Olivier Roy Interview (2007): Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Globalization and Islam: Conversation with Olivier Roy, Professor, School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences, Paris; January 25, 2007, by Harry Kreisler

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France and the Veil

Let's take a specific example: the issue in France of the veiling of students in the public space. Talk a little about how that played out and say what would be the fundamentalist's position on that issue in France.

The first thing is that almost all of the girls who came suddenly one day wearing a veil at school, they were totally Westernized, they were French, they had a good education and they were good schoolgirls with high marks. They wore the veil on a voluntary basis, they weren't forced by their families or brothers, and things like that. And this was seen as a scandal by public opinion.

In France?

In France. "How can you voluntarily give up your freedom, how can you voluntarily close yourself in a small world of religion, prevent yourself from being a free modern woman?" So, there has been a big projection by the French public opinion, and the the public opinion did attribute this wearing of the veil to traditional culture. But it's absolutely not the case. On the contrary, these girls want to be modern Western girls but with a religious marker on them. They want to assert their whole religious identity, their individual religious choice.

It's very interesting to see that they used a feminist idiom, for example, to assert their right to wear the veil, and the motto was "Our body is our business." For the true, traditional feminist motto, and to turn it in favor of wearing the veil! And the feminist movements were split. The majority of the feminists were appalled by the veil while a small minority said, "Okay, look, these girls do what they want, they are free, it's a way for them to assert their individuality, it's not cultural, we have to accept it even if we disagree."

So, there has been a big misunderstanding. Instead of thinking of that as a consequence of the individualization of religious practices, the majority of the French public opinion saw that through the lens of the clash of civilizations. And hence there has been huge support among the Parliament on a non-partisan basis and the public opinion to ban the veil from the schools.

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