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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[…]

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

Question: How do you feel about the headscarf ban in French rnpublic schools?

rnJoan Wallach Scott:  I actually… I certainly first have to say rnthat I consider myself to be secular.  I certainly don’t think burqas rnare something that I’m comfortable with.  When I see women in them with rntheir faces almost entirely covered it’s a sort of hard…  In a culture rnwhich is an open culture in which faces are uncovered it’s very hard to rndeal with.  On the other hand it seems to me that you can’t separate thern French desire to ban this from a kind of underlying racism about Arabs rnand Muslims, former colonials from North Africa and West Africa and rnthere is just no way to separate them and so on the grounds of the fact rnthat this constitutes a form of discrimination and a failure to actuallyrn consult with the people who are wearing them and to find out what rnindeed is involved in the choice on the part of some women, the rninfluence of others on them to wear these things it seems to me really rninadvisable as a law and will only be taken by minority populations as rnyet another strike against them and if anything, it will increase the rnnumbers of people who are wearing these rather than do away with them, rnso as a policy issue in countries in which Muslims are a minority rnpopulation in general and in France in particular I think it is a reallyrn bad idea to ban these things. 
rnI think that certainly wearing a headscarf is a different thing from rnwearing a burqa actually, but in either case there is at least in part rnthe notion that you have to cover women to prevent the sort of sexual rntemptation of men that they represent, but there are other… It seems to rnme Muslims are not alone in this.  Orthodox Jews, women have to cover rntheir heads and wear long sleeves, and you know there’s all kinds of rndress requirements for Orthodox Jewish women that also indicate their rninferiority, but I think no one would dare talk about, post-Holocaust norn one would dare talk about or would have a very difficult time trying torn ban certain of the behaviors of Orthodox Jews.  It would be considered rnan illegitimate interference in religious practice.  Catholics, Catholicrn nuns certainly still have to cover their heads.  I mean there’s all rnsorts of religious practices in which the inequality of women and men rnare manifest in behavior and clothing and the rest of it.  It seems to rnme a terrible mistake to single out Muslims at a time of clash with rncivilizations in countries in which there is a tremendous amount of rnclass and other kinds of economic and political discrimination against rnthem.  It doesn’t seem to me to be wise policy at all.

Recorded April 26th, 2010
rnInterviewed by Austin Allen