with the practices they are forced to participate in during the school periods. Also, if you are programming (which is what you are doing) the kids in schools, then how are you going to inculcate the free thought and questioning that is needed in order to become true original thinkers and developers rather than just being “yes men” to the all powerful state. It seems as if this practice is primarily useful to simplify the job of the teacher and to fit the kids into their little boxes so they can robotically march to the tune of the almighty state. Where does this all stop? How much programming is the population going to accept before they decide that enough is enough. You stated earlier that if the parents don’t agree then don’t send their kids to state schools. They are paying for the schools so unless you are prepared to give them tax breaks if they don’t send their kids to state kids, then I think they have a right to rebel at this policy.

  23. “That’s why they hold this outragious and inhumane idea that Religion should be kept private.”

    You’re soo right. I’m for making special legal exemptions also for mutilation, stoning, beheading, ritual killings and voodoo. I mean, it’s so inhumane to forbid those practices. They’re religious! Those practicing them are both convinced and orthodox. What right do we have to tell them it’s illegal?

  24. It’s the return of the Middle Ages… and it’s all the fault of the Lord of The Rings trilogy. Hollywood. Bah.

  25. “Chirac is right to be concerned: In Egypt, Algeria, and elsewhere throughout the Muslim world, Islamists read the number of veiled women as a vital statistic through which they can calculate their power and advertise it. A large surge in those women’s numbers indicates a big problem for the ruling government.”

    From “The Gentle Jihadist (Tariq Ramadan)” by Lee Smith in the current issue of The American Prospect [www.prospect.org/print/V15/3/smith-l.html]

  26. Dick: let me understand, you’re concerned about “brainwashing” from the state simply because it doesn’t want its schools to turn into proselytising ground for religious fanatics, and you’re not concerned about that proselytising from religious fanatics??

    You see children being forced to robotically march to an almighty tune of the great Islamic nation in the madrassas in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and Iran. How can that be less outrageous than trying to prevent state schools in a democratic country turn into madrassas, I don’t know.

  27. Dick, my 2 cents:
    Education is in a way always “programming”. In teaching you try to transfer knowledge and values that are seen as important for society. In a public school this is done independent of religious opinions.
    Should we ban evolution theory because some religions don’t agree? To them it’s programming, to me its science.

    Btw, Muslims (or Catholics or Jews, or whatever religion) are free to start their own schools, the French Gouvernement will even subsidize them.

  28. Pierre — I’ve got anecdotal evidence to counter your anecdotal evidence. My grandmother did wear a burqa when she was younger. Not terribly common among the educated, but not unheard of. Especially before WWII. So Mrs. Tilton is right, you are wrong.

    My views on the whole issue have been expressed many times — one ought not restrict women’s freedom under the guise of giving women choices. This attitutude is awfully common among Islmaists, and it is unfortunate to see the same misogyny popping up in France, and in the comments section of this blog.

  29. This attitutude is awfully common among Islmaists, and it is unfortunate to see the same misogyny popping up in France, and in the comments section of this blog.

    Inasmuch as the choice to wear the hijab is often only an apparent one with the outcome predetermined by fear of personal threat, it’s not misogynistic at all.

  30. Btw, Muslims (or Catholics or Jews, or whatever religion) are free to start their own schools, the French Gouvernement will even subsidize them.

    Indeed, but expect that fact to be ignored as well by those who don’t find it convenient to mention…

    Subsidies are one form of “state interference” that no religious fundamentalists will ever, ever protest against. Funnily enough, getting money to build their own schools and places of worship won’t stop them from claiming they’re being persecuted and discriminated against just because they’re asked to adhere to laws.

    How can any reasonable person with a capacity for critical thinking support that kind of attitude is beyond me.

  31. Ikram,

    All you are saying is that your grandmother wore a buqua. Very well. She is the exception that confirms the rule. My point remains: The vast majority of hijab wearers (hijabis) were girls/women who had never worn any sort of head covering before. That fact is not anecdotal. It is even — proudly — confirmed by the militants themselves. I can only repeat Rana’s warning: “hijab represents the triumph of Islamism”.

  32. Pierre — You had suggested that the Burqa was never widely worn in the past, I countered that you were wrong by providing an example (and I knwo many more). I am curious to know in what sense is my example ‘the exception that confirms the rule’?

    And you are right that wearing a Hijab is not just a religious practice (like Mass), it is also a symbol of resurgent ethnic identity and religious pride.

    Randy — Kingston is a town with a lot of prisons, and a fair number of prisoners out on furlough on any given day. Sometimes, as in any city, there are violent crimes against women. The misogynists would encourage women to stay home, not leave the house after dark. The better response is to ‘take back the night’, and amarhc to that effect is held in September of each year (as I am sure you know).

    Similar things happen in Montreal, and there women also undertake a safety audit, and then lobby the city for more lights, etc — to make the streets safer so that women need not be afraid of violent crime.

    The best response to gender violence and gender co-ercion is empowerment. To ‘take back the night’. That first best policy response is the same in Kingston as in Paris.

    To that effect, the government could have set up regular schools and no-hijab schools, giving women the choice. Or they could have subsidized private education for women driven out fo school by the prohibition on Muslim women (of a certain type). Or, best of all, they could have tackled the root of the problem — Men.

    They did none of these empowering things, what conclusion could one come to other than that France is not interested in the safety and welfare of women.

    (On a side note, I see that Saar will be the fifth German Lander to ban headscarves. Unlike in France, German states make no pretense of religious neutrality.)

  33. So we were all wrong! Rather than a grotesque badge of women’s second-class status and “the triumph of Islamism” [Rana], the hijab is really just a wonderful manifestation of multiculturalism, “a symbol of resurgent ethnic identity and religious pride”. Thanks for enlightening us, Ikram. I guess we can now lay all our worries to rest…

  34. To that effect, the government could have set up regular schools and no-hijab schools, giving women the choice.

    So a country with its own state schools open and free to all should set up a parallel set of schools only to cater to the needs of one small but vocal set of fundamentalists?

    And all this with whose money?

    Or they could have subsidized private education for women driven out fo school by the prohibition on Muslim women (of a certain type).

    See above.

    Plus, all religious schools already (sadly) get state subsidies from the state.

    Plus, there is no “prohibition of women”. There is a rule all have to respect.

    Take some history and law classes, it might help…

    Or, best of all, they could have tackled the root of the problem — Men.

    Ha, really? and tackle how?

    It’s not men, it’s not French Muslims, it’s not “all” or “most”. It’s “some” – an ideological, radicalised group of fundamentalists, also spurred in this campaign of theirs by the mullahs in Cairo and Islamabad, who have already issued fatwas against this law.

  35. Ikram:

    The misogynists would encourage women to stay home, not leave the house after dark. The better response is to ‘take back the night’, and amarhc to that effect is held in September of each year (as I am sure you know).

    Indeed. Quite a few French Muslim women have done just that–well, in the French context. Allowing the imposition of a regressive dress code by an unrepresentative minority, with threats of sexual assault if they dissent, simply isn’t acceptable.

    To that effect, the government could have set up regular schools and no-hijab schools, giving women the choice.

    Cf. the existing, partly publically-funded Catholic school system, which appears to be mutating into a religious school system generally.

    Or, best of all, they could have tackled the root of the problem — Men.

    What Ginger said about it not being all men generally, nor all French Muslim men, but a militant minority unwilling to allow these young women in the secular public school system appropriate freedom of choice within the school.

    It can be entirely compatible with a liberal society–if illiberal groups are threatening people in a liberal society, far better to actively constrain the victimizers than to passively allow the subordination of the victims. It’d be an easy thing to do in France–God knows that the banlieues specifically and French Muslims generally have been neglected over the past generation. It’s time that French Muslim women be allowed to enjoy the same rights to autonomy and freedom as their Christian, Jewish, and secular counterparts.

  36. It can be entirely compatible with a liberal society–if illiberal groups are threatening people in a liberal society, far better to actively constrain the victimizers than to passively allow the subordination of the victims.

    Indeed. I couldn’t argue with that. The problem here is that the French law contrains the victims and does nothing to actively constrain the victimizers.

    So women being co-erced by men to cover themselves up cannot respond by arguing that they have freedom to dress as they wish. Their response is instead that state co-ercion trumps male co-ercion. This is not empowerment, it’s paternalism.

    Allowing the imposition of a regressive dress code by an unrepresentative minority, with threats of sexual assault if they dissent, simply isn’t acceptable

    Yes. No disagreement. The question is how France will deal with women (and girls) who volountarily choose to wear the regressive dress. The headscarf is seen by many women not as symbol, but as an act of faith (like Mass, not like wearing a cross). A government interested in empowering women would give these women a way to complete their schooling. (And perhaps, de facto, the Cathiolic schools system will do this. But by accident, not by design.)

    But I have seen no sign that the government is France is trying accomodate and empower what it would consider to be ‘fundamentalist’ (i.e. headscarf wearing) women. And in contrast, it has done nothing to limit the ‘fundamentalist’ religious expression of Muslim men (see the bushy muslim beards). That’s why I consider the law, and its advocates, to be misogynists.

    (Any parallels here with Reg 17 and the Manitoba Schools Act. Were the Orangemen right about Catholic Schools?)

  37. The problem here is that the French law contrains the victims and does nothing to actively constrain the victimizers.

    What Henry Farrell said, over at Crooked Timber, about legislation against pervasive social customs giving people subject to these customs a legitimate excuse to break from them.

    But I have seen no sign that the government is France is trying accomodate and empower what it would consider to be ‘fundamentalist’ (i.e. headscarf wearing) women. And in contrast, it has done nothing to limit the ‘fundamentalist’ religious expression of Muslim men (see the bushy muslim beards).

    Inasmuch as the hijab, as identified by fundamentalists and conservatives, works rather more drastically to limit female autonomy and freedom than the male beard, it isn’t misogynistic to focus on the hijab as rather more of a threat. hijab /= beard in this respect. Also, inasmuch as the publically-funded Catholic school system is operating as a sort of non-denominational religious school system, there is accomodation. Just not in a secular school system which has been actively hostile to religious symbolism since the 1930s.

    (Any parallels here with Reg 17 and the Manitoba Schools Act. Were the Orangemen right about Catholic Schools?)

    No, inasmuch as all schools involved religious content as an integral part of the curriculum, and Anglicanism and other Protestantisms were hardly kinder to religious minorities or women than Roman Catholicism. (We’ve evolved since then.)

  38. That’s why I consider the law, and its advocates, to be misogynists.

    Ha, beautiful.

    So, to recap, all advocates of this law are not only intolerant, possibly racist, and definitely too annoying – they’re also mysoginists.

    Including those 70% of French citizens, among which one presumes that approximately half will be women; and 40% to 54% of French Muslim women who also support this law.

    Ignoring the existence and motivations of those views is clearly not mysoginistic, nah!

    (Just like ignoring the fundamentalists are only a small fraction of Muslims in France is not prejudiced and patronising towards Muslims, nah!)

    Those French and French Muslim women, and all the men who support this law, must all hate women. Indeed.

    And why? Because they don’t allow fundamentalist men to get their way in turning the rules of equality and secularism in state schools upside down.

    Absolutely flawless logic.

    Because there’ll be some people who are so fanatical that they will not comply with a basic requirement of not forcing their younger kids to wear a veil and behave like segregated second-class citizens, will refuse the option of allowing them a space of emancipation, and instead impose on those kids the option of religious schools – an option already available to all and which the state cannot prevent -, it follows that the state, which exists to make rules for everybody, should give up on its rules for everybody, and let the fundamentalists – a minority within the Muslim community – have their cake and eat it too: send their girls to a school that complies with their own religious dictates instead of the state’s own laws, and for free.

    Give up on the chance to offer all girls a space of emancipation, to allow the fathers of some girls to turn that space into a space of division and disequality for all.

    This is sooo not mysoginistic, nah!

    Let state schools be fundamentalised, in order to “compete” with fundamentalists and religious schools.

    We might as well abolish state education.

    Oh, except it’s free… tsk.

    We might as well protest religious schools are not subsidised by the state, a clear form of discrimination… Oh, except they are subsidized.

    Such solid argumentation, with such clear anti-mysoginistic principles, and such a solid legal basis, that I can’t but acknowledge the fundamentalists who issue fatwas against this law are geniuses, and I can’t wait til they get to power and legislate on everything… Oh wait, they do, in places like Iran and Saudi Arabia, where women enjoy wonderful equality because the mysoginist secularists have been silenced or put to death. Hey, if that’s what it takes to defeat mysoginy, so be it…

  39. The French are in a catch 22 situation:
    if they don’t act, new demands from fundamentalists will surface: segregation of boys and girls ( in classes and on the playground), Burka’s, no swimming, singing, drawing of faces, no biology etc.
    If they DO act (and they did) they are accused of limiting the freedom of religious expression.

    The French have chosen wisely that the curriculum (in terms of knowledge and values, based on rationality) are of more importance. In public school everybody is equal, male-female, Muslim-Christian etc. What denominations prefer in their private life is up to them.
    The Law is for all French people equal, so is the public schoolsystem.

  40. Randy, I think you’re looking at the purpose of the law slightly differently from me. I thought the law was supposed to be pro-secularist/anti-religion, and I’ve argued that it is a misogynstic way to enforce secularism (as it does not force secularism in the same way on male children).

    You seem to be focusing on the law as a women’s empowerment measure, not as a vehicle for secularism. (These are two separate issues. If it were clear that religious people are not sexist, some Frenchmen would still argue that the law is necessary. But, from your arguments, I take it you would not).

    I would argue that the law is also a sub-optimal tool to empower women. The headscarf itself is not inherently anti-woman apparel (which should be obvious from your recent trip to Ottawa). The context in which women are forced to wear it.

    For some, it definitely limits their autonomy. For others that is not the case. The former may benefit from the French law, the latter suffer. I think it is possible to design a policy response to benefit the former group of women while doing no harm to the latter.

    That fact alone makes it a bad law. But even if the government wanted to go ahead with a bad law, they could have packaged it is such a way to recognize that the headscarf is not inherently anti-woman, and that the government will to whatever it takes to mitigate the attendent damage(ie. to beef up laws prohibiting job discrimination based on relgious observance).

    So, altogether, I think the law is a misogynistic way to promote secularism, a suboptimal way to empower women, and clumsily and insensitively handled regardless.

  41. Randy, I think you’re looking at the purpose of the law slightly differently from me. I thought the law was supposed to be pro-secularist/anti-religion

    See below.

    I’ve argued that it is a misogynstic way to enforce secularism (as it does not force secularism in the same way on male children).

    True. But then, male children don’t wear equivalents to the hijab. One can hardly call a measure misogynistic for dealing with circumstances facing only women.

    You seem to be focusing on the law as a women’s empowerment measure, not as a vehicle for secularism. (These are two separate issues. If it were clear that religious people are not sexist, some Frenchmen would still argue that the law is necessary. But, from your arguments, I take it you would not).

    The hijab as it is currently defined isn’t required to be worn by Muslim women–modesty is the key element. Inasmuch as the hijab is being forced on young women attending French public schools, as an emblem of illegitimate pressure applied to them to adopt a version of Islam which they don’t want and which is sexist, the two subjects (women’s empowerment and secularism) intersect. That the current legislation fits into a fairly long and extensive French tradition of prohibiting religious proselytization makes the issue easier.

    I would argue that the law is also a sub-optimal tool to empower women. The headscarf itself is not inherently anti-woman apparel (which should be obvious from your recent trip to Ottawa).

    Actually, it wasn’t. Several reasons for this.

    Firstly, with the exception of two teenage girls, the only women I saw wearing headscarves of the hijab were in their 30s, at least. This admittedly casual and non-scientific street survey doesn’t suggest a large teenage contingent of hijab wearers.

    Secondly, prosperous downtown Ottawa /= French banlieues, while the origins, status, and prospects of Canadian and French Muslim communities are rather different. Generalizing from the Canadian situation to the French is a difficult task of dubious value.

    Thirdly, it’s quite possible to recuperate offensive and/or unwanted cultural elements for one’s cultural group–cf the use of racial epithets on rap albums. That can only happen, though, if people have the cultural capital needed to exploit and subvert these elements. Adults have that autonomy, and I’m skeptical about teenage girls.

    The context in which women are forced to wear it.

    For some, it definitely limits their autonomy. For others that is not the case. The former may benefit from the French law, the latter suffer. I think it is possible to design a policy response to benefit the former group of women while doing no harm to the latter.

    OK. What policy would you suggest? The only alternatives I can imagine involve unacceptable police-state levels of surveillance.

    For me, there were three critical elements, on the specific situation of French public schools, which made me support the legislation as it applies to these public schools:
    There is already a tradition of using public education as a way of socializing people in the norms of national society.
    There is already a tradition of aggressive campaigning against religious proselytization, active or inactive, on the part of students.
    There is a serious concern that many young French Muslim women, below the age of majority, are being pressured into wearing the hijab.

    Consequently, this creates a need on the part of the French public school system–especially given the first two established principles–to try to relieve this pressure.

    These factors do not operate in the private school system, and they do not operate in the public health system, or indeed in state bureaucracy. I believe I haven’t defended the application of the law to these other domains, though I do think that I should have made my opposition to the extension of this law to other domains clear. For this, I apologize.

    That fact alone makes it a bad law. But even if the government wanted to go ahead with a bad law, they could have packaged it is such a way to recognize that the headscarf is not inherently anti-woman, and that the government will to whatever it takes to mitigate the attendent damage(ie. to beef up laws prohibiting job discrimination based on relgious observance).

    Certainly possible, and definitely desirable. If this was the only way in which integration of individuals as equal members of French society would be tried, it would be a failure. I’m not sure, though, that just because the French government might not be doing everything, what it is doing should be disqualified on grounds of being insufficient.

    So, altogether, I think the law is a misogynistic way to promote secularism, a suboptimal way to empower women, and clumsily and insensitively handled regardless.

    I doubt that misogyny is involved inasmuch as this addresses problems specific to women, I’m aware it’s not as uniformly successful as it could be but alternative measures that wouldn’t ratify Islamist hegemony are unacceptable, and all state interventions into culture tend to be politicized by their very nature.