Intolerance Towards Veil : Roots in Racism and French Colonialism.

Topics: France, Algeria, French language Pages: 14 (4342 words) Published: August 11, 2013



“It is the white man who creates the Negro. But it is the Negro who creates negritude. To the colonialist offensive against the veil, the colonized opposes the cult of the veil”1—Frantz Fanon. " Our attitudes are not racist; they are based in fact. These people are animals, they are not Christians, your blacks are Christian. The Arabs don't live in real houses but in huts, in holes in the ground; they're uncivilized, uneducated, unclean. Listen to their music, watch how they dance; they have a natural (or was it unnatural) rhythm all their own. Your blacks were once slaves, these Arabs have no excuse. This is just how they are; this is the way Koran teaches them to be" 2- Joan Wallach Scott, first encounter with racism in France in 1967, in conversation with French colleagues at the bureau of civil registry. On all accounts of French colonialism and occupation of North Africa, Muslims and Arabs are depicted as inferior people, incapable of assimilating to French national values. Depictions of inferiority range from religious practices, presumed sexual orientations to traditional forms of dress such as the veil or the headscarf. Intolerance towards Muslim stems from deep-seated psychological preoccupation with the “the other” and racial intolerance dating back to French conquest of Algeria in 1830. This section aims to address the historical context through which the present debate surrounding headscarves have arisen.

Since the word "race" has largely disappeared from the French vocabulary, the Arabs are not necessarily referred to as different race, however, their place and position as "indigenes" measures up to the same status on their fundamental difference and inferiority. In the French context, such discrimination, as a social problem, is frequently subsumed in issues of social inequality and immigration, or conflated with xenophobia. In other words, people of color are supposedly discriminated against because they are “immigrants” or feared foreigners, not necessarily because they are African or Asian or “black” 3 Thus, although expressions of bias against Muslims must be viewed in their immediate contexts, they draw on a deep reservoir of racism4 The race discourse is, infact, commonplace and customary in the France, as (despite the fact that the word is extinct from the vocabulary) people are characterized and labelled as, "noir (black), beur (Arab), or blanc(white) and the use of "ethnic roots" (eg. Gaulois) to mark distinction and difference.5 In this context, the self-understandings of Muslim youths (especially veil wearing Muslim girls) signify critical change in a French society clinging to its "national identity" amidst unanticipated and often unwanted social mutations that these young people come to represent.6 Ill prepared to embrace them as French, France finds itself facing several pressing social questions, most notably, what will be the effects of stigmatized youths of color's claims on a social fiction termed a "national identity" in a society that constitutes them as perpetual outsiders or immigrants? And what happens when public institutions attempt to level cultural differences among youths of varying African origins in schools while those differences are amplified outside schools?7 The title alone of Gaston Kelman's (2003) controversial book mocking identity politics in France speaks volumes: Je suis noir et je n'aime pas le manoic (I'm black and I don't like yams). The putative markers of "race"-skin colour, hair, features, language varities, and by extension family names, religion and way of being-have long standing social meanings in France, underpinned and enlivened by ideologies and policies acting on them.8 Historian, George Fredrickson defined Racism as, "It is when differences that might otherwise be considered as ethno-cultural are regarded as innate, indelible, and unchangeable...

Citations: in Francoise Gaspard and Claude Servan-Schreiber, La fin des immigres, Paris: Seuil, 1984, p.70
53. Joan Wallach Scott, op.cit, p.71
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