Review- Scott, “The Politics of the Veil”

Joan Wallach Scott, “The Politics of the Veil” (2007) – Like Joan Scott, I come to the veil controversies from an American perspective, where you basically let people wear whatever. The idea you need to strip yourself of communal identifiers — so, ironically enough, you can be an Enlightenment-style individual — to be part of the national community doesn’t make much sense to me. I’ve run into it here, of course. During some of my shittier jobs I was subjected to rants about how people should only fly other countries flags if they flew the American flag at the same height, blah blah. The usual nationalistic nonsense from nationalisms that purport to be about freedom of expression.

AFAICT the biggest irritant here to Joan Scott, a major feminist historian, is that unlike American xenophobia it’s hard to dismiss the French version as just ignorant people being ignorant. Real intellectuals and serious statespeople in France were in favor of the headscarf ban in schools, and later the body-covering ban (which apparently also does unitards? Stupid rules). So Scott tackles the particulars of French universalism that allow for this situation to pass. It’s a picture that doesn’t lack for pathos, even as it veils (heh) xenophobia. The universalist dream isn’t entirely a bad one. The problem is they made (implicitly Catholic, or ex-Catholic) white French men the model of the universal and expect everyone to conform to that. I found myself wondering, “why not mandate baguette eating or cigarette smoking while you’re at it?” if there’s this supposed French way of being everyone needs to do to be French? The answer to that is the usual depressing stuff about racism and colonialism, France’s long war with the Muslims of North Africa. But I guess having grown up free-range, one human thing I have difficulty really grasping is the insistence everyone play the game your way. ****

Review- Scott, “The Politics of the Veil”

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