Ethnic Bodily Practices

The manner by which post-colonial French society sees its immigrant body oscillates between, on one hand, condemning Islamic practices as fanatical and non-secular and, on the other hand, glorifying achievements of immigrant-descent athletes. As Silverstein explains, the latter is part of a historical attempt of “train” natives in the ways of the colonist and to diffuse anger and rebellion tendencies. In a more global context, multi-million corporations claim their consumer allegiances through branding of ideological identities to consumerism-based belonging practices.

The prominence of athletes such as Zinedine Zidane in the 1998 FIFA World Cup winning French soccer team helped bring the idea of a national identity by means of individual skills and ethnic diversity – the “New France.” As a French-born to Kabyle parents, Zidane became a poster child for the idealized integrated France of the new millennium. However, the celebrations of this World Cup victory has existed hand in hand with suppression of internal differences considered detrimental to the formation of a national identity in France.

It was under this umbrella that Nike’s slogan There is not but one God, there are eleven led to the substitution of the religious shehada values (There is but one God and Mohammed is his prophet) for sports secularism. The French state has also attempted to utilize sports’ capacity to draw the youth in its favor: it has represented an alternative to fanatical religious practices, to government eyes. These same eyes have also seen the use of bodily adornments as “ostentatious” and sectarian, at times.

The year following the national soccer victory, in the suburbs of Paris, three girls were expelled from school for refusing to remove their respective headscarves for classes. This has cause a lot of controversy and international attention to the issue of use of outward signs of personal beliefs. Some governmental officials thought that, in order to preserve French national history and perpetuate it for future generations, the public use of headscarves in public educational institutions should be avoided. Thus, Silverstein tells us that in the 1994-1995 academic year, “more than 150 young women were legally expelled from public schools.”

In that regard, analogous to Nike’s appropriation of religious values in a twist towards capitalist consumerism, the French government sought to transcend from the ideology of religion to the pragmatism of the civic. Silverstein calls it the “sacralization of the state.” Thus, the French school system was used as a common ground for the propagation of France as a secular nation-state under the allegiance to all things civic.

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