What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
With rendition switcher


Question: Is the headscarf ban partly a reaction to perceived Muslim threats to free speech?

Joan Wallach Scott: The groups who protest the Danish cartoons… who protested the Danish cartoons, the threats…  I think those are sort of terrible things, but I don’t think the vast majority of the populations we’re talking about and those who are affected by things like headscarf laws are involved in that.  If they are they’re pulled in by the sense of discrimination and objection they feel in the host countries in which they live, but more than that I don’t see how banning headscarves makes any difference in the reaction of politicized Islamic groups to something like the Danish cartoons.  It seems to me that the cure being offered doesn’t fit the problem that is being defined and the cure is a kind of general Islam phobia that attaches to all Muslims and that affects the practices of all Muslims, so I think girls and headscarves are benign.  I really don’t think that that is the flag of Islamic terrorism or the cover for deeply felt terrorist inclinations.  I do think for…  There are issues of religious belief.  There are issues of identification with a world movement that removes you from the kind of more objected ethnic racial inferiority you feel in the country that you are, so that you can identify with something that is bigger than you and that feels more comfortable or gives you a kind of recognition that you otherwise feel you’re not getting, so you know there are lots of issues involved in the choice to wear a headscarf, but I don’t think wearing a headscarf or having people not wear headscarves or not wear burqas has anything to do with addressing the problem of political action, political censorship of things like the Danish cartoons.

Question: Should our guiding principle in such clashes be “free expression above all”?

Joan Wallach Scott: I mean I guess I’m you know I’m certainly for free expression.  I think that… and I was the head of the Committee on Academic Freedom in tenor at the American Association of University Professors, so that was the hat I wore for a long time and I certainly think free expression is what there should be.  There are always tricky contexts and the one in which the Danish cartoon somehow seemed to be a blow, a horrible blow at religious belief and religious…  You know if the Danish cartoons had been swastikas, what would the response have been on the part of Jewish community?  I mean maybe people wouldn’t have threatened the lives of the cartoonists, but I think there would have been an outpouring of objection on the part of members of the Jewish community about this travesty that was allowed to be expressed even as freedom of speech is something that is recognized and, you know, the Nazi march in Skokie, Illinois in the 1970s or 80s, I mean civil libertarians here said that march had to be allowed to take place, but so I think one can under…  There was a certain kind of insensitivity that was involved in the publication of the cartoons in a context in which this was a really volatile and explosive issue, but I think they should have been allowed to be published.  I do think though that the…  As I say I don’t think if they had been…  I don’t think the editors of the paper would have allowed the publication of similar cartoons in which anti-Semitism could be the accusation rather than attacks on Muslims.

Should the satirical “South Park” episode about Islam have been censored?

Joan Wallach Scott:  No, I think that that…  I think that was fine.  I mean I think that…  And I think people are looking to sort of…  There was certainly threats and all of the rest of it, but I you know no, I don’t…  I think that can be allowed.  Again, I guess my test always is if we’re as tolerant of what could be taken to be…  post-Holocaust, what are taken to be anti-Semitic gestures as anti-Muslim ones then you know I think yeah, why not allow these characters to sort of play around and be satirical.

Recorded April 26th, 2010

Interviewed by Austin Allen


Don’t Ban Burqas—Or Censor ...

Newsletter: Share: