Sunday, January 11, 2004

Letter from superego

Dear phatic,

At the Bourdieu-list, on 4 Jan 2004 at 16:54, Emrah Goker noted the journalistic/scholastic argument used by right-wing French (or Turkish) Republicans to support discrimination against young Muslim women ("We are trying to liberate them from their male fundamentalist oppressors by removing their foluard/turban") is only an excuse for the state elites' nationalist/irredentist angst.

I responded with a notion I seemed to remember from Ania Loomba's Colonialism/Postcolonialism (Routledge, 1998) that Indian nationalism came out of a struggle to control access to women. I just reread Loomba, and she's paraphrasing Partha Chatterjee on the matter:

Well before nationalism launches itself against the colonial state, anti-colonial nationalism attempts to create 'its own domain of culture (which includes religion, customs and the family). The supremacy of the West is conceded in the material world, whereas the spiritual world is claimed as the essence of national culture, one which must be protected and defended. The more colonised people imitate Western skills in the former sphere, the greater the need to protect the latter. (Loomba, p. 190)

I guess I must have confused these comments with Fanon's notes on the use of women as anti-colonial signifiers in Algeria. Not so strange, perhaps, since Chatterjee's and Fanon's sensibilities may sound similar (analogous). Fanon claims that French colonialist doctrines identified Algerian women and family relations as the crucial site for their onslaught against native culture:

If we want to destroy the structure of Algerian society, its capacity for resistance, we must first of all conquer the women; we must go and find them behind the veil where they hide themselves and in the houses where the men keep them out of sight. It is the situation of woman that was accordingly taken as the theme of action. The dominant administration solemnly undertook to defend this woman, pictured as humiliated, sequestered, cloistered ... transformed by the Algerian man into an inert, demonetized, indeed dehumanized object. ... After it had been posited that the woman constituted the pivot of Algerian society, all efforts were made to obtain control over her. ... Thus the rape of the Algerian woman in the dream of the European is always preceded by a rending of the veil. (Fanon 1965, 37pp)

Fanon the explains how "the resistance movement demanded that the nationalist Algerian woman both veil and unveil herself in its cause. She was asked at first to Europeanise herself to penetrate the European quarters of the city, since the colonial regime assumed that Westernised woman would not be part of the resistance. The unveiled Algerian woman had to fashion her body to being 'naked' and scritinised, she had to move 'like a fish in the Western waters' while 'carrying revolvers, grenades, hundreds of false identity cards and bombs'. But such a woman is not unveiled at Europe's bidding, hence she does not signify loss of cultural identity but the forging of a new nationalist self. ... Some years later, when the colonial state understood that not all unveiled women were alienated from the nationalists, the Algerian woman was ordered to veil herself again." (Loomba 193-194)

Your humble servant,
T Fjeld