Date/Time: 18/10/2007 12:00 am
The Politics of the Veil with Joan Wallach Scott
The Politics of the Veil
Book Reading by Joan Wallach Scott
Followed by a discussion chaired by Professor Joseph Massad
Thursday, October 18, 2007 7 PM
Free and open to the public
Refreshments will be served
The Politics of the Veil. Joan Wallach Scott. (Princeton: Princeton
University Press). 2007. 208 p.
In 2004 the French government instituted a ban on the wearing of
“conspicuous signs” of religious affiliation in public schools.
Though the ban applies to everyone, it is aimed at Muslim girls
wearing headscarves. Proponents of the law insist it upholds France’s
values of secular liberalism and regard the headscarf as symbolic of
Islam’s resistance to modernity. The Politics of the Veil is an
explosive refutation of this view, one that bears important
implications for us all.
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
Joan Wallach Scott is the Harold F. Linder Professor in the School of
Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study. Her books include
Parite!: Sexual Equality and the Crisis of French Universalism and
Gender and the Politics of History.
“Joseph Massad is Associate Professor of Modern Arab Politics and
Intellectual History at Columbia University and author Desiring
Arabs, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007). The Persistence
of the Palestinian Question: Essays on Zionism and the Palestinians
(London: Routledge, 2006). Colonial Effects: The Making of National
Identity in Jordan, (New York; Columbia University Press, 2001).
“Brilliant, crisp, and cogently argued. Joan W. Scott’s novel and
trenchant discursive analysis exposes the prejudices of the
reductionist French versions of secularism and feminism regarding
Islam and French Muslims from North African and Arab origins. The
study is illuminating far beyond the French case, as former colonial
and/or working subjects struggle for integration and recognition of
their difference.”–Abdellah Hammoudi, Princeton University
“Carefully argued, insightful and humane, Joan Scott’s The Politics
of the Veil is far and away the best account of France’s identity
crisis that was signaled by the famous headscarf affair. The final
chapter, on the symbolic meanings of the headscarf/veil, is the most
original and brilliant piece of writing that I have read on this
topic. This is an indispensable book, transcending the particularity
of French obsessions and forcing the reader to think about wider
political problems that concern us all.”–Talal Asad, author of On
“Scott traces the history and politics of veil controversies in
France and draws apart intertwined strands, starting with the legacy
of racism from the colonial past. She persuasively argues for the
negotiation of cultural and religious differences rather than their
negation. This book will be required reading for all those concerned
with the integration of Muslims into Western Christian societies.”–
Beth Baron, author of Egypt as a Woman: Nationalism
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