Media Coverage of the French Veil Debates
French national and media discourse on the Muslim veil has used abstract citizenship and “neutral” secularism as a way to discipline its racial and religious minorities and to refuse minority rights claims. Media coverage has constructed the racialized stereotype of the unassimilable “Arabo-Muslim” and of the Muslim veil-wearing woman as figures of threat because of their inability or refusal to accept French values. In contrast, the coverage has marked acceptable Muslim citizens as assimilated and “disenculturated” — referring to the disenchantment and rationality that is a necessary condition for French cultural citizenship and of the conception of the citizen as a modern, enlightened liberal subject. As a result of these representations, the “Good” Muslims serve to portray the French nation as non-racist and inclusive of its minorities, while the “Bad” Muslims are seen as inviting sanction. Overall, through the use of essentializing representations of Muslim men as oppressive because they force the voile upon women, and Muslim women as either oppressed victims or willing allies of Islamist movements infiltrating France, the dangerous “Arabo-Muslim” is discursively produced in order to be disciplined by the law in a manner that allowed the state to appear not racist, but protective and defensive of secularism, civic values and women’s rights.
Shazia Iftkhar is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan. She received a Ph.D. from the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a Master of Journalism from Temple University, and an A.B. from Dartmouth College. Her research interests lie in the areas of race/ethnicity, gender and religion in relation to nation, citizenship and the public sphere. Current research critically examines media coverage of the national debate on the Muslim veil in France, studying the emergent narratives on French identity, secularism, Islam, race and citizenship in news coverage and ethnographic data. She is currently working on a book manuscript based on this research.
As fellow, Professor Iftkhar developed and taught the course Women & Islam: The Politics of Representation in Fall 2013.
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