Nora Hand, Eric Ziolkowski, Religious Studies, Lafayette College, 730 High St, Easton, PA 18042

The recent rise of terrorist attacks in France has resulted in hypersensitivity to Islamic symbols and images. Islamophobic acts increased there by 18.5% during 2014-2015, according to the Collectif contre l’Islamophobie en France. Muslim women were overrepresented as 74% of the victims. This past summer, Islamophobia in France continued to target Muslim women with local bans in cities on “burkinis,” swimsuits that cover fully the female body. Political figures, e.g., Prime Minister Manuel Valls and former President Nicolas Sarkozy, branded the burkini a “provocation.” Why, then, has the modesty of Muslim women become provocative in France? This question stems from my observations of French treatment of Muslims as “others” during my study-abroad semester in France, following the November 2015 Paris attacks. My Lafayette College honors thesis-in-progress on this subject is informed by authors read in my Postcolonial Paris class while abroad, including historian Naomi Davidson; by Talal Asad and Mayanthi L. Fernando, anthropologists whose contributions during the headscarf affair have become pivotal in my research; and by recent articles in French and American journals, magazines, and newspapers. I argue that the label of “provocation” contradicts the intentions behind the swimsuit, given that the Muslim women wearing it are motivated primarily by modesty. In examining the past debates over the headscarf ban in French schools in 2004, my study will draw parallels between these two outbreaks of Muslim women being targeted by French public opinion on account of their visually distinct dress. In a society characterized by strict secularism (laïcité), the intentions behind what French Muslim women wear conflict with non-Muslim French, laïque interpretations. In wearing a garment deemed “Islamic,” Muslim women do not issue terrorist threats but rather, inadvertently, trigger the dominant French society to perceive a defiance of the norm, order, and authority of France.

Additional Abstract Information

Presenter: Nora Hand

Institution: Lafayette College

Type: Oral

Subject: Religious Studies

Status: Approved

Time and Location

Session: Oral 4
Date/Time: Thu 3:00pm-3:20pm
Location: Manning Hall 426
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