File spoon-archives/bourdieu.archive/bourdieu_2004/bourdieu.0401, message 42

Subject: [BOU:] Re: veiling and islam
Date: Sun, 04 Jan 2004 16:54:31 -0500

Good thing my blurb provoked discussion. Bad thing the power of the 
western-civilizationist doxa made its presence felt even on this list so 
rapidly. It won't be admitted easily ("What me biased? My best friends are 
Muslim! The majority of Muslims are good!"), but read between the lines of a 
couple of messages sent, it is lurking there.

I ally myself with Ozgur and Batoul and others who are sensitive about the 
injustices done towards North America's and Europe's Muslim immigrant 
communities, as well as about the racisms perpetuated at the very moment by 
the occupations of Iraq and Palestine.

First, a couple of replies I felt urged to make:

Erik --

I couldn't put a finger on the reason for your reactionarism, maybe it's 
your rhetorical style. First, dubbing the full-body veil as "ninja outfit" 
is common in the right-wing Turkish journalistic field (that includes 
fascist, Kemalist, neoliberal and other western-civilizationist positions), 
and well, for irreligious socialists like me, not to mention for most 
religious citizens, men or women, it is regarded as a racist obscenity. I 
can only hope that you tried to distance yourself from those positions with 
the quotation marks.

Second, it would be useful to present some evidence for your other claims 
about the relation between class distinction and veiling, homesickness and 
veiling, non-integration and Islam, etc. Not that I am skeptical, I want to 
learn. As it stands, your imagination of Islam in Europe is misleading: as 
if all generations of Muslim immigrants believe that Europe is a battlefield 
and that they have to prepare themselves for a war. Now, this is 
Berlusconi's or Blair's or Bush's vision of Islam, true, but how 
sociological is it?

Third, yes, oppression and inequality are properties of certain relations 
among Muslims. But the journalistic/scholastic argument used by right-wing 
French (or Turkish) Republicans to support discrimination against young 
Muslim women ("We are trying to liberate them from their male fundamentalist 
oppressors by removing their foluard/turban") is only an excuse for the 
state elites' nationalist/irredentist angst. Moreover, it is not difficult 
to detect the homology between this civilizing desire of "liberation" and 
the imperialist one (the latter's consequences are still unfolding in 
Afghanistan and Iraq). Sociologically, one needs to show, if they exist, the 
properly "Islamic" mechanisms of oppression whose removal will necessarily 
end racism, xenophobia, injustice and inequality in, say, France. In that 
vein, one needs to be clear about what an appropriate path for "integration" 
of a Muslim immigrant in a European country.

[Interviews in Bourdieu et. al.'s "The Weight of the World" frequently 
expose the problems with the "integration of Arabs". Mahmood Mamdani further 
exposes the other fallacy of the western-civilizationist distinction between 
"good" and "bad" Muslims; see his "Good Muslim, Bad Muslim  An African 

John --

You write: "Furthermore to say that secularism or laicism is a right wing 
movement is not ignorant; it is stupid." And in another message, you note 
that anti-laicist Muslims who are "trying to make inroads into the 
progressive institutions of the French state", are "in the minority of 
Islam, as the leader of the sunnite sect Friday approved France's position 
for muslims in France, arguing that the veil was mandatory in a muslim 
country but elsewhere one does as in Rome."

I agree that "laicism" is not a movement, but in the case of especially 
France and Turkey, it is a dirigiste social technology, a source of 
political and bureaucratic capital, that can be used differently by 
different governments. In Turkey, as Ozgur also mentioned, the Army and 
left- or right-wing governments have mobilized this technology to 
undermine/control/oppress the representations of Islam which were beyond the 
state's reach. Like the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs, which is a 
state institution designed to discipline Islam and profess the official 
version, after 1960s the French Consultative Council of Muslim Communities 
was designed to establish a similar disciplining of the "unruly" Algerian 
Muslims. Like the cooperation between German governments and Turkish ones to 
empower "official Islam" against "fundamentalist Islam", the French 
governments also cooperated with Tunisian, Algerian and Moroccan governments 
for the management of religious services. It is not surprising that the 
domesticized leaders of Sunni communities will anxiously declare that they 
are "good" Muslims, that they want no trouble, and that they are willing to 
tolerate discrimination in order not to appear as a threat to France's 
"national security and unity".


For me, defending young Muslim women's rights is a matter of justice. 
Forbidding veiling in schools, universities, public institutions, etc. 
constitutes an unjust treatment of a religious community. The ban enforces, 
in France, unjust majority communitarianism, which denies the equivalent 
treatment of young Muslim women in education. As far as I know, there is no 
analogous ban against Christian insignia. The principle of equal 
participation is denied here. Now, defenders of the foulard must also 
establish that permitting it will not exacerbate female subordination among 
the citizenship at large. As far as I know, there is no conclusive evidence 
that all diverse female Muslim representations of the veil are univocally 
subordinated to something called "Islamic patriarchy". The meanings are 
contested, and other than numerous testimonies like that of Batoul, there is 
a rich social scientific literature that supports this. [One among many 
examples, concerning the diverse representations in Turkey, is Nilufer 
Gole's book, "The Forbidden Modern".]


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