112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

The Republic and its Veils

Alain Gabon, Virginia Wesleyan College

Between 1989 and 2012, France has passed dramatic new laws banning or restricting various Islamic headscarves and face coverings.  I examine the five justifications offered by those laws' advocates and show they all severely betray the noble ideals they claim to defend, from women's rights to laicity.


Between 1989 and 2012, following incendiary national debates ranking among the most heated of the whole postwar era, France has passed several dramatic new laws banning or restricting (mostly) Islamic religious outfits including jihabs, niqabs and burqas.  Those debates and their legislative and legal aftermaths constitute an attempt to renegotiate the historical arrangement between the Republican state, civil society, and religions, especially the rising new one, Islam, now France's second largest religion well ahead of Judaism and Protestantism.  I examine the five main categories of arguments that have been used by the laws' advocates to justify those laws.  I show that with no exception, far from promoting the noble ideals they claim to defend (women's rights and emancipation, separation of church and state, laicity, integration of minorities, etc.), those debates and laws, on the contrary, severely violate, betray, pervert and often trample those ideals and values.  I argue they therefore serve as a-posteriori rationalizations for a paranoia towards not just Islam bt more generally and dramatically, towards differences, cultural syncretism and multiculturalism per se, and the new France in emergence.  That process of "metissage" and cultural hybridization, everywhere visible at work, provoke strong national anxieties of fragmentation, "invasion", loss of "self" (a fantasized national self), which leads to the scapegoating of certain vulnerable national or foreign minorities on French soil, from Muslims to Romas.  This process of stigmatization and scapegoating is the strongest towards the most visible of all those minorities:  Muslim women wearing traditional Islamic outfits.

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