The New York Times “Saturday Profile” featured a university student in France who has become a liberal hero by embracing a tenet of fundamentalist Islam in the form of a headscarf: “A Teenager’s Head Scarf, a Television Interview and an Uproar in France.”
Aida Alami wrote of university student Maryam Pougetoux:
The French interior minister, Gérard Collomb, called her appearance “shocking.” Marlène Schiappa, the minister of gender equality, said she exhibited a “manifestation of political Islam.” The satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo put her on its cover with a drawing that many considered racist.
Her offense: wearing a head scarf during a television interview.
Alami failed to mention the massacre just three years ago, by radical Islamists, of 12 employees of Charlie Hebdo, or the security threat that was part of the impetus for the ban on Islamic head covering in the first place (not to mention the inherent sexism in demanding women cover themselves). The Times’ own coverage of the massacre was pathetic, with one tweet suggesting the magazine had “long tested the limits of satire” in its mockery of Muhammed. Apparently only some religions are acceptable targets of critique.
The article continued:
But the debate that followed had nothing to do with education and everything to do with her appearance. It was set off in large part by Laurent Bouvet, a secularist and member of a group called Le Printemps Républicain, or Republican Spring. The group was created in 2016 to defend the French republican ideal of “laïcité,” which emerged during the revolution as a way to keep the Roman Catholic Church out of the affairs of state. But in recent years, critics say, some groups have used it to suppress the growing influence of Islam in France.
It’s jarring to read a Times article so gung-ho in support of a sign of religious fundamentalism.
Pretty soon, it seemed that almost everyone had something to say about this unapologetically religious student.
Ms. Pougetoux herself was baffled by the outburst, saying she had to research “political Islam” online to understand the accusation. She also was not particularly outraged by the caricature of her on the profanity-laced cover of Charlie Hebdo, which many said made her look like a monkey.
Alami was quick to suggest critics were either Islamophobic or racist.
Ms. Pougetoux makes an odd target for the guardians of French identity, Islamophobes and out-and-out racists, in that she is thoroughly French and religiously tolerant. Her family’s roots are in the Correze region of southwestern France, and she grew up in a working-class household in the outskirts of Paris.
While Ms. Pougetoux may not completely realize how much hate she has ignited, observers see the uproar as leading to another in a series of debates over French identity, especially the sexism that many say is latent in the country.
Apparently there’s no hint of sexism in religious edicts that women cover their bodies.
But Ms. Pougetoux, who hopes one day to work for international nonprofit groups, said she believed that many politicians and intellectuals in France were set in archaic ways of thinking that do not reflect the more tolerant viewpoints of French citizens or, especially, her college peers.
The Times has long had a double standard in its coverage of Islamic fundamentalism compared to the fundamentalism of other religions, as shown by its previous contrasting treatment of two swimming pool controversies involving gender-separated swimming times, one involving Hasidic Jews, the other Muslims.
The Hasids were attacked in an editorial for bringing “a strong odor of religious intrusion into a secular space” and their swimwear mocked as “prudish.” Yet a similar effort for Muslims in Toronto was celebrated in a news story as providing “a rare bit of ‘me’ time treasured by many of the neighborhood’s Muslim residents.”