Unveiling Islamophobia: Legislating National Identity

553 to 1. Numbers have seen better days. The veil law which was passed in France’s lower house of parliament is a disgrace. Supported by the left and the right in French Parliament the vote showcases the worst in democracy.

The first question that should be asked is, why is the French Government in such a to do about veils? Why did the government write and pass the 2004 veil law requiring school children to stop wearing the veil? What is the motivation to pass the new veil law?

The facts are there were no more than a couple of thousand of school children attending school wearing a headscarf prior to 2004. There are at best estimates no more than 2000 people who wear veils in France. So why is this an issue in France?

The reasoning behind the 2004 secularity law,  more commonly referred to as the veil law, was that secularism in France is pillar of the Republic. The wearing of religious symbols in school threatens the secularism of the Republic. How exactly this would happen is unclear. Does looking at a headscarf make one feel as though they aren’t in a secular school system or society?

The 2004 secularity law specifically targets Muslim headscarves. The wearing of crosses and kippah’s have been accepted, to varying degrees, at schools for decades in France. So why were headscarves targeted? The answer resides in in the timing.  In 2003 Chirac made it issue at the height of Islamophobia. The state saw the Hijab as a symbol of extremism and wanted to curb its appeal.

The supposed threat of undocumented workers to the cultural unity of Fortress Europe and France in particular has been a major issue within French politics. The 2002 rise of Le Pen’s anti-immigrant Presidential bid startled France and the French elite. While Le Pen’s ultimate trouncing in the second round of the election made clear that France was not willing to accept overt racism it was, however, willing to talk about French values  and culture.

The legacy of France is quite simply one of revolution, colonialism and reaction. These three are truly France’s tri-colours. The disappearance of the left as most evidently felt by the shameful support (tacit or explicit) the communist party and the socialist party gave to the 2004 veil law and to the ban on face-covering veils that recently passed in the National Assembly. Class politics has disappeared in France. Who stands for justice, equality and liberty? It is certainly not the left parties, nor is it those who claim to stand for republicanism while at the same time implement austerity measures and pass blatantly racist laws.

Much of the discussion about the veil has been shamefully hidden behind the rights of women. The reasoning is that veils and even hijab’s oppress women and it is the job of the government to make sure all women are liberated. The logic works out to be those who are oppressed shall be punished. This is providing that we accept that all women who wear the veil do not freely choose to wear it.

The actual fact is the vast majority who wear the veil are below thirty. There is a significant percentage of those who wear the veil who are French converts. What is clear is that wearing a veil is a choice for many. A choice for which they are being punished for. The new proposed veil law will ban the veil in all public places and businesses. Women who wear the veil will be subject to fines and will be even more cut off from society.

So why would women choose to wear the veil? This trend among young Muslim women in France is borne out of the exclusion of Muslims from the body politic in France. They, more than their parents, use their Muslim identity to forge their place within society. The left has abandoned them and they are excluded from French culture and society. (French Muslims live mostly on the outskirts of major French cities) Islam is not only the religion of the excluded, the conquered, it is also the religion of the poor.

The poor must be controlled, codified and exploited. It is easy to see how the faux republican feminist critique dovetails perfectly with capitalist logic. The feminine body must not be controlled by the traditional patriarchal order but subject to the logic of the market, as Alain Badiou noted, the feminine body must be exhibited. So much anger directed towards the veil, but where is that anger when it comes time to critique the far more universal exploitative pornographic use of women’s bodies to sell products and make profits?

What happened to the right of women to dress and undress as they please?

Slavoj Zizek makes a salient observation when he notes that the veil law isn’t about the rights of  oppressed Muslim women it is about the anxieties of non-Muslims.  When Sarkozy frames the debate about the veil in terms of national identity it is a tacit admission that the French state is not so concerned with the universal rights of women but of the particular French way of life. (Apparently French Muslims who wear the veil aren’t French) Thus we get the bizarre reasoning that veils threaten secularism.

The French veil laws are racist. They are part of a trend in Europe and North America (Think of Arizona and the Swiss Law banning minarets) which seeks to codify and regulate the underclass. This is done by trying to legislate and define a national character. Any national identity founded upon legislated racism or even cultural tolerance should be resisted at all costs because it fails to address the real problems of injustice, inequality and exploitation.

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One response to “Unveiling Islamophobia: Legislating National Identity

  1. Yo Dave

    another awesome post. though I would disagree with you about the pornography bit. Lots of people in the porn industry are there by choice and are empowered by it, rather than exploited. though I do get your point that if France actually cared about sexism they would target all the sexist shit in their culture (ads, movies, …) instead of just joining in the islamophobic chorus.

    your blog is great. keep posting.
    nique la france!

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