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More on Racism, Minorities, Religions and a few more things in France.

(asked by Sarah, from New York)

First of all, Sarah, and everybody else, make sure that you have a comment to write as well as some questions, you don’t write them together as I’ll have to either not treat your question as its own post, or -as in this case- I won’t be able to publish the comment, and will have to either edit the whole thing, or keep even if it seems a little bit out of context. Thanks :)
Now, the question/comment:

I too was under the impression that France had a more serious and systemic racism issue because of the riots, the whole veil saga and most recently Sarkozy’s statement on the banning of the burka.

I have also seen several movies on this issue (La Haine, The Class/Entre Les Murs, the documentary Might is Right by Patric Jean, etc.) so I’ll admit that perhaps my hyper-focus on this issue has caused me to lose perspective. In the US I feel that racism is still a serious issue, but that racists are just a VERY loud minority.

However, I am a huge France football fan, and I do feel that a lot of the articles discussing the make-up of the French team are racist (and I’m reading French articles, not English articles on the French team). I sometimes feel that it is more acceptable (there is less of a stigma) attached to saying racist things in France than in the US. I also find that I am more likely to find anti-Semitic things printed in French papers than in the US .

But, I have to remind myself that Europe has never had a Civil Rights Movement (not that this has solved all the problems in the US). But, it is disgraceful when I see professional athletes being goaded with monkey chants, having bananas thrown at them, etc. I don’t think France is nearly as overtly racist as Spain though (I can’t believe the Spain coach was able to keep his job after calling Thierry Henry a “black shit” on camera).

So, I have a few follow-up questions related to the treatment of North African descendants/Islamic traditions in France. I am fascinated by the Maghrebin culture in France (for others, Maghrebin refers to people of North African descent).

1) Can you please explain the “Daughters of France, Daughters of Allah” movement? I find that it is a very tricky issue. On one hand I worry that it perpetuates the idea that feminism is incompatible with Islam. However, given some of the gendered violence that exists in the French suburban ghettos, I can understand how it has gained popularity.

2) As I’m studying French, I increasingly find myself getting stuck on French slang that is derived from Arabic or Verlan (which, to be honest, I’m not 100% sure what Verlan is). I can’t tell you how long it took me to figure out what “nana” and “meuf” mean. I know you don’t answer language questions, but I think this is more of a cultural issue. How popular is Verlan used in France outside of the Beur community (North African community)? Is it like in the US where there are just things that would seem “unusual” if a white person said it?
Ok, a lot of things to tackle here (as I’ll comment on your comment as well as try to answer your questions)
First of all, make sure you don’t lump different things together.
The riots of 2005 have nothing to do with racism, they were social riots, not racial or religious ones as they have all too often been presented abroad (especially in the US) and as a matter of fact most issues from the suburban ghettos in France are all too often perceived as racial (even by some French people) when they’re really social. Keep in mind that in those “ghettos” you have people from many different origins, Europe (and even France) included.
Same thing with the whole veil/burka issues, those are religious and laicity issues, not racial ones. Remember that in France, there’s an actual separation of Church and State, and religious things are more or less tolerated in the public sphere. The burka and the Muslim veil are perceived by many French people as an unacceptable invasion of religion in the public sphere, there’s no racial undertone there (of course racist people will be against them, but many non-racist people too), as a matter of fact, and there aren’t any official statistics here, but I have the feeling that most women wearing a full burka are Muslim converts, but I may be wrong.
Also, yes, if all you watch are films with tackling minorities and racism, you may then tend to see racism everywhere, especially in places where it’s nowhere.
Racists in France are too (like in most countries?) a loud minority. Thing is, that as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, France is not used to multi-culturalism, and yes, most French people are still struggling with the idea, but I really believe this is a different issue from racism although they’re very often bundled up together.
Also, I’m afraid that at times, you’re mixing up racism and political correctness or lack of thereof. I didn’t follow the whole Thierry Henry controversy with his Spanish coach, but I don’t see “black shit” as racist… An insult without a doubt, but racist is up to debate. Had Henry been blond and his coach had called him “blond shit” would it have been racist?
That reminds me of the whole “African American” that many Americans used because they have the feeling that “Black” is racist… But if it is racist, how come “White” is not?
I personally think “African American” is racist, because why aren’t white Americans called “European Americans”? And all in all, Black Americans are no more African than White Americans are European… Maybe even less.
Also, this fear of the word “Black” will lead to some very stupid things sometimes, like this American journalist (I can’t find his name anymore) who asked Nelson Mandela how it felt to be the first African-American President of South Africa. Yep, this happened, I’m not making it up.
Back to Henry, I can’t comment any more on racism in soccer as I don’t care about soccer, so I don’t read about it, so I don’t know. But as previously mentioned too, people that are fans of soccer are not usually the brightest people in the country, so I’m not surprised if you find a lot of racists among them.
You say that France never had a Civil Rights Movement, but… that’s because we never needed one. France never segregated its minorities for a Century or so and use them as slaves before that. Sure, we had slavery in France, but it was never in France, only in the colonies, and it was abolished in 1789 (you know “all men are created equal” and all that), although Napoleon shamefully reinstated it for a short while.
Also, in the 80′s we had something (with organizations like “SOS Racisme”) that helped improving tolerance between the different French ethnic groups.
Now, you two “real” questions.
1) Sorry, I can’t explain the “Daughters of France, Daughters of Allah” movement, I have never heard of it before. All I can tell you about it is what I’ll find on wikipedia and/or google. And actually I just googled it and didn’t really find anything about it (just one article from Vanity Fair dated from 2004). I assume that name is a translation, do you have the real name of the movement?
2) Yes, I see that you don’t know 100% what Verlan is, as it has nothing to do with minorities.
OK, let’s start with Verlan. I’ll try to be short (I have written a 30 page research paper on Verlan back in the days, so I tend to get carried away when I talk about it).
So what is Verlan?
It’s basically a slang that consists in cutting a word in two, and inverting those two halves to create a new word. Sometimes, some extra changes are made, usually the last syllab may be dropped.
The word “Verlan” itself is Verlan from “L’Envers.” See how?
(sorry, for those who don’t speak French you’ll get really confused here)
The word “Beur” is a Verlan word too. If nowadays it means “second and third generation Arab French”, it comes from the word “Arabe” itself.
Like this: you cut “arabe” in “ara” and “be”, you switch both and get “be-ara”, and little by little both “a” disappear, and you get “beur” (the ‘u’ being there for pronunciation purposes).
That being said, Verlan finds its sources in the 19th Century among some of the Paris working class (Parisian butchers had a “secret language” that was not that different from Verlan), so you see we’re far from our topic.
It became very popular in the 80′s in the suburban ghetto, but once again, it was not a racial phenomenon but a social (and geographical) one, as the people that revived and popularized Verlan did it to make it the language of their neighborhood. Then it gained in popularity, spread to all of the Parisian northern suburb. By the late 80′s most of Paris youth used it (except maybe the bourgeoisie kids), and then the mainstream media started to use it, it was everywhere in TV shows, commercials and all as it had become the “cool slang”.
From that point on, it actually started to decay in the ghettos, and nowadays I’m not sure many people really use it there, while on the other hand, many Verlan words made it into mainstream French (beur for instance).
Also, as you mentioned it, nana is by no means a Verlan word (it’d have to be the Verlan of… nana…), its origins are up to debate.
So you see, Verlan is not the “beur community” slang, never was and never will.
It was the Parisian ghetto suburbs slang, then it was the Parisian slang, then it became the “mainstream media cool slang”, then it became old fashioned, and used by uncool people thinking they’re cool.
Except for a few words and expressions, I don’t think it’s really used at all nowadays.
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  44 Responses to “More on Racism, Minorities, Religions and a few more things in France.”

  1. I'm curious why the burka is a religious/laity issue but nuns wearing habits is not. Certainly some element of xenophobia enters into the debate. I also wonder if you consulted with any of your friends of African descent before you so blithely dismissed racism as an important consideration the riots in 2005.

    Finally, France didn't abolish slavery until 1848 (quite a few years after Napolean shamefully re-established it).

  2. Well, you understand that nuns are "professionals" right? What they wear is a uniform, not civilian clothes.
    Also, a nun uniform is by no means comparable to a burka. You can compare it to a "normal" chador/hijab if you want, but definitely not to a burka.

    And seriously, if it was up to me to decide, I'd like a law that bans any religious sign in the public sphere, nun uniforms, kippas, crucifixes and whatnot included.

    Was there a racism issue in the 2005 riots? Probably, but it was one among many. Were those racial or religious riots like the foreign media (especially US) said? Definitely not.
    If those were racial riots, can you explain me why there were white people (from the ghettos) rioting too and why not a single member of the minorities not in a ghetto rioted?

    Concerning slavery, of course Charles X and Louis XVIII kept it, they were all about reinstating the Ancien Régime. My point was not the end date, my point was that France as a Republic and a Democracy did keep slavery.

  3. Wow, I never thought about the nun's habit like that, but you are absolutely right! Because catholics aren't required to wear habits, and nuns call their lifestyle a vocation. In other words, it's their work, their occupation, and that is their uniform! It seems rather obvious now that I think of it, but very good point.

    But for another point, what kind of freedom is that, not to allow display of any religious symbols whatsoever? Although I do think it's a bit ridiculous that they actually allowed a lady to get a driver's license picture in Florida while she had on a full head veil covering her face. Even in Saudi Arabia, women can show their faces and not face some religious or legal consequence. How can you have a legal form of identification of a person wearing a disguise? It's one thing to wear the religious symbols like a crucifix necklace or yamulkha or something, it's another to be extreme. But I thought you mentioned in a previous post that French people are not all that hung up on religion anyway and there is actually more religious freedom in France than the USA as a result? Why would illegalizing religious signs ever even be a necessity?

  4. I have felt for some time that France is not as politically correct as the US or the UK — where so often people tend to go to ridiculous measures not to offend certain minorities and religious groups. This is not to say that racism/religious persecution doesn't exist in France. However, some of us from cultures where overly politically correct absurdities have become the norm might not be so clear about what is reasonable in this regard. My point: it is easy for some to confuse racism with a refusal to be completely idiotic about political correctness. Just my opinion. :)

  5. Diane: Yes, remember that "nun" is a job (sort of). Also, not all nuns wear the same outfits, and seriously, most French nuns wear uniforms that are not that different from what some old women would wear. Also remember that nuns (and priests and monks) can wear everyday clothes if they want to when they're not "at work".

    Concerning freedom and religion, remember that freedom is very subjective and cultural concept (yeah, that too) not an absolute and universal one. And I know that in the US you're all about "freedom of religion" (even though most of the time it means "freedom of being a Christian"), but what about "freedom from religion"? That one doesn't really seem to exist in the US, but this is the one some of us care about in France (and Europe). Yes, this will seem very strange for many people, but there are people around here that think that freedom and religion are antithetic.

    This is where laicity comes into play. In France, because we know that the more vocal one is about their religion, the less free other people not sharing that religion will be, we think that religion must be as invisible as possible in the public sphere.
    I think (but I talk only in my own name here, not in all of France's name, although, pretty much everybody I know around me agrees) that this requires (among other things) the absence of religious signs. I don't like the idea of banning things, but if it must come to that, so be it.

    The big deal with the burka is that it's not only a religion issue, but a women's rights issue (and I'm not even gonna get into the "hiding your face in public / safety issue")

    What I find pretty ironic is the fact that it's often the same people that were horrified by the fact that women in Afghanistan had to wear those under Taliban rule (and still today) that are today horrified by the fact that some people want to ban those same burkas in France.

    "But I thought you mentioned in a previous post that French people are not all that hung up on religion anyway and there is actually more religious freedom in France than the USA as a result?"

    I didn't say that exactly (or I didn't express myself correctly -yeah, someday I'll need to reread myself before posting). I said that French people are less religious, more tolerant of non-psycho religious people (as long as they don't go around proselytizing and stuff), but the other side being that the more religious you are the less tolerant most French people will be with you.

    E: +1

  6. "as a matter of fact most issues from the suburban ghettos in France are all too often perceived as racial (even by some French people) when they're really social."

    Are "racial issues" and "social issues" mutually exclusive?

    "That reminds me of the whole "African American" that many Americans used because they have the feeling that "Black" is racist… But if it is racist, how come "White" is not?"

    I think technically the PC term is "person of color" now. But not "colored person" because that comes from segregation days and is VERY racist. (Yeah, the whole thing is a circus.)

    "You say that France never had a Civil Rights Movement, but… that's because we never needed one. France never segregated its minorities for a Century or so and use them as slaves before that."

    The flip side of this is that you never really needed one because you never really had minorities until recently, at least not on the same scale as the US. It's not really fair for you to imply that France has taken a moral high ground here. The post on Ask a Korean on why America is the "least racist" country outlines this issue really well…

  7. just have to say I'm sorry I haven't been here in awhile…every time I visit, I find the topics very thought provoking.

    I think modern day folks often make the mistake of judging a culture or another country simply from the movies they've watched (or other media snippets…t.v. and the like…) a culture is so much more complex and layered than even a more extensive study from afar can inform (especially a non-US culture). Hell, living inside the country itself makes it only infinitesimally more possible to discern clues and behaviors.

    Add the fact of a still-wet-behind-the-ears culture like America and its citizens…well contemplating this is nothing if not highly entertaining. No wonder I call our people the Labradors of the world…

  8. I don't like the idea of banning religious symbols in the public square. It scares me when the state and private citizens feel they have some sort of duty to force people into adhering to the so-called *correct* religious approach. When this happens, freedom of religion is diminished and it does encroach on general freedoms. Where does one draw a line in dictating how others should live their lives? I'm rather fond of my liberty and freedom.

    I'm not offended by the religious beliefs of others until they start trying to hurt and kill other people. I don't mind religious displays either. This isn't to say that the general public must go to extraordinary measures to accommodate religious beliefs, but I think a high level of respect and tolerance is a good thing in any free society. However, it does need to go both ways. Religious people should also be respectful of the beliefs of others and take care not to impinge upon their rights.

    Unfortunately, it seems that some religious symbols — particularly with Islam — have been obfuscated by radical political ideals. This is the fault of radicals and it makes clarity and fairness difficult for everyone. It's tempting to ban all religious symbols. That's certainly a straightforward approach, but I still don't like it even if it seems fair on the surface.

    Anyway, I don't think France is all that different than the US in regard to tolerance. Or, at least in the sense that people seem to become less tolerant with those who are more religious…particularly with those who are more expressive about it. Although it seems generally acceptable to bash Christians of any level of devotion. And a certain level of antisemitism also seems to be accepted here. Really, it's okay to disrespect almost any religion except for Islam. It's a huge double standard and a case of trying to politically correct. No one can say anything - even reasonable things - about that particular faith without an uproar.

  9. Panda: "Are "racial issues" and "social issues" mutually exclusive?"

    No they're not. But the fact that they're not doesn't mean they're necessarily mixed either. In that case, there were not racial riots, there were social ones. See previous comments for details.

    I find "person of color" even more racist than "African-American". Don't other people have color?
    If that's really the new term, political correctness has become even dumber than I thought.

    Concerning not having minorities until recently, it depends what you mean by minority, because France has been an immigration country since forever, and every generation had minorities. What's new though is that nowadays minorities don't come from Europe and the religious ones are not Christians.

    And I'm not implying that France has taken a moral high ground here, I'm not American, only Americans see morality everywhere.
    I'm just underlying that the civil rights movement was totally intertwined with the segregation. France didn't need a civil right movements not because it was morally superior (whatever that means), but because there was no segregation.

    Finally, with all the respect I have for The Korean, I disagree on many points with him on that topic.
    Most of the things he says there about Europe are very misinformed, and while it's true that the US is one of the most multicultural country in the world, that doesn't make it any less racist. Maybe NYC is one of the least racist city in the world, but maybe the Korean should visit the Old South or the Mid West.
    I know one tends to always see more racism in other countries than in one's own, but in the US, despite everything, racism is so ingrained that it's almost institutionalized.

    Non Je ne regrette rien: Welcome back. :-)

    E: Yeah, I didn't mention it because it seemed pretty obvious to me, but maybe not to everybody else, but if the Burka issue is… well, an issue, it's not because it's a Muslim thing, but because it's a fundamentalist Muslim thing. Normal muslim people are as against it as most Christians or else are.

  10. Show me the verse in the Koran where a burka is required by the Islam… If I'm right, it's not in the Koran and if it's found, maybe in the Haditha… None of my traditional and religious Muslim female friends wear burkas, though they wear hajabs and abayas… Abayas are NOT the same as a burka.. it just covers your clothes… I wore one while I was in Dubai… I think a burka is NOT party of Islam, but people often feel they have to do "extra" stuff to get more "points!"

  11. P.S. Frenchman… maybe you know this…

    Is the U.S. the only country in the world that categorizes people into races- i.e. as on applications for a variety of things?? I think this is related somehow to affirmative action and also fulfilling quotas to make sure that "minorities" were properly represented in the work force and not being discriminated against … I think that is related to racial quotas in the workplace… I remember something like that from classes at Uni. but it was sooo long ago!
    I really liked this post and the discussion..
    Can we talk about it sometime… You and I — Too bad you're not going to be in town tomorrow.. We're meeting in the Marais for coffee.

  12. I can't tell if the US is the only country that does it (I doubt it). While those data are widely used for things like Affirmative Action as you mentioned, I suspect that they existed before (as far back as during the days of slavery? Not sure, but it would make sense.).

    In France we don't do it for two main reasons:
    1. We think that the very idea that humans can be separated into different races is racist in itself (the US least racist country in the world? really?)
    2. Having data about ethnicity was always used for racist and discriminatory purposes in the past in France (Vichy regime and such), so it's not really a popular concept here.

    And of course we can talk about it next time we have coffee together. :)

  13. And to further point #2 Frenchman just made: in France it is forbidden to keep records of individuals about their ethnicity, religion, political opinions, sexual orientation. Vichy regime left such a stigma on the noxious potential of such records that it inspired laws to strictly limit them. A side effect: it makes statistics about religions, ethnics and political movements a little more difficult to establish.

  14. When you write:

    "I personally think "African American" is racist, because why aren't white Americans called "European Americans"? "

    Actually they are, or rather, they're called "Irish-Americans" or "Polish-Americans" and so on.

    That was the rationale behind "African-American": that white Europeans weren't identified racially as "white", but instead according to the country of their ancestors. This had become a big trend at that point, especially Irish-American, as perhaps the best example.

    By the way, saying that "white" isn't racist is a tricky statement. Identifying someone as white once the topic comes up, as in "No, officer, the man I saw wasn't black, he was white" is one thing.

    However just calling groups of people white the way black was used, as in "Well, that's a white neighborhood" or "that's where a lot of whites live" would be thought certainly odd, if not racist.

    It can certainly be racist however, just ask anyone in the US what calling some "whitey" comes across as. There was a whole faux scandal during last year's elections about a supposed video tape of Michelle Obama calling people "whitey"- of course it was entirely a myth invented by the right wing, but the reason that they did was because if she had said it, it would possibly be the end of her husband's career in politics.

    Of course all of this is just convention and common agreement, I mean looking for strict logic in language is often going to get you nowhere, particularly with English. For that matter, why certain words are offensive to begin with is rather arbitrary. It's history, habit, and agreement.

    However, there was at least some logic involved with the African-American term, as I say. I think actually the reason that others weren't called "European-Americans" but more specifically by the country of origin is because the country of origin in the Europeans' case were far more well-documented "We came from county Mayo, in the West of Ireland!" people proudly say.

    Since the majority of those with African ancestry were slaves, most don't have anywhere near that level of detailed knowledge about which area, or even which country, their family originated.

  15. I am a Roman - Catholic ( and proud to be one ) but still I strongly support the idea of religion being separated from the state … Religion is a private issue and should be kept like this. As a mother in a country ( Romania) that pretends to be laic but is in fact traditionalistic and practices a strange state-religion indigest concotion I have to put up with the following situation- my son, who is also Roman-catholic attends the religion class ( compulsory here from grade 1 to 12) along with his Orthodox fellows. His mosaic and islamic colleagues don't have to. They are given an "A" although they do not attend any Religion class at all. The law gives their parents the right to ask for a teacher/ rabi/ hagi/ whatsoever to teach their children their specific religion but since the town where we are living in now is small, there are no islamic and mosaic communities ,officially organised .So these children have the class off and they go to the park where they spend a very nice free hour :) … So, Shay, Leah, Waffa and Jasmine are envied by many other children who come from Christian but not-very-practicant families, just like my son and who would be extremely happy to miss the entire "religion chapter" at school. My son tried to get his weekly free hour by explaining to the principal that "he feels very Roman Catholic and that he finds inapropriate to mix orthodox christianity with roman one " but unfortunately for him the Roman Cathlolic church is just across the school, so, not only he could not escape this class but found himself in the position of having Sister Dolores as a dedicated religion teacher only for himself … No need to say he came home desperate and asked me to go to school and "solve this catastrophy ". Which I did - I wrote to the school to thank them for their efort of providing the ultra competent Sister Dolores and also to ask them to reintegrate my son in the usual religion class because I thought that the Sister should not be bothered to keep classes for one child only… If the class hadn't been in the curricula, all this situation could have been completely avoided and I do believe that the children were made to perceive religious differences at a very small age . I know the law meant well - free religion teachers for all cults and denominations but sometimes law makers forget the laws should consider not only the concept itself but also the realistic implications. What is 100% sure is that after their 2nd grade, all 25 children in my son's class considered religion( personal one and that of the people around them) as an issue of separation and different treatment. How can this be a good thing ??

  16. -Boulet: Thanks for the extra info.

    -Timelagged: With all due respect, I've never heard "Irish-American" or "English-American" or "Dutch-American" or else. Last time I checked, the politically-correct term for "White" was "Caucasian" (which doesn't make much sense either, but that's another topic), and while white Americans like to pride themselves with (real or imagined) European origins, their immigrant ancestors usually are a mix of different nationalities, so except for 1st (and maybe 2nd) generation immigrants, how can anybody be "(insert European nationality here)-American"?

    And the rationale behind "African American" is that "Black" is a racist term, this expression is fairly recent (late 70's? 80's?) from a time where White Americans were referred as "Whites" and not the many nationalities of their many ancestors. :)

    And no, "white" and "black" are racist terms except in some American minds that are damaged by too much political correctness BS.
    And no, there's nothing racist in the terms "White neighborhood" or "Black neighborhood".

    "Whitey" can be racist in certain circumstances (personally, I can't care less about it, I even call myself "whitey" once in while), but "whitey" is not the same word as "white."

    "looking for strict logic in language is often going to get you nowhere, particularly with English."

    Well… Actually… Looking for strict logic in language, English or else, will actually help you understand how the language work.

    "I think actually the reason that others weren't called "European-Americans" (…)"

    OK, let me tell you the reason as it keeps on eluding you.
    If in the US, there are terms like "African Americans", "Asian Americans" but no "European Americans" is because those terms were created by White America to call the non-whites of America, with the underlying and certainly unconscious idea that those Americans were not just "Americans" as they were, or at least saw themselves as just "Americans"…
    In other words: "Americans" are white, non-white Americans need special terms to define them, hence the extreme (unconscious) racism in those terms.

    And by the way, African slaves didn't come from every country of Africa (usually the Western coast from Senegal to Nigeria), and I never looked deep in the subject, but some people have been able to trace their ancestry back to Africa. On the other hand, it's not as easy as one thinks to trace one's ancestry back to Europe, for people that have been in America at least since slavery time (after there was Ellis Island and such, so sure it's easier), the thing is that most ancestry is usually imagined. I'm always amused by Americans (not all of them, don't come telling me that it's different in your case) that tell me they're so many percent Dutch, so many percent French, etc, but then are unable to tell me how exactly. Same thing with all the American people that think that they have French origins, when almost no French emigrated to the US (apparently the few that did had lots and lots of descendants).

    -Rosabell: scary… remind me to never raise kids in Romania.

    • First off, my apologies for digging this dinosaur bone out of the graveyard.

      Secondly, I’m afraid I must protest to your explanations of the racism (or lack thereof) inferred by the terms “black” and “African-American.”

      As a black person (or African-American) I can tell you that neither of these terms are racist to me. Black is sufficient to describe myself and others who share the same skin color (although it is silly because it’s obviously not really black, but I didn’t write the dictionary.) African-American is sufficient to describe my heritage. I am American, and my ancestors came from Africa. It’s very simple.

      I must also point out that just because you have not heard of “Irish-American” or such another designation does not imply that it does not exist or is not properly understood. It is in fact rather presumptuous of you to assume you know more about American culture than Americans. I can tell you that it does not strike me as odd to hear someone referred to as an Irish-American or a Polish-American, again because this is focusing on heritage, not race.

      I must also disagree in that “white neighborhood” and “black neighborhood” can be and are in fact racist terms. Why? Because they bear a distinct reminder of segregation; though we are well aware that segregation (though no longer oficially sanctioned) still exists in America, we do not like being reminded of the time when it was. It is uncomfortable and unnecessarily brings race to the forefront, though it may be an accurate description. You would not understand this, having not being raised in America. This is, of course, no fault of your own, and I do not blame you for it.

      I can attest that it is frankly impossible to trace ancestry of black Americans to specific countries in Africa because no records of ancestry were taken during times of slavery. There may be some that can, but they are very rare. Therefore, African-American is not an unreasonable designation when focusing on, again, heritage, as may be the case for European-American, because it was simply easier to track heritage of European immigrants. When I hear that term, by the way, it does sound rather neologistic, but I wouldn’t reject it as proposterous.

      I appreciate your discussion on this topic and it is always nice to hear someone else’s viewpoint, but I suggest that when it comes to complex topics such as racism in the United States, you take the word of people who were raised there. I would never suggest that I understand something about France more than a native French person would, even if I had studied French culture for 10 years.


      • Hi Zaphias,

        No problem for digging up old posts. They’re still online for a reason.
        While you make some interesting point, you’ll understand that I don’t agree with all of them.
        I haven’t re-read the post nor the old comments, so I may repeat myself a little bit.

        When I say that there’s an underlying racism in the term “African-American.” I don’t mean “in itself”. No word is racist or non-racist in itself (nope, not even the N word that shall not be mentioned). I find “African-American” to be racist in the fact that white people are never called “European Americans” on a daily basis. Adding a geographical epithet in such a way to an entire population within a nation is kinda implying (unconsciously) that they’re not fully American.
        If European American was as widely used as African American was, then yes, none of those terms would have racist connotations.

        Concerning the “Irish American” thing (or Italian American, or else) maybe I didn’t express myself correctly. What I mean, is that no population as a whole is called like that in the US, and how could they? Who is 100% Irish in the US today? I mean, except people born in Ireland and living in the US.
        Yes someone, an individual, can be called as such at times, but not entire minorities of European descent.

        Also, you say that if a person is referred as Polish American it has to do with heritage not race. Well, maybe for a Polish American (but who has a “Polish heritage” except for 1st and 2nd generation migrants?), but believe me, when white Americans say “African American” it has every to do with race and not much to do with heritage.

        What’s African in your “heritage” and your culture? Nothing.
        And if it has nothing to do with the color of your skin, how come Americans from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt not called “African Americans”?
        And if someday Charlize Theron becomes a US citizen, should she be called an African American? According to what you say, she should. Yet, I seriously doubt it would happen.

        Are you that sure that the African in front of American has nothing to do with race?

        Is it presumptuous to assume one knows more about some country’s culture than people from that country?
        “to assume” is definitely presumptuous. But assuming that nobody not from a country can know more and understand better its culture than a national from that country may not be presumptuous, but it definitely misguided.
        Do I think I know and understand everything about America?
        Hell no.
        Do I know more and understand it more than some Americans?
        Why is that?
        Well, first there’s more than 15 years of studying the culture, both on an academic level and on a personal experience level (and by “personal experience level” I mean personal experience analyzed and seen in perspective of what was studied, researched and learned on the scholarly level). And there’s also the fact that when you’re an outsider, you often ask yourself “why?” on topics that are simply taken for granted by people from the country.
        And I understand, it’s not always pleasant to have a foreigner (worse, a French!) explain stuff about your own country. You should hear the debates I have with my colleagues, coworkers and fellow scholars, most of them Americans whose specialty is France and French culture. Well, actually, once the debate is over, I happen to use some of the stuff they taught me about my own culture on this blog at times.

        “White” and “black” neighborhoods are indeed unpleasant reminders that segregation is was from over in the US, but don’t confuse “unpleasant” with “racist”. It would be racist if one said that it’s a good thing that those exist. See the difference?

        Once again and finally, while I use my personal experiences a lot in this blog (I guess this is the difference between a blog and a “scientific” work, don’t get me wrong, I also use a lot of other things.

  17. Frenchman - Thanks for the thoughtful reply. How do you know I'm an American? Well, actually I am, but you know, I could have been from anywhere. Good guess.

    "Same thing with all the American people that think that they have French origins, when almost no French emigrated to the US (apparently the few that did had lots and lots of descendants)."

    Just a few slight details I think you might be forgetting: 1) The Acadians in Louisiana. 2) The Canadians, who, by the way, had their country founded by the French and are located right next door and spill over into New England from time to time. 3) About a third of our country's land was French until the Louisiana Purchase. I know someone whose great-grandparents were from Québec and spoke French. Does this make him part French? Well, when people ask (yes, I know, we always have these ridiculous "what are you" conversations over here), he says French Canadian, not French. Is that more accurate for you?

    (PS: Interesting blog, keep up the good work!)

  18. well, some of us have to :) ) Happy New Year to everybody !

  19. -Diane: I knew you were American (I knew, it was not a guess) because your first reaction to "let's ban all religious symbol" was "what kind of freedom with that?" Only an American would have that as a first reaction.

    Concerning North Americans with French ancestry, no I'm not forgetting the Cajuns and the French speakers from Maine, but they represent a very small number, and they stayed in one (well two) places, as well as their descendants.

    As far as the "old Louisiana" (i.e. roughly the Mississippi/Missouri valleys) although it was French at some point, it was scarcely populated then (except for New Orleans). Remember, not many French people emigrated to North America, not even Canada or French Louisiana (more on that another day if you want).
    But yeah, I remember that woman I knew that was convinced that she had French origins because her family from Missouri or something like that (and she had a last name that could vaguely look French when changing a few letters).
    Except that the area became populated when he was sold to the US, not really before, so no being from that area doesn't make you a descendant from the French, the people that settled there were Anglo Americans.
    And I guess a bunch of the Americans that imagine that they have French ancestry are mistaken like that.

    Now, we have the Americans who have ancestors from Québec, but all the ones I met say they're French Canadian indeed, not France.

    And all in all, that symbolizes quite well the inanity of the "what are you?" question.
    1. You are what you are, not what your ancestors were.
    2. Americans are not the only ones that have origins from elsewhere. I'm French but I have German, Flemish and possibly Spanish origins. So what does this make me? Where do you stop?
    Why don't we all trace back "what we are" to the end, and we're all African, end of story. :)

    -Rosabell: Thanks, but remember that in France, some people consider it bad luck to wish a Happy New Year before January 1st. (Personally, I don't care, I just find it odd).

  20. About "verlan": I'm a 23 year-old French-American student living in Paris and my friends and I use it quite often…

    With a few words like "ouf" (fou/crazy), "véner" (énervé/angry) "meuf" (femme/chick), "keufs" (flic/cops), verlan is commonly used, at least among young people, no matter if they come from the banlieues or rich neighborhoods of Paris.

    The funniest thing is that some words are now verlan of verlan, like "reubeu" (verlan of "beur", which itself came from "arabe").

    Americans dying to try out this way of speaking, beware: don't try a verlan word unless you've heard it spoken already. To be understood, a verlan word must be a well-established one, and pronounced accurately.

    Anyway, interesting post!

  21. ruh roh, does this mean my French grandmother and my French great-great-grandmother pulled off an elaborate ruse upon our family to make us believe we had some French blood?! Merde!!

    also, having lived most of my life as an American in the US… it is my observation that the only white people that I knew who referred to themselves as "Polish-American, Italian-American" and the like were the ones that were indeed 100% of whatever nationality was linked to the American and were avid defenders and guardians of their European ties. These were usually found where pockets or communities of like backgrounds still remained … namely NY, SF, etc (dependent upon region)… I don't think I EVER met anyone who called themselves Irish-American, although I lived near SF most of my life and there is a high concentration of both Irish and Irish-American persons.

    My son's father is black and neither my son nor his father embrace the term African-American. They are black, thank you very much … (this they would tell you). And, depending where you live in the US, you can find quite an assortment of black folks who do not have a connection to the US slave period. For example, in Oakland and Berkeley, California … there is a large population of Ethiopian and Eritrean people. With their own assortment of cultural diversity and issues.

  22. Of course, some of you who say to have French origins actually do…

  23. Breaking News: Egypt bans niqabs in universities.
    Oh all along I forgot to mention that banning or not chadors has been a hot political issue in Turkey lately…

    In both cases, I'm sure it's because of racism and islamophobia, just like in France…

  24. Yes, that's why we've been talking about it on this topic…

  25. Egypt and Turkey, two countries renowned for their defence of human rights….do you really want to use those examples?

    On the topic of the names we give the races ("race", as you pointed out, being a fairly useless term, apart from describing social divisions), I think I know what you mean when you say that some may feel that saying "Black" is racist - it is only nonblacks who might feel this way, though, I would guess. I remember chatting with a friend who dropped her voice down low so the children wouldn't hear her uttering the word "black", even though there was nothing wrong with what she was saying. She did it, I think, because she felt ashamed to be pointing out a racial difference, since we are all taught that "everyone is the same inside" and we should all aspire to be "colourblind", so it's seen as best not to mention it all all. If we have to point someone out in a crowd, we tend to say "over there, the girl in the yellow shirt", even if the girl is the only Black person in the group. You just wouldn't want to point out that someone is Black because it's seen as kind of borderline racist to do it unless it's really, absolutely, relevant. I never questioned this until I started the process to adopt a child from Africa, and learned that if we practiced this in our family, our child would come to think that race was something we didn't talk about because there was something wrong with it, ie something wrong with her. So now I'm becoming much more comfortable with the word "Black" and losing the hang-up. It's ok, it's not a dirty word! I'm still a bit messed up about whether to capitalize it, and whether that means capitalizing "White" as well…anyway, what I'm trying to say is that there's nothing racist about the term, and it can be used interchangeably with 'African-American' and 'person of colour'. Like Je Ne Regrette pointed out, many Black Americans don't like the term African-American, perhaps because they don't see themselves as "hyphenated" (ie immigrant) Americans. Whoopi Goldberg is one such. She said something like, "I'm not an African-American. I'm an American. I'm as American as baseball."

    In spite of all this, I have to say that I did a double take the first time I heard someone on French TV use the word "nègre". I was pretty sure that the man who said it was not at all racist, and was aiming to speak with politeness. I told myself that the term must not have the same connotations in French as it does in English. And then I read the term "négresse" and my jaw dropped. (I wasn't expecting it there either.) I don't think I'll be using those terms! The WordReference online dictionary lists it as "offensive" anyway. I think I'm sticking with Noir(e)….

  26. I got an error message from google when I sent in my last comment, saying it was too large, which just about gave me a heart attack! I thought everything I had typed was gone. Then it said it was being saved after all, so it looks like it went through. That will teach me a lesson - I'll keep them short from now on!!

    I have just been having discussions with my friend in France on the facial coverings issue, which will be showing up on my blog in due time, and I've also written an opinion piece for publication on the subject. Keeping it short will be hard for me. But here goes.

    I am one of those very people who is horrified both by the treatment of women in Afghanistan and by the French government's push to ban the niqab and burqa in France. That's because they are exactly the same kind of thing - rules that penalize women for what they choose to wear. One country penalizes women for being emancipated, another for not being emancipated enough. Both are wrong. Paternalistic arguments about protecting muslim women's dignity (from themselves?) can be heard in both places. Women need the freedom to try to figure out for themselves how they as individuals are going to cope with the pressure of conflicting standards of morality. French politicians enacting penalties and heaping extra stigma and isolation on these women does not help them. I admit it is definitely preferable to lashings, stoning, and acid thrown in the face. Luckily, in France the issue is likely to be fairly short-lived anyway, as the ban is expected to declared unconstitutional. Apparently, the people who wrote the French constitution didn't much like "banning things" either.

  27. No, Egypt and Turkey are not paragons in the domain oh human rights, but nothing is black or white (France and the US are not the paragons they say they are in that domain either for example) and yes I want to use them as examples, especially because they are two of the Muslim countries that are trying to fight Muslim Fundamentalism the most as I think the only efficient way to fight it is that other Muslims fight it, not non-Muslims. The latter being the best way to make fundamentalism stronger actually, and it bothers me when Muslims don't dare to speak out against Muslim fundamentalism because they feel they speak out against other Muslims in favor of non-Muslims. They're getting it all wrong, as it is them and only them that can show the (stupid, conservative, Christian, check what applies) world that not all Muslims are fundamentalists.

    Concerning the word "Black" I think some people unconsciously consider it a "bad word" because they're racist so anything that relates to black people is "bad" (I'm not sure I make sense, but here some people feel the same with the word "Arab" and they lower their voice when they use it).

    Concerning saying "the black kid over there" or "the kid in the yellow shirt" for me it all depends on context. If you're physically describing somebody, of course it is stupid not to mention they're black. But it becomes racist when you describe somebody's behavior and point out that person's color as if the behavior and the skin color were related.

    Concerning the capitalization, I don't know, it's your language. But yeah, I never know either. I tend to not capitalize it when I use it as an adjective and capitalize it when using it as a noun (and I do the same for white or even yellow or red or whatever), but then I'm not sure if it's grammatically correct to use an adjective as a noun in this case (it is in French).

  28. The word "nègre" is a complicated issue. It used to not be racist and was used to call black people back in the days. But then those days were the days of colonization and such, when being racist was kinda the norm. Nowadays, you don't want to call anybody a "nègre" but there are exceptions.
    First when it doesn't apply to a person but to a concept one can use it. There aren't many cases, but "art nègre" is the one that comes to mind. Of course that term comes from the times of colonization, but it has survived and is not considered as racist.
    The other case (and it's a weird one) is when it means "ghost writer". For some reason, this is how we say it in French, and it has no relation to skin color in that case (although I suspect that it originally had).

    Yeah, I remember Whoopy Goldberg rejecting the term "African-American" and the point she made was that she's not African, she has nothing African in her (culture) and yes, calling her that kinda implied that she was not 100% American. On the other hand, I know a bunch of African people and believe me they see no common point between themselves and Black Americans.

    Finally, the Burqa issue.
    See, the mistake you're making (and that some people in favor of its ban are making too) is to put the issue in the domain of "women rights" or morality. It's not. This issue has to be put in the domain of fundamentalism and more generally religion.
    Niqabs and Burqas are not just clothes (actually they're not even considered as clothes by women who wear them) they're considered as religious rules. But not by all Muslims, only by the fundamentalist branches of Islam. And women who say they wear them because they want to are either liars, they say that or else they'll get into trouble with their husband (and in that case, yes, it's a question of women rights), or are simply brainwashed (I like the word "aliené" in French, sadly "alienated" doesn't exactly conveys the same concept in English) by religion, just like most religious people are from one degree to another.
    So we're dealing with two issues there:
    -One, in France, religion is a private matter and should stay private, and as such, burqas and niqabs have nothing to do in the street (but believe I'm also in favor of banning kippas).
    -Two, Burqas and Niqabs are not a symbol of Islam but a symbol of Fundamentalist Islam, and as such should be fought by any means necessary, I think simply banning them is the most civilized one.

    I'll finish with "rules that penalize women/people for what they choose to wear" yes that's true, but society is full of these rules. Can I go by the streets naked? No… Why not, that's against freedom? Can I go teach my class wearing shorts? No I can't, not even when I lived in Florida… That's also a rule penalizing me for what I choose to wear…

  29. I took some time to think about my response to the religious symbols/burqa issue and I’ll do my best to stick to what’s interesting and relevant. And I’ll apologize if you like for my typical anglo-saxon viewpoint ahead of time. I know very well that most of France is with you and not me on this one. Ok. So. While I do not disagree with fighting against some of the very evil aspects of fundamentalist Islam (and of all religions, honestly…I’m an atheist/humanist too) I would hesitate to use words like “by any means necessary”. Especially with an American audience who might tend to think this means nukes. I mostly disagree with the WAY Sarkozy is going about this, using extremely divisive politics at every turn. There are many ways of trying to achieve the goal of eliminating the niqab & burqa short of a ban, which is a rather clumsy and blunt tool for the job. Education, imam-moderated discussion circles about “European Islam”, sensitive policing and things like that seem more suitable and less like to make “martyrs” and further alienate large swathes of the muslim population of France. The best way would be to find a way to convince new immigrants and fundamentalists that Western/French culture and things like women’s rights and thinking for yourself are really really cool ideas! The problem is that at the moment they aren’t convinced. This could partly be because not even all of the native-born/Christian/post-Christian French population is thoroughly convinced either. But whatever encouragement can be realistically made without infringing on anyone’s basic rights is certainly in order.

    continued in the next comment…

  30. I would also like to point out that some women seem to be adopting the niqab for reasons that are not purely religion-based. As you mentioned, often it is new converts and the younger generation of Muslims whose own mothers did not wear the niqab who choose to don it. (In France. Our second-generation immigrants seem to be less alienated and more integrated than yours.) Brainwashing, yes, ok, but Muslim dress can also be used as much as a political or identity statement as anything, showing the wearer’s rejection of modern consumerism and a hyper-sexualized culture too focussed on superficialities and thrills for her taste. These are the women who in a former age would have run away to become nuns, even against their family’s wishes, because they craved the comfort of a strict set of rules to follow and the feeling that they were sexually “pure” and completely devoted to ‘something better’ than the flawed humans around them. (A God that doesn’t exist, but never mind.) When it’s done by choice, it’s a statement for some. The niqab can be also read as a type of “Fuck you, France” by some, and this interpretation is not completely unreasonable. I do see why people can get offended. It does kind of say to men, “I don’t trust you to see an inch of my skin because you might decide to get fresh or rape me.” It also says, “Don’t treat me as sexual object because I’m really not into you, or anyone like you.” It implies to women who don’t wear it, “You are sluts”. However, in France I do believe it is legal to join a protest and carry placards with statements like “REAL women stay home with their children” and “Homosexuality is a SIN” and even “Out with the Roma!” in the streets without penalty. Making a political statement in the streets that is contrary to the values of the republic, such as equality, is not illegal. It’s allowed under freedom of expression. One doesn’t have to like what they’re saying in order to let them say it. (By the way, those who want to protest anonymously would also be in trouble with a facial covering ban, right? G7 conference protesters and all that? You know, bans often come back to bite the very people they were meant to protect, because when you give police and censors legal “tools” like that, they often use them in the way they see fit, and they are not always as enlightened as the elected officials who initially made the laws. Our anti-pornography import laws were designed to “protect women”, and the first materials seized at the border were…lesbian magazines, of course. Oops. Your ban against all religious symbols might be applied to a bum wearing a donated Indochine t-shirt or a punk rocker with “Rastafarian” dreds if that’s who the police feel like harassing…)

  31. The concept of laïceté is interpreted by French people in different ways. (I don’t think this is news to you but I’ll throw it out there anyway.) Some, like you, feel it means that there should be no outward signs of religion in public at all. But to go back to the roots of the concept, it is meant to be all about the separation of church and state, and it indicates that the State must be neutral with respect to each citizen’s religious beliefs (or lack thereof). That means that the president, other public servants, laws, and public institutions must not show preference for one religion over another or push a god on anyone. Laïceté applies to the state, not individuals in the street. There is no requirement for individuals in public places to be purely secular; they are meant to be able to practice all religions freely, according to the founding values of the republic, if I am not mistaken. You could say that there can be a distinction made between ‘civil’ laicity and ‘social’ laicity; the first is required and the second merely polite. It’s great to dream of a society with no religions at all (like John Lennon) but unfortunately it would be a bit hard on those who are very attached to their beliefs if it was forced upon them! Maybe one day they’ll decide to give it up of their own volition. That would be great. Although I’m not holding my breath.

  32. -"I would hesitate to use words like “by any means necessary”. Especially with an American audience who might tend to think this means nukes. "

    Yes, but that's because some Americans are unable to just simply think, even more so when the topic is religion, and usually those people will answer "war" to any question. I want to underline that I said fight "fundamentalism" and not "fundamentalists". Nuking a fundamentalist country is not fighting fundamentalism, it's helping it and promoting it, just like invading Iraq or Afghanistan or other stupid things (burning the Quran).

    Of course, banning burqas must not be a "standalone" thing and must come with other things, and promoting moderate Islam has to be one of the main one (unless one takes the path of banning all religions altogether, which I'd be more in favor of, but I admit it's a less realistic option)

    "without infringing on anyone’s basic rights"

    See, here you're taking a North American context to France again… In France, "wearing a burqa" is not perceived as a "basic right" by anybody expect some Muslims.

  33. "In France. Our second-generation immigrants seem to be less alienated and more integrated than yours."

    Yes, we can thank 40 years of mismanagement of immigrants by successive governments for this (but the French people are to be blamed too)

    "Muslim dress can also be used as much as a political or identity statement as anything"

    Be careful with the words you use here, "Muslim dress" implies that this piece of garment is a normal Muslim thing, once again it's not.
    And yes, I agree with you, it's used as a political tool by most of the women that wear it (and once again, whatever the North American media may have said on the topic, it's just a few hundred people, not large crowds of women suddenly wearing those), and that's the best justification for banning it, just like Nazi uniforms are banned in France, Confederate flags are not welcome and such. They just go against what the "French Republic" stands for.

    "It does kind of say to men, “I don’t trust you to see an inch of my skin because you might decide to get fresh or rape me.” It also says, “Don’t treat me as sexual object because I’m really not into you, or anyone like you.”"

    And if a woman said that to me, I'd respond, depending on my mood "screw you bitch" or "we don't want that kind of puritan bigotry in France, go to Afghanistan or the US for that"
    If a woman thinks that she's considered as a sexual object just because a man can look at her, she has serious problems. I'd even say that wearing a Niqab turns her into a sexual object, one not everybody is allowed to see, only the man that "owns" her. See what I mean?

    In France, I'm not sure of the legality of "real women stay at home", I'm sure it may go against some equality of sexes laws. Same thing with the two other statements that could be covered by anti-homophobia laws and anti-racism laws or not depending on a bunch of factors, and as I'm not a jurist, I can't really tell you more.

    "It’s allowed under freedom of expression."

    In North America.

    "By the way, those who want to protest anonymously would also be in trouble with a facial covering ban, right?"

    Yes, this is one of the many justifications the government is using as well as another excuse to reduce the ways oppositions to it can express itself legally. Because that's the way it goes with this government, even when they have a decent idea -the first one since they've been in power, they can't just explain it clearly and simply, they need to find a bunch of more or less dubious justifications (that's what pathological liars and con men do)

  34. The concept of laïcité is not simply the separation of Church and State. It was born within a historical frame.
    The "Church" at the time was the Catholic church, other religions being more or less limited to Protestant Christianity and Judaism, both of them being negligible.
    It's when other religions started to arise, that is Islam (as well as the two previously mentioned that didn't want to be considered as "negligible"). This is when the concept of "freedom of religion" (in France) was thought of, debated, expanded (before that it kinda meant, the right to be Catholic or to not be Catholic) and the general consensus was that anyone can have the religion they want as long as it doesn't encroach with other people's beliefs. And then fundamentalist Muslims arrived in the country, and the whole thing was debated again, because some people (by ignorance, "angelism" or because they had their own agenda) didn't think that this idea about not throwing your religion into people's face didn't apply to them.

  35. You are awesome, Frenchman.
    Thank you for the responses you gave and for letting me get away with so much…;-)
    I must learn more about freedom of expression/hate speech laws over there because I'm curious.
    This is fun.

  36. I traveled quite a bit, and the one country whose attitude toward faith in public France seems to share is that of Serbia.

    People in Serbia, like much of the French population, are totally nonchalant about many issues that Americans seems to be more concerned about: abortion, suicide, alcoholism, prostitution, nudity, the open sale of pornography, etc. are prevalent in Serbia and no one I met there seemed to give a damn or even pay much attention to the fact that these things are so prevalent. Yet when a Muslim woman walks down a street wearing a headscarf, or Muslims seek a permit to build or repair a mosque, Serbs are practically having seizures and spewing hysterical diatribes!

    In America, I have the choice to be religious or not be (I am not). In France or Serbia, you can be as debauched as you like with few social consequences, yet if you choose a faith that is disliked by the majority of the population you can legally be expelled from public building and educational institutes. Is this really logical or fair? People can choose to ignore religion if they do not like it, but if you choose religion, can you really live a constructive life if you are banned from schools, banks, post offices, etc?

    • Well, I don’t know Serbia too well, but the issue may be a bit different there (you know, the war in the 90′s and all).

      A few pointers though. Your comment underline that they’re some sort of reference, and that the rest is not “normal”.
      For example when you say “you can be as debauched as you like with few social consequences”
      Believe me, you can’t. The thing is that what you define as “debauched” is what this word means in your culture, not in any culture. Every culture has its own definition of such words.

      Same thing goes with “fair”, some - young - Americans seem to have an obsession with “fairness” (usually not meaning “fairness” but “in their favor”). Guess what, the world is not fair, life is not fair, fairness doesn’t exist.

      “If you choose religion, can you really live a constructive life if you are banned from schools, banks, post offices, etc?”

      The point being: if you choose religion over the rules of the country, you have nothing to do in this country.

      • The point being: if you choose religion over the rules of the country, you have nothing to do in this country.

        What if the rules of the country are irrational on some matters? If a woman wearing a headscarf can be thrown out of a public school because she is violating a so-called separation of religion and state law, is this really rational? But it is the rule in France and in Serbia that conspicuous religious symbols are forbidden in government-run primary and secondary educational institutes.

        The law in the former Yugoslavia (which Serbia still adheres to) was put in place by the socialist government of Tito in 1950. While Tito is still admired by some for his infrastructure building, he was a dictator and that law was passed by him and his advisors with no vote from any elected body. So France in 2004 was passing a type of law that had previously been passed in a similar version by a communist-style regime.

        Did this ban on religious symbols do much to alleviate tensions between religious and secularly-minded people long-term? It ultimately did not as once the communist regime disappeared, people again began demanding the right to display their faith in the public sphere.

        • I find invoking “rationality” when dealing with religion (and laws) quite ironic indeed.
          (but hey, one message above you were invoking “fairness”)

          I also like the “France is passing a Communist law” thing. :-)

          Maybe I’m assuming too much, but I suspect you still have much to learn about how the world functions (clue: it’s not the American way, and it’s something is said to be “true” “fair” or “rational” in a culture that it is in the rest of the world)

  37. If fairness does not objectively exist in any form, then does arguing for any system of values which seeks to protect the right of the individual to freedom of speech, conscience, association, etc.

    Perhaps is fairness does not exist, then racism is justified because if those in the majority race do not like some minority group, then it is acceptable for them to deny them rights and/or services afforded to the majority.

    France by no means represents the culture or the lifestyle of the majority of people in the world anymore than the US does. I did not make up the fact that the socialist government in Yugoslavia passed a law prohibiting religious symbols from the public sphere in 1950. My cousin works in an education ministry office and she has overseen the expulsions of school girls who have worn the headscarf near Novi Pazar.

    The US is also by no means the only country that protects freedom of religion. One can wear a religious symbol openly in Canada or the UK perhaps even more so than in the US. Hell, even South Africa today does not legislate such things; when I worked in Cape Town my staff director was a Cape Malay woman who wore a headscarf. She and I may have come from different cultural backgrounds, but I judged her on the work she did for the company, NOT her religious beliefs or her choice of faith-inspired attire. I may choose to wear bikinis, but that does not mean I would also defend the right of a woman to wear a headscarf, or a man to wear a yarmulke.

    • You’re still missing the point (which surprises me more and more as you seem to have seen a few countries in your life).

      You take concepts like “fairness” “freedom of religion” and whatnot as absolute universal objective concepts. They are not. They are American. (not only American, but American too)
      And of course, you most likely believe that “anything that comes from communist countries is evil” because the American propaganda on the topic worked so well.
      When I laugh at “France is passing a Communist law” it’s not because I don’t believe it’s true. I laugh because you seem to be using that as an argument to show me how bad and evil this law is.

      Guess what? Why do you think France has 5 weeks paid vacation a year, works less than 40 hours a week, considers healthcare to be a human right and not a privileged for the rich, helps the weaker and poorer member of its society and doesn’t crush them?
      Why do you think in the US workers are drones, with little to no rights except the right of working more so that their boss gets richer? Why the US is the only rich country in the world that does take care of the health of its citizens? I could go on and on, search in the blog, I have tackled most of it already.

      So, why is that?
      Communists. Yes, the answer is “communists”.

      One last thing, you say that you may choose to wear bikinis, so women who may choose to wear burqas and niqabs should be allowed to.
      Tell me. Can you wear a bikini at school? At work?
      Why is that?
      Is it fair?

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