The Cour de Cassation has just issued a decision in the "Baby Loup" case, throwing out a previous ruling that the day care center's manager was within her rights to ban the wearing of a veil by an employee. This being private space, the court ruled that the veil could be banned by the employer only for carefully delimited reasons of safety, health, ability to perform duties, etc.
Nevertheless, a poll finds that 83% of the French favor the extension of the veil ban to the firm, the street, semipublic spaces like restaurants and stores, etc. Alain Finkielkraut, meanwhile, has just published L'identité malheureuse, one of the bestsellers of the fall season, in which he explicitly criticizes Americans like me with our "innocents abroad" notions of multiculturalism. France cannot survive the onslaught of conflicting symbolisms, he argues. It is and always has been a monist culture, in which the foreigner can assimilate only by shedding all alien affiliations. And the foreigner must be grateful for being deprived of his patrimoine by a culture as rich as that of France, which has brought the world so much treasure of truth and beauty. I caricature, but only slightly.
To tell the truth, I see more headscarves daily in my North Cambridge, Mass., neighborhood than I saw during 2 weeks in France, though I'm sure I wasn't sampling the towns and neighborhoods where the Muslim population is densest. Still, the response seems far stronger than the stimulus warrants. The same can be said of the Roma problem. Despite the fact that there are only 20,000 in the country, everyone I talked to seems to believe that they are at the gates of every town and village in France and Navarre. The mathematical impossibility of such ubiquity carries no weight against the evidence of what people think they have vu, vu de leurs yeux, vu!
The eternal recurrence of these two highly symbolic issues calls for an analysis of the French psyche. I'm not sure I'm ready to give it, but I'm pondering the matter.