Post #11: The Culture Clash between the East and West

This post is in response to the second question on this week’s assignment sheet, which addressed the implications in essentially forcing Muslim women in France to acquire the Western culture in their dress.

Some of my arguments for this blog will be supported by the book Politics of the Veil, by Joan Wallach Scott. The book looks into the law put in place by France that disallows women from wearing headscarves in public, and this law especially applies to Muslim women who openly wear their headscarves in public.

To begin, I disagree with this law. I do not think that it is right to enforce a law that makes people adopt a certain identity. There is a clear clash of cultures within France, and the idea of French Republicanism is being challenged by the fairness of this law.

French republicanism is the idea that everyone is the same and that there are no differences between individuals. Everyone is viewed the same way and treated the same way. This type of culture in France stems from the French Revolution, and it is an ideology that still exists in France today (Bertossi).

However, this ideal has caused a clash when concerning the Muslim culture and identity. For the French, everyone should be treated the same. The veil that many Muslim women wear is a sign of suppression to the French, but for Muslim women, they believe the opposite. For Muslim women, the veil is a sense of protection and identity. The veil protects them from unwanted sexual advances from men, and in Muslim society, sex is seen as a threat (Scott 152-154).

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The cover to The Politics of the Veil by Joan Wallach Scott.

This clash is the foundation of the cultural problems between Muslim women and the French. By enforcing a law that calls for the removal of the headscarf, the French are asking women who practice this tradition to feel vulnerable.

To add to this, the idea of equality in France is somewhat slanted. This is seen in the way French politicians speak of equality among the genders yet are uncomfortable with sharing power with the opposite sex (Scott 171). Male politicians in the country do not seen men and women as equals, and this is seen in this law. If these sexes were truly equal, there would not be a law forbidding women to remove a type of dress that many hold close to their identity.

However, there are other ways to look at this French view of culture. The French hold their value of equality so far, that they are willing to enforce a law that they believe allows for sexual freedom. Such an idea begs the question as to what sexual freedom truly is, and it makes me question why the idea of sexual freedom was given by mostly male French politicians.

By enforcing this law, the main implication for Muslim women is that they are seen as inferior (Scott 173). Muslim women are seen as needing help to understand the correct way to dress and act, and this law supports the idea that Muslim women do not have a voice of their own, or even ideas of their own (Scott 173). The law implies that French politicians and those who support the law feel that Muslim women are wrong in their beliefs, and they feel that they must guide Muslim women toward sexual freedom (Scott 172-173).

This creates a massive identity crisis for Muslim women. Those who were raised to wear the headscarf are now faced with a culture that feels that it is morally incorrect to wear the veil. I have a feeling that this clash must bring some animosity with it for both sides of the issue. Muslim women feel that they are being discriminated against because of their dress, while those of the French culture feel that those who wear a veil are openly practicing sexual oppression.

Also, if someone feels oppressed by a culture, the likelihood that they will follow it is slim. Muslim women who feel discriminated against due to the law will be less likely to adopt the law into their own identity. Muslim women feel like the “less fortunate sisters” in France, and although many feminists believe that the law is a way of battling patriarchy, many Muslim women see this as the opposite. They see themselves as being thrown into a world where they will feel uncomfortable and suppressed (Scott 172).

Although French Republicanism claims that there are no differences among people, I believe that there are implications in this argument. People come from different backgrounds and viewpoints. Men and women are treated differently, and people of color see different treatment. A law that is unaccepting of differences is a law that is missing the point. The law that the French have created can easily be viewed as oppressing Muslim women who feel that the veil is a part of their identity. The French law has good intentions, but in executing the law, the French are crossing a fine line between understanding differences and enforcing a strict sense of assimilation.

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