Thursday, July 31, 2008

"Hijab," by Harold Jaffe

Here's a docufiction from Harold Jaffe's latest collection, Orfeo:


French bureaucrat and Muslim teenager at the entrance to the lycée outside Paris.

     Bonjour Mlle.
     You are required to remove your headscarf.


     Bonjour Monsieur.
     I never remove the hijab in public.

     This is a state-supported lycée, Mlle.
     It is not a mosque.
     It is not a souk.
     In France we maintain separation of church and state.
     That is the established policy.


     We understood the established policy to be cohabitation.
     Former colonies are encouraged to cohabit with their benefactors—you white French—with their native customs intact.
     Cohabitation you virtuously opposed to assimilation, such as the United States promotes, where everyone is expected to suppress their native language and staple the American flag to their forehead, indistinguishable one from the other.

     Mlle, the correct opposition is not between cohabitation and assimilation but between a secular state such as we have in France and a theocracy.

     Is the US then a theocracy?

     Without question.


Two global reprobates slouching outside the Bourse, in Paris.

     Who set the Reichstag fire in 1933 and as a consequence facilitated Hitler?

     The Jew.

     Who toppled the World Trade Center in 2001 and as a consequence facilitated Bush?

     The Muslim.

     Who "emigrated mentally" while living unmolested in Nazi Germany and Austria?

     "Aryan" intellectuals and artists.
     With the exception of a very small minority.

     Who, post 9/11, duct-taped US intellectuals and artists into the condominiums of their minds?

     The crusading US government.
     Taking a page from the Red-baiting McCarthy era.
     Even as the US government was apologizing for actual McCarthyism as a shameless departure from capitalist democracy's firmest values.

     The US also apologized for interning Japanese-Americans, then did it all over again with Muslim-Americans.
     9/11 gave them the excuse to reinvent history.


     As farce.

     Farcical genocide.


French bureaucrat and Muslim teenager at the entrance to the lycée outside Paris.

     Mlle, the ordinance is in place.
     Nor does it refer exclusively to Muslims.
     Conspicuous religious items of various kinds are prohibited.
     Jews are forbidden to wear skullcaps.
     Hindus are forbidden to paint their faces.
     Christians are forbidden to wear visible crosses larger than three centimeters.


     Are Catholic nuns forbidden to wear head coverings?

     Catholic nuns would have gone beyond the lycée, Mlle.
     The ordinance does not apply to education beyond the lycée...


     Why not?

     That should be self-evident, Mlle.
     The intention of the ordinance is to instill the ideal of secular education in the young.
     Before religious habits or customs become irreversible.
     Our obligation is to attend to children who enter the French public school system, and the fact is that young Muslim females are often coerced into wearing the headscarf.


     Wearing the hijab is a fundamental principle of Islamic teaching, Monsieur.
     To assert that the hijab is forced on Muslim females is both ignorant and paternalistic.
     The "secularism" you are attempting to impose is to us another sign of intolerance towards the growing Muslim community.

     I refuse to engage in an argument about semantics, Mlle.
     That is the way the ordinance reads.



Two global reprobates slouching outside the Bourse, in Paris.

     When I say hijab what comes to mind?

     The veil.
     Taking the veil.
     Entering the convent.
     France, for example, is proud of its various orders of nuns, "les bonnes soeurs."
     The sisters are picturesque; they don't disrupt the body politic; they have an esthetic dimension.

     Gliding about in their habits noirs.
     Esthetic, bien sur.


     I think too of raising the veil, uncovering.
     Which invokes the practice of clitorectomy or infibulation.
     What percentage of Islamic females worldwide are subjected to this practice?

     Legitimate numbers would be hard to come by.
     I wouldn’t trust whatever estimates the "First World" puts out there.
     What percentage of males worldwide are subjected to circumcision?


     Are clitorectomy and circumcision comparable?

     You tell me.

     Couldn't the veil also be identified with movement induced by natural forces.
     The aeolian harp stroked by the wind.
     Creative imagination without artifice.

     There is artifice in the construction of the harp.
     Winds are increasingly produced by global warming disruptions of the weather cycles.


     What does hijab signify to you?

     The sacred prepuce of its white male leaders.


French bureaucrat and Muslim teenager at the entrance to the lycée outside Paris.

     France--before Sarkozy--officially objected to the invasion of Iraq.
     France objected to Israel's violent annexation of Palestine.
     But what France is doing in its own country to its female Muslim minority is no less prejudicial.

     One thing has nothing to do with another, Mlle.
     The ordinance is unambiguous.
     Islamic females of lycée age are required to remove their head and face coverings while in the lycée or on the grounds of the lycée.
     Once you leave the lycée you may dress and do as you please.
     So long as it is within the law.


     Senegalese and Ivory Coast former subjects of lycée age are not required to remove their dashikis and bubas.
     Tunisian, Algerian and Moroccan former subjects of lycée age are not required to remove their kaftans and jubbahs.
     Caribbean former subjects are not required to undo their dreadlocks.
     It is just your orthodox Muslim females of lycée age who are required to remove their hijabs, correct?
     What is it about young Muslim females that intimidates their former colonial occupier?

     You are imagining things, Mlle.
     The official ordinance reads as I indicated.
     I do not propose to argue with you over niceties.



Two global reprobates slouching outside the Bourse, in Paris.

     Except for its Muslims and Jews, France is officially uncircumcised.

     What if someone not Muslim or Jewish elects to be circumcised?

     Unless for reasons of health, which must be officially vetted, he will have to do it outside the law.
     Hijab—as a so-to-speak implied prepuce--can also signify the formal body coverings of its political leaders, graduates of the same elite écoles.
     Have you noticed how indistinguishable France's presidents and prime ministers--Giscard, Pompidou, Mitterand, Chirac—look in their somber double-breasted suits?
     Pale, stiff, fastidious, marmoreal.


     Sarkozy isn't marmoreal.

     Sarkozy is arboreal.

     Was it William James who remarked that the sheerest of veils separates the mundane, agitated, war-making world from the world inhabited by the higher spirits?
     Yet this sheer, transparent veil is so infrequently parted.

     William James was American.
     I don’t read Americans.


     William James's younger brother Henry's platonic version of himself was as un Francais de plaisir.
     The father, Henry senior, was an internationalist and a Swedenborgian.
     Alice James, like Proust, was bedridden.
     Why don't you read Americans?

     They are without history.
     Virtually no lived history from which to draw.


     Is that less privileged than having a long history but drawing the same opportunistic conclusions?

     You mean the French?

     Not exclusively.


French bureaucrat and Muslim teenager at the entrance to the lycée outside Paris.

     Mlle, I will not stand here arguing with you.
     The ordinance is clear.
     If you or any among you wish to dispute it, that must be done formally and lawfully.


     You've repeated lawful several times.
     To you, law precedes justice; to us it is the other way round.
     Isn't it a fact that you formulate then implement laws as you choose, according to your own advantage?
     All the time professing that these laws are immutable, engraved in stone by your Christian god?

     Mlle, I have done my best to be courteous, even as you have insisted on arguing.
     Now you have come dangerously close to blasphemy.
     I hereby terminate this discussion.
     Good day, Mlle.


     You white French fuss about courtesy, which you use to mask your hypocrisy.
     We wonder whether you've considered the repercussions your anti-Islamic ordinance might produce.
     Good day, Monsieur.


Two global reprobates slouching outside the Bourse, in Paris.

     We were discussing the images invoked by the hijab, or veil.
     We've cited nuns; prepuces; the somber formal wear of our leaders; music stirred by the wind; clitorectomy and circumcision; the sheer veil which according to William James separates elevated vision from the every day.
     What about the now-defunct Red Chinese and their Bamboo Curtain?
     The now-defunct Soviets and their Iron Curtain?
     The privileged quartiers of Paris?
     The gated communities globally, with its tiny minority of nervous rich?


     And with its exponentially multiplying oppressed Muslim underclass.
     Enraged and desperate behind their Muslim curtain.
     Which could end up being the most horrific "veil" of all.
     Agreed?

     No.
     I believe the greatest horrors will be inflicted by the other side.



***


A French woman who alleged she had been the subject of an anti-Semitic attack invented the story, police sources now say.

The admission came shortly after the she was taken into custody--four days after the alleged assault on a commuter train south of Paris.

The 24-year-old woman claimed six men accused her of being Jewish, then forcibly cut off her clothes with sharp, long knives and spray-painted swastikas on her nude body.

The woman, who is not Jewish, has been detained for falsely reporting a crime, state prosecutor Didier Merleau-Ponty told AFP news agency.

She could face up to six months in prison and an 8,000-euro ($13,000) fine if convicted.

The case has sparked widespread condemnation amid concerns that anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise in France, which of course has a long and sordid history of anti-Semitism.

The men, described as of North African appearance and indeterminate age, are also said to have deliberately upended the woman's 8-month-old infant from its stroller.

The child fell on its head but was reportedly uninjured.

The woman claimed that about 20 people witnessed the attack but that nobody offered her support.

However, investigators, studying footage from surveillance cameras at the Gare d'Austerlitz station where the six alleged North African attackers were supposed to have exited, found no evidence to support the woman’s claim.

Nor has a single witness come forth even after urgent appeals in the newspapers and on television.

Now police sources who requested anonymity say that under "firm questioning" the woman has recanted her accusations. She has admitted cutting off her own clothes and spray-painting the swastikas on her naked body with the help of her boyfriend who is also in custody. Like her, the boyfriend is neither Jewish nor North African, but French and white.

Le Monde, the left-leaning French daily, reports that the same woman had filed several complaints in the past about being the victim of racist or fascist violence.

The reported brutality of the attack on the woman, its anti-Semitic character and the fact that no one came to her help provoked outrage.

It also added to the growing concern over racist and anti-Semitic attacks.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, who condemned the alleged assault as "pitiless and reprehensible," said he would deny clemency to any prisoner serving a sentence for a racist or anti-Semitic crime.

Government spokesman Jean-Francois Irigaray told RTL radio that the rising trend of anti-Semitic attacks was "a genuine evil" in France, even though the woman's case "proved to be imagined rather than real, as such."

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