Coverage of the “Colonel” Case Puts Us In a Coma

Read this and substitute the words “Paul Bernardo” for “Russell Williams”:

The [Paul]  Bernardo case, like every similar investigation, had its share of human error. But this is not a story of human error or lack of dedication or investigative skill. It is a story of systemic failure.Virtually every interjurisdictional serial killer case including Sutcliffe (the Yorkshire Ripper) and Black (the cross-border child killer) in England, Ted Bundy and the Green River Killer in the United States and Clifford Olsen in Canada, demonstrate the same problems and raise the same questions. And always the answer turns out to be the same – systemic failure. Always the problems turn out to be the same, the mistakes the same, and the systemic failures the same. 

That was Mr. Justice Archie Campbell in 1996 in his Report on the investigation into the crimes committed by Paul Bernardo. If we need a detailed examination of the similarities between the case of Colonel Russell Williams (and no, I won’t stop calling him “Colonel”) and those of Bernardo, it wasn’t the one that Christie Blatchford provided on Wednesday (Go there if you really want to read about how these two serial rapist/murderers are the same and how they’re different – and which one is best – but this just is not what matters).
Why do we need to think about the Bernardo and Williams crimes together?  Not  because of the details of the crimes themselves but because of the law enforcement (and media) response.  The ineffective (and misleading) response.

Perhaps the most important thing that Campbell pointed out in his report was this: 

What is needed is a system of case management for major and interjurisdictional serial predator investigations, a system that corrects the defects demonstrated by this and so many similar cases. A case management system is needed that is based on cooperation, rather than rivalry, among law enforcement agencies. A case management system is needed that depends on specialized training, early recognition of linked offences, co-ordination of interdisciplinary and forensic resources, and some simple mechanisms to ensure unified management, accountability and co-ordination when serial predators cross police borders.

As Antonia Zerbisias pointed out in a column at The Star as long ago as February, various detachments of the Ontario Provincial Police along with Belleville police did no such communicating and coordinated case response.  Why not? 

At the time that Paul Bernardo was operating, there was no ViCLAS automated crime linkage system in place.  As Campbell pointed out in his report, such a system would likely have alerted police to the fact that rapes being committed in Scarborough, Ontario were related to rapes in St. Catharines.  There was no system that would recognize the wider public interest in catching a serial rapist, interest that went beyond that of one particular community. 

It’s my understanding that there are such systems in place now.  But the police have to use them.  Did anyone in Tweed or Belleville or Brighton enter information into the system that should have linked the sexual assaults of Laurie Massicotte and “Jane Doe” with the rape and murder of Corporal Marie-France Comeau?  What about the series of break and enters in these communities that involved the theft of “lingerie” and other personal items of the women who lived there?  Given that police take such crimes to be so unimportant and trivial, that has to be unlikely.

I want to know.  Given the slow speed at which the police and our justice system incorporate the knowledge that could lead to saving the lives and bodily and personal integrity of women, we can’t get the answers to these questions soon enough.  Four days of courtroom time this week did not give these answers, or even ask the questions.  Much as it troubles and tires me to say this, we need a public inquiry conducted by someone with the integrity of an Archie Campbell.  Are we going to get one?  Or have we been so mesmerized by visions of the Colonel wearing stolen underwear  that we have lapsed into our own private comas?  As Campbell said, so many years ago:

 
There must be a public recognition that these problems are not just problems for the police and law enforcement communities. They are problems for the community as a whole. A commitment to correct them is necessary in order to guard against another case like this.

 

 Is anybody listening?  These cases make for a whole lot of noise and no action.  That’s femicide for ya.
 
h/t to Anna Willats for reminding me of the Campbell Report
 
UPDATE:  For the sake of all that’s sacred, read this blog post by Antonia Zerbisias, the only member of the journalistic tribe that knows how to report this case. If that sounds biased, you’re damned right!
 
UPDATE II:  From Laurie Massicotte, one of the women who survived an assault by Russell Williams, via Antonia:
I feel liked chopped liver & I can’t even comprehend how the little one is feeling. Now if I could get a message out to the masses it would be-if you survive a violent act of sex don’t report it, just run for cover & find your own protection minus the police & the system they represent.

I’m afraid I have to second that emotion.  After the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Seaboyer, which I heard argued at the Court, I told a few of my feminist friends that I thought the only way women who had been sexually assaulted were ever going to get justice would be to organize a boycott of the system.  Set up feminist centres for women survivors and never take another cent of government money.  Focus on empowering survivors and healing and on activism.  I thought that judges and lawyers and cops and politicians other powerful people might well start getting interested if their mothers and wives and sisters and daughters had no place to go if they are assaulted.  Because that’s the reality right now.  I’ve been through an experience similar to that of Laurie Massicotte.  Women have to make their own choices.  But I could never advise a woman to choose our justice system.

 

Col. Williams Can’t Be Explained?

So. How’s this for a military culture that’s respectul to women? How can we even say that in the same sentence? I thought this would be a huge story. It wasn’t. We like Russ Williams better because we think we can’t explain him. The MSM wouldn’t even publish the more egregious cartoon because they found it too offensive. Ha! What about this week

The military has launched a purge of its classroom materials after several offensive cartoons, including some featuring women in degrading sexual situations, were used in courses for soldiers headed to Afghanistan.The drawings were part of presentations provided to instructors at the Canadian Defence Academy in Kingston, Ont.

One cartoon, intended as an example of reading body language, shows a woman at a bar piled with empty glasses engaged in a sexual act with a man on a barstool. The caption reads: “How to tell when you don’t have to buy her any more drinks. . . . ”

How to tell when you don’t have to buy her more drinks?  Prelude to rape.

The officer in charge of “Conduct After Capture” training acknowledged the cartoons are offensive.

But Lt.-Col. Lloyd Gillam said he believes the illustrations appeared only in draft versions of the training materials and never made it into the classroom, where there are male and female students.

Ah, so they were only in the draft versions.  So they are indicative only of what the military represents but won’t acknowledge they represent.  Lest someone take issue.  Appearances you know, appearances.  And they weren’t used in co-ed company.  Why is that important?  Ah, so women can be deluded into thinking they are respected while the porno joking goes on among the jocks in their offices and locker rooms.  Well, that’s alright then.

Colonel Williams can’t be explained?  Oh yes he can.  And we’d better explain him and the men like him and the systemic sexism that aids in his development and recreation.  Because we’re spawning guys like him by the barrel every day.  Of course, not just in the military.

Hillary & The Rights of Women, Then & Now

Women are the majority of the world’s farmers, but are often forbidden from owning the land they tend to every day, or accessing the credit they need to invest in those farms and make them productive. Women care for the world’s sick, but women and girls are less likely to get treatment when they are sick. Women raise …the world’s children, but too often receive inadequate care when they give birth. And as a result, childbirth remains a leading cause of death and injury to women worldwide. Women rarely cause armed conflicts, but they always suffer their consequences. And when warring sides sit at one table to negotiate peace, women are often excluded, even though it is their future and their children’s future that is being decided.

from US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Remarks at the UN Commission on the Status of Women

From Ms Rodham Clinton’s speech at the UN 4th Conference on Women in Beijing (1995):

… for too long, the history of women has been a history of silence. Even today, there are those who are trying to silence our words. But the voices of this conference and of the women at Huairou must be heard loudly and clearly:

It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food, or drowned, or suffocated, or their spines broken, simply because they are born girls.

It is a violation of human rights when women and girls are sold into the slavery of prostitution for human greed — and the kinds of reasons that are used to justify this practice should no longer be tolerated.

It is a violation of human rights when women are doused with gasoline, set on fire, and burned to death because their marriage dowries are deemed too small.

It is a violation of human rights when individual women are raped in their own communities and when thousands of women are subjected to rape as a tactic or prize of war.

It is a violation of human rights when a leading cause of death worldwide among women ages 14 to 44 is the violence they are subjected to in their own homes by their own relatives.

It is a violation of human rights when young girls are brutalized by the painful and degrading practice of genital mutilation.

It is a violation of human rights when women are denied the right to plan their own families, and that includes being forced to have abortions or being sterilized against their will.

If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.

[text and audio]

 

Women in Pants Riding Bicycles

The bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world. ~ Susan B. Anthony, 1896
It’s been 100 years since the idea of setting aside a day for the celebration of the world’s women and demanding their equality was first proposed.

In 1869 British MP John Stuart Mill was the first person in Parliament to call for women’s right to vote. On 19 September 1893 New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the right to vote. Women in other countries did not enjoy this equality and campaigned for justice for many years.

In 1910 a second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. A woman named Clara Zetkin (Leader of the ‘Women’s Office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany) tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day. She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day – a Women’s Day - to press for their demands. The conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women’s clubs, and including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament, greeted Zetkin’s suggestion with unanimous approval and thus International Women’s Day was the result.

The very first International Women’s Day was launched the following year by Clara Zetkin on 19 March (not 8 March). The date was chosen because on 19 March in the year of the 1848 revolution, the Prussian king recognized for the first time the strength of the armed people and gave way before the threat of a proletarian uprising. Among the many promise he made, which he later failed to keep, was the introduction of votes for women.  [here]

So even then it was about promises broken and the work of (mostly) women to force equitable, if not revolutionary, change.  If women today wonder why Susan B. Anthony would point to the bicycle as a liberator of women, we need only think back to the extreme limitations on women’s mobility that she had seen go by the wayside in her lifetime.  The bicycle and its female riders once evoked extreme anxiety in folk worried about women’s sexual innocence and purity.  Seems like the sight of women astride a bike with those saddles between their legs could only mean one thing to some peope – women feelin’ happy,  Oh my pearls!

The problem was exacerbated if women leaned forward, rode fast or did not maintain an upright posture when riding.  Special ‘hygienic’ saddles with no inner core that could rub against a woman’s ‘delicate parts’ were offered by manufacturers to circumnavigate this problem.  [here]

Even so, women achieved their right to ride bikes partly as a result of their willingness to ride sitting bolt upright.

The growing numbers of middle class women riding bikes in awkward, long flowing skirts eventually resulted in a revolution in clothing.  In Britain, dress reform was advocated and, to some extent, won – by the mid 1890s women were wearing bicycle trousers and culottes.  When your clothes get out of the way, many things are possible beyond bike riding.

Riding a bike and wearing pants can make a difference.  I wonder what difference changing the words of Canada’s national anthem might have made.  It was a strange, HarperCON kind of offer from Canada’s government and not one they took seriously themselves – apparently Harper cabinet ministers had not been consulted and they made short work of clearing up any possible confusion: no way were they supporting it.  Peter MacKay and Tony Clement said so publicly and Jim Flaherty, asked about the change in an interview with Peter Mansbridge on the budget, could not possibly have been less enthused.  When you make a proposal like this you have to explain, justify and sell it.  Instead, the CONs sold it out. 

Did the howls of outrage from “redneck” members of the CON base scuttle the deal?

“My guess is that while Stephen was out swanning around Vancouver for the Olympics and a lot of women were doing great there and winning a lot of medals and probably some feminist got to him and said, ‘We ought to revise the national anthem,”‘ Flanagan said in an interview.

“He’s always looking for things that can reach out to other constituencies without alienating the Conservative base. So I’m not surprised that he might have seen it in that light, say(ing), ‘Well, here’s something we can do to show that we’re open toward women, particularly women who vote.’

“And maybe he didn’t think through or forsee the reaction that would draw from rednecks like me.” 

Flanagan applauded the about-face. He said national symbols, like the anthem and flag, should “arouse a sense of awe and mystery” and that stems from the fact that they are enduring symbols for the ages.  [here]

Of course it would be “sons” and other “enduring” things that arouse that “awe and mystery” – daughters apparently don’t have the same symbolic power.  It can’t be the issue of change itself that provoked the outcry because the words to the anthem have changed several times and can hardly be called lasting – it’s only a 30 year-long tradition in its present form.  I think the CONs are averse to anything that even sounds politically correct and I think they’re averse to women in pants on bicycles too.

The CONs weren’t the ones who concerned me this time ’round.  I heard more than enough howls of protest in a place that’s been a bit of a safe haunt for me since late December – Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament (CAPP).  There were regular knee-jerk comments about the change being merely symbolic (merely?) and a trivial issue and an attempt to win women’s votes by fooling us into thinking the CON’s care.  Women, of course, could not be relied upon to notice that HarperCON really doesn’t give a crappie about women’s equality – even though many of the women CAPPers are also members of an anti-Harper group called “Proud to Be a Member of That Left-Wing Fringe Group Women” and have been working equally hard and for longer than members of CAPP to point out the effects of Harper’s fiscal and social conservatism on women, minority groups, Aboriginal people, children, the disAbled, members of LGBTTQI communities, poor people and just generally groups whose rights are guaranteed by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  We were not about to be bought off by an offer of a bright and shiny thing but it appeared to me that teh menz - and too many womenz – thought our heads could be turned by the promise of  a pretty geegaw.  How’s that for respect? 

There isn’t a woman/feminist I know who had it in her mind that the next issue we would tackle ought to be making our national anthem “gender neutral”.  It’s not that some of us haven’t thought about it from time to time and certainly after having our ears assaulted by the tune for two weeks while the Olympics ran on.  But as others have pointed out (repeatedly and ad nauseum) I don’t think it occurred to any of us that it was either that important an issue or a winnable proposition.  Still, when something is offered that is only right and good, why should we not have accepted?

Symbols are important.  The national anthem is supposed to include all Canadians and it specifically excludes women by mentioning “sons”.  Language is important and gender inclusive language is important.  Solidarity is important too and after being called a feminazi by a man of supposed liberal leanings, I’ve lost a bit of my new-found trust in the importance of “women’s issues” for some of my bro-friends.

But hey, it’s true.  I’d rather have a bicycle and a pair of pants than one of Stephen Harpers flying sparkle ponies.  So shut up!

Bits That Bite

Echidne on David Letterman:

Bosses harvesting their subordinates for sex is almost always a bad idea.

 

 

Dr. Eric Steele on the opposition to gay/lesbian marriage (via Pam’s House Blend):

. . . the clothing of rationality and God’s word have been used forever to hide the naked truth of racism, sexism and other prejudices. The arguments against the right of gays to civil marriage is no different; if you peel off the clothing, what lies underneath most opposition to civil marriage rights for gays is just naked fear, ignorance and prejudice.

 

Dave Zirin on football and homophobia:

Football came of age at a time when America was embarking on imperial adventures around the globe. Football was seen as a way to toughen up the youth so they wouldn’t become “sissies” and a way to teach the very “values” of Christian expansion and manifest destiny. This philosophy was known as “Muscular Christianity,” and its most prominent spokesman was an aristocrat-turned-boxer named Theodore Roosevelt .

 

Katha Pollitt on Roman Polanski:

What happened was not some gray, vague he said/she said Katie-Roiphe-style “bad sex.” A 43-year-old man got a 13-year-old girl alone, got her drunk, gave her a quaalude, and, after checking the date of her period, anally raped her, twice, while she protested; she submitted, she told the grand jury “because I was afraid.” Those facts are not in dispute–except by Polanski, who has pooh-poohed the whole business many times (You can read the grand jury transcripts here.) He was allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge, like many accused rapists, to spare the victim the trauma of a trial and media hoopla. But that doesn’t mean we should all pretend that what happened was some free-spirited Bohemian mix-up. The victim took years to recover.

 

Diane Loupe on prostituted young women in Georgia:

A Future. Not A Past wanted to get a better estimate of girls on the street, so it funded independent researchers to track how many adolescent girls are being hawked. The research was based on scientific probability measures and estimates of the age of prostitutes, using methods similar to those used by scientists to determine the population of endangered species.

The number of young victims has been increasing since 2007, according to that research.

An estimated 374 juveniles were being commercially sexually exploited in August 2009 in Georgia, up from 251 in 2007 and 361 in 2008, according to Danielle E. Ruedt, public health programs coordinator for the Governor’s Office for Children and Families, which took over funding of the research from the campaign.

Numbers for the street, hotels and escort services have remained flat, but “the Internet number is going through the roof,” said Kaffie McCullough, campaign director of A Future. Not A Past.

Internet ads promising “young girls,” “barely legal” females and other code words for underage females got a much higher response from potential customers than other ads, the campaign’s researchers found.

While applauding the decision of Craigslist, an online provider of information about goods and services for sale, to eliminate its “erotic services” category, McCullough noted that many ads pimping girls have moved to other Web sites.

 

The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness [pdf], Betsy Stevenson & Justin Wolfers

 

Katha Pollitt on Stevenson and Wolfers (and Huffington):

But how happy were women, really, in that golden pre-feminist era? Culture critic Caryl Rivers pointed out to me that in 1973, studies showing that married women had the highest levels of psychiatric problems, including depression and anxiety, prompted sociologist Jessie Bernard to declare marriage a “health hazard for women.”

 

Alex Dibranco on the student sex column movement:

Isabel Murray, feminist columnist for the Free Press, takes Cosmopolitan to task for its heteronormative, male-pleasure-oriented approach, while pointing out that it and similar women’s magazines are nonetheless the only noncampus media addressing female sexuality (explaining why until recently it was the most read magazine among college women). People are downright uncomfortable with the concept of female sexuality: even at Dartmouth’s SexFest, where Murray managed a table, she was struck by how “hesitant and disturbed” people seemed by her dental dams and a two-dimensional model of a vagina–far more so than by the condoms and three-dimensional plastic penis. The most controversial Dartmouth sex column took heat for dealing too explicitly with female sexuality.

 

Elsie Hambrook on women voters:

Women hang their vote on issues and often, on different issues than what men consider important. New Brunswick’s own Joanna Everitt, a political studies professor at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, is a Canadian expert on gender and politics. She says there are differences in how women and men vote, and that that split has been growing.

While men are more concerned with a candidate or party’s policies on the economy and federally, on the military, women are more likely to look at social policies, such as health care and education.

That difference has impacted the outcomes of some federal and provincial elections. Women and men vote in similar numbers, but differently, and parties need to be able to attract both genders.

Everitt recently concluded in a report, “If the (federal) Conservatives held as much appeal for women as they did for men in the 2006 election, they would not have ended up forming a minority government.”

 

Michael Valpy on women voters:

When he was host of BBC Two’s The Late Show in the 1990s, Mr. Ignatieff was called the thinking woman’s crumpet.

But interviews with Canadian women voters – businesswomen, academics, writers, PhD students in their 20s and 30s – elicited words well removed from crumpet. They called him stuffy, drab, arrogant, inauthentic, paternalistic, unmemorable, unsexy and, most of all, untrustworthy.

 

Michael Ignatieff on “Three Minute Culture”:

 

Stephen Harper tribute to friendship:

 

Harper and friends, redux:

 

But Harper hates more than 50% of Canadians:

 

So some women created a fan club [snark].

Fringe

 

The Vatican & The Twisted Sisters

Is feminism destroying “manhood”?  That would be good news.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t done much towards destroying Vatican manhood:

While visiting Manila-Philippines, Vatican official Paul Josef Cordes declared yesterday that “feminism” is not only eroding manhood but causing “a crisis in fatherhood.”

According to Cordes, “gender mainstreaming” and “radical feminism” attack biological manhood by insisting that gender roles are learned. He claims that men are demeaned by the ideal of a “sweeter man” who is both emasculated and feminized.

Cordes lays the blame for delinquency and suicides among “fatherless children,” on women. This prompted a local feminist (who considers “sweeter men” as a cause for celebration) to ask the obvious: “How is it that when men abandon their families, women get blamed?”

Cordes’ lament comes in the wake of deliberations in the Philippine Senate, which is likely to result in the passage of pro-women’s rights legislation called the Magna Carta for Women. The bill seeks to adopt the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) into local legislation.

While there is reason to hope that a law furthering women’s rights will be passed soon, it was recently noted in the local media that the influential wife of a former Senator was “lobbying” in the Senate by threatening senators with no less than the “opprobrium of the Catholic bishops.”  Even as I write this post, advocates are hard at work to defend the provisions of the bill, which are being targeted for deletion by the self-appointed Catholic lobbyists.

Good lord!  Or not.

Read the whole thing here

But ya know, the position of the United States on the ratification of CEDAW isn’t much better than what the Romans want, really:

So, where is the whole U.S. CEDAW ratification movement?

Not only has the U.S. not ratified CEDAW, but most supporters of ratification, including new Vice President Joe Biden, treat its ratification like voting for a national flower, taking pains to reassure the public that ratification would not impose any new burdens on the government. Of course, this is true, because with the full support of the Democratic Congress and the women’s movement, the version of CEDAW now pending in the U.S. Senate has been gutted to the core by some eleven reservations, understandings and declarations (RUDs). (A full listing of RUDs is available at thomas.gov under Human Rights Treaties.) The support by liberal proponents of CEDAW, including Nancy Pelosi and President Barack Obama, is not qualified by the important distinction that the treaty should only be ratified without reservations. These leaders, while well intentioned in their efforts to ratify the treaty, do not realize that if passed with the qualifiers currently in place, CEDAW will threaten the advancement of equality rights globally.

The twisted sister CEDAW would preclude women from challenging laws based on the physical differences between men and women, including discriminatory maternity coverage or criminal abortion laws.

The most deceptive RUD, unopposed by CEDAW supporters, states, Nothing in this convention shall be construed to reflect or create any right to abortion and in no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning. This language is touted as neutral or benign but is not. Drafted by the late Republican Senator Jesse Helms, a vociferous opponent of abortion, this language can and has been used as an anti-abortion weapon. Without the right to govern decisions about their own bodies and health, women will never achieve full equality.

Ironically, if the U.S. intention in ratifying CEDAW is to send a supportive message to women globally, our twisted sister version will, in fact, do the opposite. Although the RUDs seemingly apply solely to American women, they eviscerate the core of CEDAW, the definition of equality and provide legal authority to those who want to undermine women’s rights.

Here

Here’s the Women’s Division of CEDAW

Women & the Budget

From Kathleen Lahey at Relentlessly Progressive Economists:

Budget  2009:
Designed to Leave Women Behind  – Again

The big picture:    Women make up slightly more than half the population of Canada, and are directly responsible for caring for the majority of minor children in the country on a day to day basis.

The expectation:    As an ‘economic recovery’ and ‘stimulus’ budget intended to concentrate scarce financial resources in the hands of the most vulnerable, Budget 2009 was expected to carefully identify and respond to the needs of those on the economic margins, and to move Canada further toward the goal of genuinely equal treatment of all.

The Budget:        Budget 2009 not only fails to target the most vulnerable, but it seems to have been carefully crafted to exclude women from as much of the $64 billion in new deficit-financed spending and tax cuts as possible; women’s estimated shares of the first year’s worth ($22 bill.) are outlined in these notes …

Read the rest here

Palin Performing Gender

From Carrie Rentschler at Liminalities:

Sarah Palin makes visible a political form of right-wing “hetero butch” that amplifies, unlike most butch performance, female feminine coding rather than female masculinity. For many commentators trying to make political sense of Palin, her sporting and sexual body has become the grounds on which to figure her out—a political mystery to be solved at the level of sex and gender performance. Maybe it’s a northern Midwest thing, but I always assumed butch women came in all kinds of packages, and sexualities—at least they did in Iowa and Minnesota where I grew up. Straight butches, like lesbian butches, bear several of the overt signs of “butchness” or female masculinity as defined by Gayle Rubin and Judith Halberstam, but even more “feminine-appearing” women can belong to a category of “hetero butch.” In “Of Catamites and Kings,” for instance, Rubin describes butch as existing along a continuum of looks and sexual practices; I suggest these looks and practices cut across the borders constructed in our thinking between hetero- and homosexu-alities.

Read the whole thing here

via wood s lot

The Veil as Social Screen

From Hootan Shambayati, reviewing The Politics of the Veil  by Joan Wallach Scott:

In this book, one of the foremost students of France asks why has the head covering worn by millions of Muslim women across the world attracted so much controversy in recent French politics. Even in the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world, where the veil is worn by large segments of the population, it has become a potent political issue with different societies and political regimes adopting very different approaches in dealing with it. The constitutional court in secular Turkey recently rejected a constitutional amendment because it could have potentially eased the ban on female university students wearing a headscarf, while neighboring Iran legally requires all women to cover their hair in public. Although, this book deals only with the French case, it has implications beyond the borders of that country.

As Joan Wallach Scott recognizes, there are many different styles of veil, from the full body covering and face masks to the more relaxed version that only covers the hair and the neck. In addition, each has a different meaning for both those who wear them and those who are concerned about them. Nevertheless, for the sake of brevity and to reflect how the term was used during the actual debates in France, she uses the generic term veil to refer to all forms of headscarves worn by Muslim women (p.16). Scott is also quick to warn the readers that “this is not a book about French Muslims; it is about the dominant French view of them.” She is “interested in the way in which the veil became a screen onto which were projected images of strangeness and danger – danger to the fabric of French society and to the future of the republican nation” (p.10). She pursues her quest by examining the circumstances that led to the adoption of a 2004 law that banned the display of “conspicuous” religious symbols in French public schools. As is well known, although legally the ban applied equally to all religions, its true targets were a small number of female Muslim students who insisted on wearing the veil to school. The question then is why did the veil become such a controversial political issue in French politics.

Read the rest here