Tag Archives: france

Sciences Po Notes: Burka Free Meaning of Liberty


The US and France have a deep disagreement about the meaning of liberty.

I know what you’re thinking — the US and France? They’re both Western, developed countries. Don’t they kind of do everything the same?

My first trip abroad was all about seeing something different. I went to Bolivia for a year because I wanted to be shocked– I wanted to see horrendous poverty and learn about ludicrous laws and peculiar traditions. And I was right that Bolivia has far more visually noticeable differences– after all, in France people look kinda the same, dress kinda the same, eat kinda the same, and act kinda the same as people from the US. Barring an obsession with techno music and stinky cheese, culture shock here is pretty mild.

Peeling back the layers of cultural differences is a far more subtle study in France, but it nevertheless reveals some important, deep-rooted differences.

Reading for class today (see citation below) I was reminded of one great example of our differences:

French banning of the burka and hijab.

For those of you reading this asking if the hijab (the Muslim headscarf) or burka (which also covers the face) are really banned somewhere, the answer is yes! They are! Does that shock you?

Both the burka and hijab have been banned at different times in France… I won’t be going into the legal side here. Rather, I want to focus on how such a ban underlines an important difference in thinking between the United States and France that not only pervades the legal world, but also the average citizen’s individual conception of… well, life.

In the article I was reading (cited below), author Ioanna Tourkochoriti states the issue simply:
“A law, like the one adopted in France, banning the hijab for students in schools would most likely be considered unconstitutional in the United States.”

While both the US and France can agree that insisting a person remove their hijab for certain identification reasons makes sense (you know, in a very respectful way, like for the passport photo, because we need to see your face, sorry), the question of whether or not it should be allowed in schools or other public places is contentious.

In the US?
Americans have a long history of fearing their government is going to impose too much control on them. We don’t want anyone taking away our guns anymore than we want them telling us what we can wear (well, unless it’s about leggings, then maybe).

This is the concept of “negative liberty” — a phrase Tourkochoriti uses freely in her article, though I admittedly had to look it up. It’s the idea that we should be free from interference by others.
You wanna wear a burka? Go for it! I’ll wear my cross, he’ll wear a Jewish yarmulke, and we’ll all go around happily dancing at the capital because we know that our rights to freedom of religion and expression protect whatever kind of religious paraphernalia we want to wear. Period.

So what kind of unfair, liberty-hating radicals infested France?

Honestly, the first time I heard about the burka ban, I thought it was a joke– or at least a sign of the wrong French political party getting waaay too power. But here’s the rationale:

“The burka ban, like the hijab ban in public schools in France, is justified by the need to protect the girls wearing a burka from social pressure when the choice to wear it is not authentically theirs. It also aims at protecting them from themselves when wearing the burka happens to be an authentic choice of the women concerned.”

The French reason that by banning the burka you actually protect religious freedoms— you promote gender equality and, in the case of public schools, create a space for learning free of religious issues.

Both countries support separation of church and state (or laicité as the French call it). The difference is on how they go about implementing that separation: “freedom through the state in France, freedom from the state in the United States.” 

Should the state help to ensure religious freedom by insisting schools enforce separation of church and state in public places? Or should the state ensure religious freedom by simply not sticking their noses into other people’s business?

Personally, I can see the rationale for both systems, so this post isn’t intended to push any one conclusion. What is clear to me, though, is that the role of the government as seen by the French public and the US public is quite different.

A blog without comments is like a boat without water.
Help me float.


Source of Quotes and Inspiration:
Tourkochoriti, Ioanna, The Burka Ban: Divergent Approaches to Freedom of Religion in France and in the USA (March 24, 2012). William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Vol. 20, pp. 791-852, 2012. Available at SSRN:http://ssrn.com/abstract=2028341

My Home in Saint Denis

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015

Home can take many shapes and sizes. This is my home in Saint Denis, France.

I live in…

“Ym working on myselt, or myself, by myself”
Clash of Clans, anyone?


a Muslim neighborhood advertising clothing for female independence







in an apartment shared with two game-addicted geeky boys




Stuffed tomatoes and peppers!



who love to make homemade grub



Chouchen, a form of mead made with honey





and wash it down with various French alcohols



So clean you can eat in ’em!



after a long day of taking the spotlessly clean Parisian metros


Oh la la!



only 40 minutes away from the beauty of Paris.






Just remember, Cinderella, to start heading home at midnight.*



*Or else you might miss that metro ride 😉

My neighbors are terrorists

My neighbors are terrorists.

I moved to Saint Denis because I was accepted to a great school in Paris. If smart meant rich, I certainly would have rented a cute little apartment near the Bastille district in downtown Paris. Or somewhere near the Latin quarter with big windows, a beautiful kitchen and hardwood floors.

But while my parents passed along the gift of study and creative thinking, I had to grow up counting quarters and make my way through school by earning scholarships. No regrets or complaints– after all,  I made it to Paris! But the fact is, I needed someplace cheaper than what downtown Paris was prepared to offer.

I ended up finding a place in Saint Denis, a northern suburb of Paris. The first thing I asked about was the kitchen. After all, a Southern girl like me needs space for apple pie and taco bars every once in a while. It was a sweet deal: my own bedroom, a full kitchen and cheap rent. I jumped at the chance.

As soon as I said yes, a friend warned me that Saint Denis was a little bit shady “for a white girl with blonde hair.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“Nothing, nothing. Just that you might not want to go out alone at night or stumble home drunk.”
His warnings felt almost insulting to me. After all, I had already spent time in places like Bolivia and Senegal, where unwanted male attention is the name of the game. How bad could any French neighborhood really be? I moved in.

Since some of my unversity classes ended at 9pm, coming home late at night quickly became the norm, and not because of drunken debauchery.

The first few times I returned home cautiously… I took off my headphones, kept my purse close to my body, walked quickly and took note of my surroundings. By the ninth or tenth time, I started to get careless.

True: in Saint Denis there are always groups of people chatting on corners and the smell of marijuana wafts lazily throughout the downtown air. After a while, you start understanding what everyone is rolling into cigarettes as they chat by the roadside, and if you’re paying attention you’ll see the occasional two cars pull up side-by-side and exchange something for… something.

The first time I saw a group of people gathered in a circle outside my garage door in Saint Denis I assumed they were up to no good. But when I looked closer I realized they were playing cards.
“Oh, what a relief!” I thought, “They’re just playing a game!” I smiled to myself and then, by chance, a 20 euro bill fluttered to the ground and a youngster from the group stooped to pick it up.
“Oh right,” I realized, my smile fading, “not so innocent after all.”

I’d been there for about 4 months the first time someone tried to steal my phone. I grabbed the hand as soon as I felt it reaching into my pocket and turned around bruskly to chase after my empty-handed would-be thief, all the while screaming obscenities in English. It was not one of my finest moments.

The second time they went for my phone was a success.
“So, you saw nothing and you felt nothing?” the police officer asked, incredulously. He didn’t seem very convinced.
If only I were better at lying I would’ve spun a better tale.
“No,” I told him, “but whoever took it made 13 long-distance calls to Morocco.”
“I see,” he said, taking note. “Let me guess, you were on bus 153?”
“Yes, sir.”
I had the impression he did this regularly.

Besides phone-stealing hazards, I also encouter regular cat calls. I’m not nearly as anti-cat-calling as some people I know. The way I figure it, if they want to call me beautiful, let them!
In Saint Denis, though, I get called much more than beautiful. I mean to say that I’ve heard all the usual cat calls– honey, darling, delicious, etc. But I’ve also heard some rather inventive ones– syrup, garden, mouse, and, of course, just a loud hissing. I’m actually not sure if the hissing is supposed to be a compliment or not.

Despite all these less-than-perfect aspects of my nieghborhood, I rather like Saint Denis. It has a lot of character. And, even if it is a bit shady, it’s nice when the shopkeeper across the street gets to know you and starts pointing out all the phone thieves nearby to help keep you safe. Or when you walk into a restaurant clearly marked “pizza” only to learn that they don’t do pizza at all (they’ve been too lazy to change the sign for 3 years), but instead the most incredible Cameroonian food you’ve ever tasted.

All of this is to say that with the recent attacks in Paris, I actually felt rather safe in my neighborhood. After all, what terrorist chooses to attack a shady suburb?

Little did I know that I was all too right. Terrorists wouldn’t attack my neighborhood– they would live in it!

Last Wednesday morning I woke up way too early to the sound of gunfire.
“What’s that noise?” my boyfriend asked sleepily.
“Gunfire,” I told him.
I may be pretty innocent sometimes, but I did grow up in Arkansas after all.

The police raid in Saint Denis took place in an apartment just 400 meters away from me. I know because I checked on Google Maps as soon as the news started reaching for new announcements to keep us interested and informed the public that ‘kalashnikovs can only kill up to a distance of 300 meters.’

Only 300m. So for those worried about my safety, you can be sure I was fine at 400m. Especially since there are several other homes between my own and the terrorists’.

Looking back on my decision to live in Saint Denis, I could never have guessed that an important raid of this scale would have happened so close to me. But then again, I’m not sure it would have changed my mind about living here. The uncertainty of a terrorist attack is going to continue to haunt our minds… through February, if the US citizen security messages are to be believed.

Whenever I tell someone I live in Saint Denis, they always asked me if I’m scared. No, I tell them, I am not afraid!

In the wake of the attacks in Paris, Parisians are defiantly insisting on drinking their over-priced coffees on restaurant terraces, even with freezing outdoor temperatures. I too insist on my need: cooking Southern soul food in an affordable apartment with a real kitchen.

So there you have it– life goes on.