Bowen argues that the focus on headscarves came from a century-old sensitivity to the public presence of religion in schools, feared links between public expressions of Islamic identity and radical Islam, and a media-driven frenzy that built support for a headscarf ban during 2003-2004. Although the defense of laïcité (secularity) was cited as the law's major justification, politicians, intellectuals, and the media linked the scarves to more concrete social anxieties--about "communalism," political Islam, and violence toward women.
Written in engaging, jargon-free prose, Why the French Don't Like Headscarves is the first comprehensive and objective analysis of this subject, in any language, and it speaks to tensions between assimilation and diversity that extend well beyond France's borders.
The forty-one pieces are organized into sections on the history of childhood, growing up, health, work, education, politics and war, and play and the arts. They are presented in many forms: essays in history and social science, poems, proverbs, lullabies, games, and short stories. Countries represented are Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Israel/West Bank, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Lebanon, Turkey, Yemen, and Afghanistan.
This book complements Elizabeth Fernea's earlier works, Women and the Family in the Middle East and Middle Eastern Muslim Women Speak (coedited with Basima Bezirgan). Like them, it will be important reading for everyone interested in the Middle East and in women's and children's issues.
Stephenson engages a variety of texts-critical essays, novels, indigenous testimonials, education manuals, self-help pamphlets, and position papers of diverse women's organizations-to analyze how the interlocking tropes of fashion, motherhood, domestication, hygiene, and hunger are used as tools for the production of dominant, racialized ideologies of womanhood. At the same time, she also uncovers long-standing patterns of resistance to the modernizing impulse, especially in the large-scale mobilization of indigenous peoples who have made it clear that they will negotiate the terms of modernity, but always "as Indians."
Joan Wallach Scott, the renowned pioneer of gender studies, argues that the law is symptomatic of France's failure to integrate its former colonial subjects as full citizens. She examines the long history of racism behind the law as well as the ideological barriers thrown up against Muslim assimilation. She emphasizes the conflicting approaches to sexuality that lie at the heart of the debate--how French supporters of the ban view sexual openness as the standard for normalcy, emancipation, and individuality, and the sexual modesty implicit in the headscarf as proof that Muslims can never become fully French. Scott maintains that the law, far from reconciling religious and ethnic differences, only exacerbates them. She shows how the insistence on homogeneity is no longer feasible for France--or the West in general--and how it creates the very "clash of civilizations" said to be at the root of these tensions.
The Politics of the Veil calls for a new vision of community where common ground is found amid our differences, and where the embracing of diversity--not its suppression--is recognized as the best path to social harmony.
In the United States and in Europe, politicians, activists, and even some scholars argue that Islam is incompatible with Western values and that we put ourselves at risk if we believe that Muslim immigrants can integrate into our society. Norway's Anders Behring Breivik took this argument to its extreme and murderous conclusion in July 2011. Meanwhile in the United States, state legislatures' efforts to ban the practice of Islamic law, or sharia, are gathering steam—despite a notable lack of evidence that sharia poses any real threat.
In Blaming Islam, John Bowen uncovers the myths about Islam and Muslim integration into Western society, with a focus on the histories, policy, and rhetoric associated with Muslim immigration in Europe, the British experiment with sharia law for Muslim domestic disputes, and the claims of European and American writers that Islam threatens the West. Most important, he shows how exaggerated fears about Muslims misread history, misunderstand multiculturalism's aims, and reveal the opportunism of right wing parties who draw populist support by blaming Islam.