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Joan Scott is known internationally for writings that theorize gender as an analytic category. She is a leading figure in the emerging field of critical history. Her ground-breaking work has[…]

What the U.S. can learn from French battles over mosque and state.

Question: What lessons does France’s headscarf controversy hold rnfor the U.S.?
rnJoan Wallach Scott:  Well I mean I guess that hard-line rnsecularism is not a good idea, which is not to say that secularism is rnnot a good idea.  I mean I certainly think that the attempt in the rnUnited States to by groups here to rewrite American history as a sort ofrn Christian story and to portray the founding fathers as Christian rnfathers is something that really needs to be challenged and in the name rnof secular… in the name of history, of accurate history as well as rneverything else, but I think the kind of hard-nose secularism of France,rn that kind of unbending insistence on that secular means one thing and rnthat violations of it will not be tolerated in any way is a bad idea andrn that if you’re accommodating different groups, different populations rnwhat you need to do is figure out ways of accommodating them.  The way rnthe French did when the passed the 1905 law separating church and state,rn the way they did with the Catholic Church.  There was a day off for rnreligious instruction for kids.  All the holidays in France still, some rnare state holidays, but most of them are Catholic, not even just rnChristian, Catholic holidays.  Parts of France are… Alsace and Lorraine,rn Alsace-Moselle, those departments which were under German control when rnthe 1905 law was passed and then came back to France after the war thosern areas were never forced to adopt the secular practices that the rest ofrn the country adopted, so still in those areas you can have religious rnteaching in the schools.  Children have to take a course in religious rninstruction and so on and so forth, so they’re not even consistent…  rnIt’s not even a nationally consistent policy in relation to Catholicism,rn which was the dominate religion at the time the law was passed, so to rnact as if it is either secularism or nothing or that the secular and thern religious are in eternal opposition to each other is to misrepresent rnFrench history and to create a situation in which there will only be a rngreater sense of felt discrimination and anger on the part of the rnpopulations whom these laws affect.  So it seems to me that that kind ofrn hard line secularism, which is as fundamentalist in its way as the mostrn extreme Islamist fundamentalism defeats its own purpose and really rndoesn’t end up producing a situation in which there can be a certain rnkind of pluralism, cultural pluralism and political assimilation and rnpolitical citizenship.

Recorded April 26th, 2010
rnInterviewed by Austin Allen