Should France Ban Headscarves in Schools?

Question: How do you feel about the headscarf ban in French \r\npublic schools?
\r\n

\r\nJoan Wallach Scott:  I actually… I certainly first have to say \r\nthat I consider myself to be secular.  I certainly don’t think burqas \r\nare something that I’m comfortable with.  When I see women in them with \r\ntheir faces almost entirely covered it’s a sort of hard…  In a culture \r\nwhich is an open culture in which faces are uncovered it’s very hard to \r\ndeal with.  On the other hand it seems to me that you can’t separate the\r\n French desire to ban this from a kind of underlying racism about Arabs \r\nand Muslims, former colonials from North Africa and West Africa and \r\nthere is just no way to separate them and so on the grounds of the fact \r\nthat this constitutes a form of discrimination and a failure to actually\r\n consult with the people who are wearing them and to find out what \r\nindeed is involved in the choice on the part of some women, the \r\ninfluence of others on them to wear these things it seems to me really \r\ninadvisable as a law and will only be taken by minority populations as \r\nyet another strike against them and if anything, it will increase the \r\nnumbers of people who are wearing these rather than do away with them, \r\nso as a policy issue in countries in which Muslims are a minority \r\npopulation in general and in France in particular I think it is a really\r\n bad idea to ban these things. 
\r\n
\r\nI think that certainly wearing a headscarf is a different thing from \r\nwearing a burqa actually, but in either case there is at least in part \r\nthe notion that you have to cover women to prevent the sort of sexual \r\ntemptation of men that they represent, but there are other… It seems to \r\nme Muslims are not alone in this.  Orthodox Jews, women have to cover \r\ntheir heads and wear long sleeves, and you know there’s all kinds of \r\ndress requirements for Orthodox Jewish women that also indicate their \r\ninferiority, but I think no one would dare talk about, post-Holocaust no\r\n one would dare talk about or would have a very difficult time trying to\r\n ban certain of the behaviors of Orthodox Jews.  It would be considered \r\nan illegitimate interference in religious practice.  Catholics, Catholic\r\n nuns certainly still have to cover their heads.  I mean there’s all \r\nsorts of religious practices in which the inequality of women and men \r\nare manifest in behavior and clothing and the rest of it.  It seems to \r\nme a terrible mistake to single out Muslims at a time of clash with \r\ncivilizations in countries in which there is a tremendous amount of \r\nclass and other kinds of economic and political discrimination against \r\nthem.  It doesn’t seem to me to be wise policy at all.

Recorded April 26th, 2010
\r\nInterviewed by Austin Allen

France’s ban on Muslim headscarves in public schools has ignited endless controversy. Which side does the "Politics of the Veil" author take?

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