Euro Vision! Leah’s Video for Decolonization, continued (Kramer, Oxford) (Week 10, Day 2)

Hello, Europeanists! This is our video for Week 10, Day 2. We are continuing with the subject of Decolonization, and our teaching assistant is Dante.

I don’t have any new announcements for you today. You should continue to think about your final papers. It would be a good idea to choose your topic this week and start thinking about the argument you want to make. Remember that your one-paragraph introduction and your outline for the paper will be due on Sunday, April 19.

Today we’re looking at the aftermath of Decolonization and how the issues it raised for Europeans about human rights and inclusiveness continue to be negotiated in the 21st century. We’ll be focusing on two sources: Jane Kramer’s article “Taking the Veil,” which appeared in The New Yorker in 2004, and the Tumblr “I, Too, Am Oxford,” which was created in 2014.

As we discussed earlier this week, the two decades after WWII saw the disintegration of the European global empires, as colonized peoples in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa waged successful struggles for independence. This was also a period of significant global migration. France and Britain in particular experienced huge waves of immigration from their former imperial territories. Some people came as migrant laborers, recruited by the Metropole to help with reconstruction and economic expansion. Others came as a consequence of Decolonization. Specifically, hose who fought or worked for the Metropole during the period of conflict were granted citizenship and the right to relocate to Europe afterward. This group tended to be more secular and Europeanized. For both groups, the transition was rocky. Immigrants of color faced open discrimination and often could only find low-paying menial jobs and substandard housing that white Europeans didn’t want.

Some immigrants of color managed to prosper and rise into the middle class. But many others were held back by systemic racism. Subsequent generations, those born in Britain and France with birthright citizenship, lost patience with the unfulfilled promises made to their parents and grandparents. Many rejected the immigrant generation’s faith in the government, and some turned to other sources of identity, like religion or cultural movements. One of the themes that I hope comes across in these sources is that the most recent generation of post-colonial European of color is demanding more from their fellow-citizens than before. Like Simone de Beauvoir, they are asserting that legal equality is not enough; true equality requires social and cultural respect, as well.

One more thing that’s important to know for context is that in France, one of the major issues in play is the French government’s commitment of secularity, or laïcité. As Kramer explains, laïcité is a complex concept and its roots go back to the French Revolution, when it served as a way to push back against the power of the Catholic church. But in contemporary context, laïcité is mostly used to argue that Muslim women should not be allowed to wear headscarves outside religious settings. Kramer wrote this article in response to a ban on wearing religious symbols in schools, which France enacted in March 2004. This law was not specifically worded to single out Muslims wearing headscarves, but it did disproportionately affect them. For that reason, French people usually call it “the anti-veil law.” In 2010, France enacted an even more stringent ban. The new law explicitly bans anyone from wearing a veil that covers their face in public, which has a much broader effect. As you read and think through Kramer’s article, it’s worth asking yourself whether you would evaluate the situation differently if the issue was not whether a person like Djamila could work in a school or participate in certain activities, but whether they could leave the house while adhering to their religious principles.

A note of caution: This is a complex topic! I am especially sorry that we are not getting to work thorough it together face to face. As you are reading each other’s comments and thinking about what you would like to write, I urge you to be very aware of your choices of language. “Islam” is a religion, and those who practice it are “Muslim.” “Islamist” is a political term. So, for example, Djamila is Muslim, but she is not an Islamist. Please also keep in mind: our purpose in this discussion is not to define or assess the value of Islam as a religion. We have not read any sources that give us a basis on which to do so. If you make comments of this nature, I will remove them from the blog. That being said, our purpose is to have a vibrant discussion of how France is dealing with the issue of integrating its Muslim citizens. I welcome your thoughts on that!

Leah’s Discussion Questions

1. Kramer begins by focusing on a woman named Djamila who wears a veil. What is Djamila’s story? Why has she decided to wear a veil? She doesn’t see her veil as a political act, but it becomes political in that it changes her relationship to friends, neighbors, and employers. How does this situation add to our understanding of the multiple meanings that veils can have, which we started developing in our reading of Fanon? What would Fanon say about why France is still so focused on the question of veils in the 21st century?

2. Kramer tells us Djamila’s life “narrows” after she takes the veil. This raises the question of whether others are excluding Djamila or she is excluding herself. How would you answer this question? How does this question itself demonstrate the complexities of building a multicultural society?

3. Kramer devotes time in this article to exploring the frustrations of French-born Algerians, and how that make them vulnerable to radical Muslim preachers. Can you unpack this situation? How do you evaluate it? The French government seems to think that banning prominent religious symbols like veils is a way to combat the spread of radical Islam. Based on your reading, what other policies might you suggest? What can mainstream French citizens do to help integrate Muslims into society?

4. Near the end of p.65, Kramer recounts that the issue of veils is particularly difficult for politicians on the left. What makes this complex for them? What’s the difference between freedom of religion and freedom from religion? Where is the balance between free expression and national unity?

5. Kramer interviews a fundamentalist Muslim leader named Fouad Alaoui. He asserts that the French model of girls who stay in school and become professionals is not the only option, and that the French government should respect Muslim girls’ choice to wear the veil, drop out of high school, and live a traditional life. This is a tough one; it’s hard for us to accept this coming from a radical preacher, especially when we know that some women face coercion. But what if a Muslim woman herself told you she had freely chosen this? What if a religious Christian or Jewish woman told you she had chosen to dress modestly, leave school, and live a traditional life? Would you be more likely to accept such an argument in that case? Is it appropriate for the government to get involved in a woman’s personal choices on these issues?

6. Kramer also interviews some French feminist activists, who take different views on this issue. Make a close reading of the section that begins on p.68 and continues to p.70. (The first page is unnumbered, but it has a cartoon on it titled “Napquest.”) Can you unpack the feminists’ arguments for and against the ban on veils in schools? What complicating issues come out in the course of these arguments? Which one do you find more compelling and why?

7. On the last page, Kramer writes about Ghislaine Hudson, the principal of a large high school outside Paris. Hudson is concerned that her students seem to segregate themselves, despite her efforts to promote integration. What is her view of girls wearing veils at school? Do you agree or disagree with her perspective? What other factors might be getting in the way of her students interacting with each other? In what ways is this school a microcosm of France?

8. Let’s return to the principle of laïcité (secularity). After reading this article, what are your thoughts on how to balance respecting the right to religious expression with protecting French secularism? Is it fair to ask Muslims—or any cultural distinct group within French society—to prioritize their French identity over other parts of their identity? In your analysis, does the wearing of religious identity-markers like veils actually present a threat to the French state?

9. This last question is more of a thought experiment. It occurred to me because find ourselves living in a pandemic, being advised by the CDC to wear masks when we go outside. In other words, we are all now in a situation where we must violate France’s 2010 ban on covering your face in public as a matter of good public health. How does this situation affect your thoughts on anti-veiling laws?

Our second source for today is “I, Too, Am Oxford.” This Tumblr deals with the theme of microaggressions. We may not all be familiar with this term, so I’ll define it for you. A microaggression is a statement that does not directly express a discriminatory sentiment (racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, etc.), but relies on discriminatory assumptions.  For example, the first post you encounter the sign reads, “You’re mixed-race? D’you have identity issues?” This question rests on the racist assumption that a mixed-race person must necessarily be unhappy, because there is something “unnatural” about their parentage.

This Tumblr was created by students at Oxford University who regularly encounter microaggressions in their lives at the university. Their goal is to combat microaggressions by making their colleagues aware of their discriminatory assumptions. Here is what I’d like you to do:

1. Carefully study the images in this Tumblr. Find one image that you find most compelling and explain why it is harmful. Make sure to explicitly identify the discriminatory assumption at work. I think this is a productive exercise, to not only recognize that a statement is harmful, but to be able to explain fully how it does harm.

2. If there is an image that you do not understand, please ask! And please explain to each other in a positive way. A person who is admitting confusion is making themself vulnerable; please respect that vulnerability by replying straightforwardly. That way, we open up conversation, rather than shutting it down.

3. What makes microaggressions so harmful? What makes them hard to combat? In your analysis, is the “I, Too, Am Oxford” project an effective way to combat them? What else can we do, in our college community, to fight microaggressions and make all students feel welcome?

7 Replies to “Euro Vision! Leah’s Video for Decolonization, continued (Kramer, Oxford) (Week 10, Day 2)”

  1. I’m answering question 8 for the first article. I think it’s important with this idea to keep the idea of being French and being Muslim separate although you can be both. You can’t fault someone for identifying with a huge part of who they are but when it becomes oppressive there needs to be some kind of intervention. It’s not fair to ask Muslims to give away such a huge part of their cultural, especially when they’re doing it of their own free will. I don’t think the French government totally understand that it is an option and it is of these women’s free will to wear the veil. I also think they think that any opposition to integration into French society is a threat when it simply isn’t like that. It’s not fair to ask anyone to hide their identity because it makes you uncomfortable when in reality it’s none of your business. It doesn’t promote any kind of hate it only promotes religion and faith.

  2. I am going to discuss question 9 ( and some of 4 in the process). In the current environment where we are being advised to where masks, my thoughts on anti-veiling laws are exactly the same. I really do not see how any government can prohibit any person from wearing a specific piece of clothing (religious or not). It just does not make sense to me. I also want to discuss the concept of freedom of religion and freedom from religion because it seems to be one of the core arguments of those in favor of anti-veiling laws. No person should ever have to have any religion forced upon them. We’ve seen it throughout history and it can get bloody. At the same time, no one should be required to abandon any traditions from any faith if there is no public safety threat (actual danger of harm).

  3. 1. Kramer begins by focusing on a woman named Djamila who wears a veil. What is Djamila’s story? Why has she decided to wear a veil? She doesn’t see her veil as a political act, but it becomes political in that it changes her relationship to friends, neighbors, and employers. How does this situation add to our understanding of the multiple meanings that veils can have, which we started developing in our reading of Fanon? What would Fanon say about why France is still so focused on the question of veils in the 21st century?

    I believe that secularism could be an ultimately positive value under certain historical circumstances, and that it emerged in France (as consolidated by the early 20th century), as a way of turning into praxis some sort of “enlighted” liberal values against the excessive cultural power that dogmatic forms of Catholicism had been applied for so long at different social levels (mostly educational). Nonetheless, I think that France banning the veil does more harm than good. I believe there’s a strong historical background that fills these laws with strong violent connotations from what French colonialism meant in history (mostly in Algeria) and from the ways on which nowadays western cultural hegemony has spread throughout the world.

    So no, it’s not the same to pass laws avoiding certain centennially institutionalized religious forms to promote educative biases (as is more probable with the strong institutionality of Christianity, for example), than to ban women from ethnic and religious minorities, who have been historically segregated in many ways from European society, to freely express their cultural forms. Even more when these expressions do not harm anyone. With this I’m not saying that we should ban expressions coming from certain religions and others not, but the context of each one makes it completely different. Given this scenario, in my opinion, maybe nothing should be banned at all.

    In my opinion, the case of Djamila clearly illustrates this fact. She decided to wear the veil during times when it was no longer common for Muslim women to wear it in France, maybe because they have already been culturally assimilated into European modes of living. I think that the secularist framework under which French society have already been living in for more than a century makes it less likely for old powerful institutions to effectively harm certain social spheres (in other words, secularism may no longer be explicitly needed as a social value because modern society is outdated from the context when it was properly needed), that’s why in the current context it may be better to guarantee “freedom of religion” before “freedom from religion”

  4. #2
    Djamila is making a conscious choice in wearing the veil and it might be easy, albeit oversimplified, to suggest that she is the one distancing herself from French society. The social restrictions, however, come from society, not her own values or beliefs. Theatrical productions are not inhibited by her wearing of the veil, though if a certain amount of rigor and exclusion might be awarded to the theater by its nature, her inability to find employment or to simply go about her day without being harassed highlight with whom the exclusionary issue might lie. She is not asking for any grand accommodations. She is simply asking to be able to wear her veil and practice her religion in the way that suits her as a part of French society.

  5. 6.
    To me, there are a few arguments to unpack. One is that some women see veils as a means for the men to control the women because to some the head scarf doesn’t symbolizes religion or choice anymore. Which is a no-no and some women don’t want this. Another is that the veil prohibits girls and women from getting education due to the French law of nothing should cover the face in France. A third view is that the veil is necessary to protect young girls, which ultimately returns to the first argument but is the opposite. This is because men are controlling the women and part of the controlling is protecting as well.
    The compelling arguments that come out to me are the ones that the veils are used specifically so that Muslim girls cannot go to school, and thus, can be home-schooled. Or if the girls do unveil, they are threatened with being sent away to North Africa and married off.
    Personally, I find neither of the arguments compelling because I believe that it is up to the girls and women if they want to wear the veil or not. And if they change their mind, so be it. However, I think the law in France is unfair and should be destroyed, because it is a choice to wear the veil or not. It’s not up to the government or men, it is up to the girl/ woman wearing it.

  6. question 2:

    2. As Kramer describes Djamila’s life “narrowing” once she takes the veil, it appears others are the ones excluding her not her accidentally excluding herself by doing so. Djamila deciding to wear a veil is her own personal choice, and it should not have an effect on her personal, social and work lives. People make choices like this all the time in regard to their religion and various other personal beliefs, they just are not as noticeable as wearing a veil or head scarf. Even though the veil inherently represents multiple levels of oppression and submissiveness, this was a choice Djamila came to on her own, she was not told to wear it or forced to by another person. She is devoted to her religion and wants to respect it by doing so. The exclusion she faces is placed on the society, they see her as an outcast and label her as “terrorist” or some other derogatory term. These are the problems with the society and not her decision. There is already a label made of women who wear veils in public that Djamila cannot control. The restriction France has on the ability to covers one’s face in public is also a major factor in this discrimination because it is a written law that to discriminate against. By having this law, it makes it difficult to break down the barrios people see and reidentify the mindset and labels they already have developed.

  7. I am responding to question #3 from the tumblr article
    Micro aggressions are not harmful. No reasonable person believes they are actually harmful except people who find something to be upset about in every possible situation. I read the very first post from the tumblr page and it was about a skateboarder who showed up to class after falling and asked her professor for a bandage and the professor said no and this was somehow a micro-aggression? It’s not the teachers job to give you a bandage, could she have? Yes. Does that mean because she said no it was some sort of underlying racism, absolutely not and if you think so you’re being asinine and looking for a reason to be upset. As I scroll through these pictures I think some of them are completely ridiculous. Just because somebody says they don’t know how to pronounce your last name does not mean they are being underlyingly racist. My solution to fighting micro-aggressions is to stop making it okay for people to always have a victim mindset. The world is a tough place and trying to find a reason to be upset in every situation of it will do you no good.

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