Sunday, September 12, 2010

Robert Zaretsky on Veils

Robert Zaretsky in the Chronicle of Higher Ed:

This attitude reflects a tragic irony: The other side of the coin of equality in France is the refusal to acknowledge the desires of some citizens to hold on to certain religious, social, and cultural practices. That there is a wide spectrum of motivations behind these desires has been lost from sight. When we see a Christian wearing a cross, or a Jew in a skullcap, we do not assume that they all have the same motivation for signaling their religious faith, much less have been forced to do so. Why do we fail to attribute the same act of volition to wearers of the veil? Instead, the French risk representing Islam as a monolithic belief system—an ideological foil for the totalizing discourse of French republicanism.
Some historians suggest that there are deep continuities between Vichy and the republics that preceded and followed. In this regard, we might consider one consequence of the Statut des Juifs: Vichy eventually enforced the Nazi order that all Jews living in the occupied zone (roughly the northern half of France occupied by the Germans in 1940) wear the Jewish star on their outer clothing. While the differences between then and now are striking, they nevertheless reflect similar ideological and conceptual preoccupations. One group is forced to wear an article of clothing, while another group is forced to surrender an article of clothing; one group is banished from the nation, while another group is compelled to assimilate. In both cases, however, the nation refuses to tolerate otherness.