. 7
( 11)


cially relevant at different times or contexts. Yet Muslims in France, as in
other European countries, are not of one mind about the extent to which
they wish to assimilate socially and culturally versus the degree to which
they wish to maintain religious and cultural practices on a personal level
and to live in culturally homogenous communities that will reinforce
In early 2004 the New York Times reported a con¬‚ict in southern France between truf¬‚e
hunters and local restaurateurs who began purchasing imported Chinese truf¬‚es for $25 a
kilogram rather than paying the local price of $1250. Attacking the restaurants, Michel
Tournayre, the president of the local truf¬‚e producers group declared, ˜˜They™re killing
French culture™™ (Smith 2004b). What is notable here is the ease with which a speci¬c
local matter in France can be perceived as a general threat to cultural survival.
Almost all the voices endorse some version of Republicanism; few openly use the term

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

National minorities versus immigrant minorities
Kymlicka (1998) in a very insightful discussion of multiculturalism in
Canada distinguishes between national and immigrant minorities.
National groups are peoples who form an historical society, view them-
selves as nations, create movements to defend their language and col-
lective autonomy, and whose territory has been incorporated into a larger
country. Quebecers, Catalans, and Basques in Spain are nations in this
sense. Today in France there are regional cultural groups such as Bretons,
Alsatians, Basques, and Corsicans that come closest to Kymlicka™s de¬-
nition of a nation although they do not have any real institutional
autonomy or linguistic independence.
For a long time the French state vigorously opposed linguistic, or any
other form of, autonomy for these regional groups. By the early 1980s,
however, it was clear that with the exception of Corsica and perhaps the
Basques, the demands of these small national groups for greater cultural
recognition and autonomy were no longer any threat to the French state.
Schools were allowed to teach regional languages, though there was no
talk of using them as the language of instruction, and local folk festivals
became more frequent (Safran 1985). Kymlicka™s analysis makes it clear
that the changes in France were essentially symbolic as the French rea-
lized that regional identities were not challenges to the state and there was
no possibility of creating and sustaining a set of public institutions that
would allow the regional groups to participate in the modern world in
their own languages.
Immigrant minorities are very different from national minorities in
several important ways (Kymlicka 1998). First, immigrant minorities are
almost never territorially distinct even when immigrants live in cities or
towns with relatively segregated neighborhoods and local businesses that
cater to their needs. Second, although immigrant communities often have
commercial, religious, ¬nancial, educational, and cultural institutions in
which the immigrants and their children can speak their own language,
they still must participate in the wider society™s institutions and doing so
requires learning the language and norms of the host society. Integration of
immigrants is certainly the goal of most receiving societies,13 and Kymlicka
argues that Canada with its high level of immigration and explicit policy of

This is not always the case however. In countries such as Germany or Japan that
historically have de¬ned citizenship in terms of genealogical ties, there is less interest in
the integration of long-term immigrants than in countries such as France or Canada

Dressed to express

multiculturalism has been highly successful in integrating immigrants in
both English-speaking Canada and French-speaking Quebec.
France has been a leading country of immigration for the past 200 years
and during that period has received more immigrants than any other
country in Europe (Noriel and Horowitz 1992). France, whose immi-
gration rates since 1800 are very similar to the United States, is assim-
ilationist and egalitarian, and in both countries it is relatively easy for legal
immigrants to become citizens. At the same time, each has distinct ideas
about the appropriate role of an immigrant™s prior identity (Horowitz
1992). In France, there is an expectation that new citizens will discard
their former identities, and intermediate institutions such as cultural
identity based organizations are actively discouraged. In contrast, in the
USA becoming American does not require immigrants to shed their
former identities when they become citizens. In France, ˜˜the attainment
of equality implied erasing blood privileges and therefore more generally
erasing traces of origin™™ (Horowitz 1992: 18). For the French, Horowitz
argues, there is a con¬‚ation of cultural and political unity and a belief that
intermediate identities should not impinge on the direct relationship
between the citizen and the state (Horowitz 1992: 19).
Since the French Revolution, immigrants have arrived in France from
neighboring countries in response to economic opportunities. Until 1950
almost all were poor, white, and Catholic and they often ¬lled jobs at the
bottom of the economic ladder. Their children attended French schools
and both the immigrants and their children learned French if it was not
already their ¬rst language. Nonetheless, there were sometimes intense
con¬‚icts between the immigrants and the French and press accounts were
¬lled with negative stereotypes and questions about their assimilability
(Hargreaves 1995; Kastoryano 1996; Noiriel 1996). Since 1950, in addi-
tion to immigration from southern Europe, especially Portugal and Spain,
France has received signi¬cant numbers of immigrants from former
colonial countries including Vietnam, and those in West, Central, and
North Africa. Over the past three decades, people of North African origin
have become the largest and most visible minority in France “ numbering
perhaps 4 million “ and have been the focus of sometimes intense political
and social con¬‚ict. The North Africans “ often called Maghrebians,
referring to their region of origin, are almost exclusively Muslims, and

where citizenship is de¬ned more in cultural terms, such as the ability to speak a national
language, and residence (Brubaker 1992).

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

those born in France probably now outnumber those who moved there and
perhaps half of the total are French citizens (Freedman 2004: 8). Despite
being citizens, however, most experience various forms of discrimination.
Many French feel that Muslims show little interest in integration and
hostility between Muslims and non-Muslims has at times been high and
relations strained in and around many French cities. One focus of con¬‚ict
arises over the construction of mosques, including their location, size, and
design. There are also less dramatic sources of tension arising from work
and commercial relationships, interactions in of¬ces, social service claims,
youth versus police interactions, the lack of jobs, and schools.
In the past twenty years, there have been a number of dramatic incidents
raising public fears about the non-assimilability of Muslims in France
despite indicators of their increasing integration. An anti-foreigner,
nationalist political movement has gained strength and its leader, Jean-
Marie Le Pen, received the second highest vote total in the ¬rst round of
the May 2002 presidential voting. The complicated relationship between
people of North African origin and French non-Muslims involves resource
and power issues and identity questions over the allocation of recognition
and prestige in French society. The most dramatic incidents have produced
drawn-out psychocultural dramas around religious symbols, and invoke
powerful French fears of Islamic fundamentalism and communalism. To
date few of these have had constructive outcomes.

Le Foulard, everyday forms of resistance and identity
Large numbers of people came from North Africa to France in the two
decades from the early 1950s to the early 1970s. There was real diversity
among those who arrived. They came from different countries “ Tunisia,
Morocco, and Algeria “ and among them were the French settlers and
administrators who left Algeria following an ugly colonial war, Arabs
known as Harkis who were loyal to the French during the ¬ghting and
were afraid to remain, and other Arabs needing work. Most of the jobs the
Arabs found were on the lowest rungs of France™s expanding economy.
In their analysis of Muslim social and political organization in France,
Withol de Wenden and Leveau (2001) argue that in the 1970s and early
1980s the community™s leaders tended to be immigrants themselves and
their organizations were closely tied to unions and the political left. By
the mid 1980s a new generation of organizations and leaders had
emerged. In 1981, the French made it legal for foreigners to form
Dressed to express

organizations and soon the Beurs, the children of immigrants, moved to
the forefront of social and political action. Le mouvement beur organized
several Marseille to Paris marches and demonstrations in Paris in the mid
1980s drawing attention to discrimination, problems of integration, and
lack of participation opportunities in French society. They developed ties
to the ruling Socialist Party and the left began to talk about multi-
culturalism and la droit de la difference (the right to be different). However,
many of the movement™s speci¬c goals, such as obtaining the right for
non-citizens to vote in local elections, were integrationist and unful¬lled
and there was real disillusionment with their failure to produce signi¬cant
integration and meaningful change in people™s daily lives (Withol de
Wenden and Leveau 2001: 43).

L™affaire du foulard: 198914
The 1989 headscarf affair began in a context of other psychocultural dra-
mas between Islam and the west “ the death sentence for Salman Rushdie
after he wrote and published The Satanic Verses, the rise of militant Islamic
organizations in France, and the ¬rst Palestinian Intifada. As it unfolded,
both the Beurs and the French left pulled back from their earlier efforts to
build a close relationship and since the 1990s French Muslims have focused
less on integration and citizenship than on social problems such as drugs,
crime, and jobs in and around Paris and other large cities. Organizational
efforts have become less public and political; they have turned to acquiring
governmental and other support and assistance focused on the needs of
their own communities, and the organized groups that have emerged are
less integrationist and less middle class than those of the eighties, and are
more Islamic culturally (Withol de Wenden and Leveau 2001). Their
discourse emphasizes discrimination and exclusion and has turned to Islam
as a refuge and as a tool for expressing their needs and demands (Chebel
d™Apollonia 2002; Kastoryano 1996).
There have been ongoing skirmishes around cultural and religious
expression but since 1989 none has attracted the intense emotion of the
psychocultural dramas that have developed around the issue of Islamic
headscarves in schools. The initial con¬‚ict™s intensity surprised not only
outside observers, but also many French politicians. De¬ning the issue as
a simple separation of church and state, or young children manipulated by

This section is adapted from Ross (1993b).

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

fundamentalist parents, struck a responsive chord for many people. It
invoked the hard Republican narrative and historical challenges to it
including the Dreyfus Affair and the wartime Petain regime, and linked
France™s vulnerability to the outside threats that fundamentalist and extre-
mist Islam posed. When Minister of Education Lionel Jospin was drawn
into the con¬‚ict he ¬rst tried a low-key pragmatic approach declaring that
responsibility rested with school authorities. Their job was to talk to the
families involved to get them to understand the importance of secular public
education and to abandon the open expression of religion in school.
However, he added, wearing a scarf is not suf¬cient grounds for
exclusion, for the child™s education must come ¬rst (Beriss 1990), and
˜˜French schools exist to educate, to integrate, not to reject™™ (Schemla
1989: 78). However, the image of ˜˜Islamic fundamentalism™™ in a French
public school was far more powerful than Jospin™s attempts at dialogue.
On the political far right, the National Front talked about the evils of
immigration, the problem of foreigners in France, and the threat they
posed to French civilization. For many on the left the emotions were just
as intense as they dramatically portrayed the deep threats to secular public
schools, the key institution for the inculcation of democratic values. ˜˜The
future will tell if the year of the bicentennial [of the French Revolution]
will be seen as the Munich of the public school,™™ declared ¬ve leading
intellectual ¬gures (Badinter 1989: 58). For many feminists the dispute
was not about religious freedom or the secularity of the public school but
the oppression of women in fundamentalist Islam (Moruzzi 1994). From
the outset, the divisions on the headscarf issue created unusual alliances
that did not follow traditional left“right lines.
Teachers throughout the country, feeling that their authority and the
school™s secular principles were under attack, spoke out against the
foulard, bringing up cases where Muslim students refused to attend gym
classes or where they objected to biology, philosophy, music, or art classes
on religious grounds; some threatened to go on strike if the scarves were
not banned. Soon Jospin realized that there wasn™t much he could do to
manage a con¬‚ict that increasingly invoked questions of the work habits
of North Africans, housing, social services, illegal immigration, and
integration. So Jospin kicked the matter upstairs to the Conseil d™Etat, the
nation™s top administrative tribunal. Their decision satis¬ed neither those
who saw the issue as one of religious freedom nor those who wanted to
ban the foulard from public schools. The Conseil d™Etat ruled that wearing
religious signs was not necessarily incompatible with the idea of a secular
Dressed to express

public school if the signs were non-provocative, did not pressure other
students, were not proselytizing, and were not objects of propaganda.
Students, they ruled, could not refuse to attend certain classes, or threaten
the liberty or security and safety of others.
Most teachers™ organizations and administrators were not happy with
the decision, but suggested that what was most critical was its imple-
mentation. Some students and their families, citing the case of Catholic
students who wear crosses, saw the decision as favoring scarves and
returned to school wearing a foulard. The headscarf con¬‚ict also expanded
beyond school settings as in the case of a hospital in Dijon that refused to
accept a young doctor when she told the authorities that she planned to
wear a scarf while working. Soon the issue disappeared from the media
and almost none of the speci¬c decisions local authorities made received
very much publicity. Two of the three girls in Creil whose actions started
the whole controversy held out for the right to wear their scarves
and acquiesced only when King Hassan II of Morocco intervened and
asked them to go to classes without the foulard (Moruzzi 1994).
The 1989 dispute over the Islamic scarves in French schools was settled
through the imposition of an administrative ruling, but the con¬‚ict was in
no sense resolved. Instead, it was diffused and transformed into a broader
concern with immigration and integration. No longer was there much talk
of ˜˜the right to difference.™™ Rather, French suspicions about, and anger
toward, Muslims, whom they commonly described as immigrants even
though many were born in France and were citizens, increased in intensity,
while Muslims felt more vulnerable than ever and uncertain which, if any,
of their basic rights the government would protect. While the government
used administrative and judicial procedures to deal with the scarves, the
deeper issues were far more divisive and raised important questions about
what it means to be French and the limits to the public expressions of
diversity that the French would tolerate.
The con¬‚ict over the young girls™ scarves was marked by an intensity
that is hard to imagine in a nation where dress codes have virtually
disappeared, where public nudity is seen as a personal matter, and fash-
ions shift quickly. The core positions were highly emotional and non-
negotiable and they raised deep fears and threats for many people.
Permitting scarves in school was returning the country to the cardinals for
some and giving it to the ayatollah for others. For Muslims, despite the
fact that surveys showed that more of them opposed wearing the foulard
than supported it, the case provided more evidence of French racism and
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

hypocrisy, eliciting intense feelings of vulnerability and rejection, and an
increasing isolation from French society. Another emotionally powerful
image for both Muslims and non-Muslims is rooted in French colonialism “
especially the war in Algeria. There, the FLN (the Algerian Independence
Movement) told women to don veils as a sign of opposition to the French,
and many French believed that Muslim women were assisting the FLN
and carrying under their clothing bombs and other weapons that were
placed in French areas of the city. In 1958, ˜˜opponents of Algerian
independence walked through the streets of Algiers ripping off women™s
veils in the name of the Republic™™ (Scott 2005: 120).
The intensity of feeling was seen in the rapid political fallout “ the rise
of the far right “ an effect that has persisted since early December 1989,
two months after the foulard crisis erupted, when the National Front
received especially strong support in several local elections, particularly in
the south, and won their ¬rst seat in the National Assembly. Both the
socialist government and center-right opposition drew the lesson that the
scarves had allowed the far right to focus attention on its overtly racist
proposals for the exclusion of foreigners and a reduction of social services
to them. Public opinion, in fact, showed that the issue of minorities in
French society was potentially explosive. Large majorities opposed the
right to wear the foulard in school; Muslims also opposed it, 45“30% (Sole
and Tincq 1989: 15). Emotionally, many members of the French majority
transformed the question of religious attire into a threat from funda-
mentalist Islam to the nation and its culture.

Take 2: 1990s
Following the Conseil d™Etat™s 1989 ruling, a small number of students
began wearing headscarves. One estimate is that about 150 out of 5
million post-primary-school students did so between 1990 and 1992 (Kaci
2003). More students began to wear the scarves and there were new
incidents in 1993 and 1994 that led Francois Bayrou, the minister of
education, to issue two circulars that went beyond the 1989 ruling, one
that referred to the ˜˜Islamic scarf™™ and a second that told schools to
include in their internal rules ones that would prohibit students from
wearing ˜˜ostentatious signs™™ of their identity.15 More contentious cases

The shift to a national directive concerning the headscarves meant that school of¬cials
now had to interpret terms such as ostentatious, conspicuous and non-provocative, and

Dressed to express

arose, and in one parents in Strasbourg, whose daughters had been
expelled from school for wearing the scarf, appealed on the grounds that
the scarf is not in itself overly conspicuous, and won. However, the
decision itself was denounced by Bayrou, and it did nothing to bridge the
different positions. Simone Veil, the minister of social affairs, then named
Hani¬ Cheri¬, a North African born scholar, as a mediator hoping she
could reduce the tension. From 1994 to 1996, the number of contested
cases, which had reached 2,400, dropped to 1,000.16
To provide a general framework for managing the issues surrounding
Islam in France (not just the foulard), the High Council of Integration
(HCI), a government appointed body, issued a long report entitled ˜˜Islam
in the Republic™™ in 2000 (HCI 2000). In trying to mediate between the
hard and soft Republican positions, it reminded the public that Islam is
compatible with the Republic and that students should not be excluded
simply because they wore scarves. The report emphasized the public
school as the institutional setting where people learn to live together and
said that identity-based incidents are ampli¬ed when they occur in
schools. The HCI also recognized that headscarves were no longer the
only area of contention in schools and identi¬ed three additional areas of
con¬‚ict: school cafeterias where Islamic dietary restrictions are an issue;
school calendars which con¬‚ict with Muslim religious holidays; and
curriculum and activities (e.g., Arabic language instruction and mixed
gym classes or swimming), and they offered proposals to ¬nd a middle
ground. The report noted that when adolescent boys decide to grow a
beard as a statement of their identity there is little problem.17 However,
the question of young girls wearing ˜˜a scarf around their face that covers
their ears, neck and hair is a problem that is much more delicate™™ (HCI
2000: 3“3“2), because, they said, more than any other issue, it symbolized
the tensions between Islam and the secular public school.
The report emphasized the limits to legal and administrative solutions
to complex issues of culture and identity, and stressed the importance of

the motivations behind students™ choice of clothing or other objects and their potential
impact on others, to make a decision.
Getting the numbers of cases is not simple. There are many simply settled at the school
level relatively quickly. Others are dealt with in the school context but less rapidly, while
there are some in which the outside mediator is involved, most of which were settled and a
few that are not that lead to expulsion.
The question of why female behavior and control over female bodies in cultural identity
con¬‚icts is often far more con¬‚ictual than that of males is potentially quite interesting to
investigate comparatively (Paige and Paige 1981).

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

dialogue and mediation. Through dialogue there could be more room for
the school authorities to better understand the diverse motives of the
young girls who want to wear headscarves and an opportunity to raise
with them the issue of the consequences of such a choice. However, in
the end the HCI clearly spelled out its preferred outcome; they reiterated
the view that the headscarf is an obstacle to integration with its emphasis
on gender inequality, and that anyone who chooses to wear it would face
signi¬cant employment dif¬culties. Employment in the public sector
would not be possible since wearing the scarf violates ˜˜the neutrality of
the state,™™ and private sector work that involves contact with the public
would be problematic for many employers.
In its conclusions, the HCI struggled with the tension between hard
and soft Republican narratives and their underlying values: the reality of
the country™s diverse population and the secular public school as an
institution for the integration of individuals “ not groups “ into French
society. The message was mainly, but not entirely, one of soft Repub-
licanism and creating space for Muslims in France, but without offering
a full-blown multiculturalist position. This struggle recalls Turner™s
(1957) discussion of Ndembu social dramas considered in Chapter 3. In
both situations, there was no simple procedure to settle con¬‚ict between
two competing and equally important principles. In the end, the HCI
report came down on the side of the importance of integration at the
same time as emphasizing the inappropriateness of simply excluding
students who wear scarves because it is incompatible with the goal of
integration. The report also recognized, as Turner does, the inadequacy
of treating value con¬‚icts such as this one as strictly legal matters. At the
same time, there was not a process of engagement of the unequal parties
and the favored mode of con¬‚ict management was for the mediator to
work with the families and students to try to persuade them to change
their behavior. Finally, the report had a very ¬xed view of Islam in
France and little appreciation was shown for its diversity and adapta-
tions in France.

Renewed intensity: 2001“04
The HCI™s call for low-key engagement rather than laws and rules had
relatively little impact even though the number of incidents in schools
requiring mediation had diminished dramatically since the mid 1990s.
Much of this was probably due to school administrators having a clearer
Dressed to express

sense of how to handle the issue so that outsiders were called in less often.
In some schools, students could wear bandanas18 while in others students
were permitted to wear headscarves in school if they agreed to place them
on their shoulders in class. There were, however, continuing incidents
often leading to court cases that attracted public attention. Even more
important was that larger political events overwhelmed the chance that
local, focused mediation and dialogue might succeed. In 2001, the
September 11 attacks rekindled fears of Islamic fundamentalism,
emphasizing the Taliban™s oppression of women, and the threat of jihad to
Western democratic societies. There were also an increasing number of
anti-Semitic incidents invoking the Israeli“Palestinian con¬‚ict in French
cities that were attributed to Muslims, and continuing high levels of crime
and unemployment in suburban and urban areas with high Muslim
populations. All this only strengthened the on-going French belief that
Muslims wanted the bene¬ts of residence in France but only on their own
terms. This led many to suggest that compromise and dialogue with Islam
was not possible and that the global dimensions of the con¬‚ict had
overwhelmed the national ones.
The powerful narrative surrounding terrorism, fundamentalism, and
immigration, combined with public disenchantment with politics and
politicians in France following major scandals, propelled Jean-Marie Le
Pen™s xenophobic anti-foreigner party to be the second largest vote getter
in the ¬rst round of the 2002 presidential election. While many took
solace in the outpouring of anti-racist rhetoric and the beating Le Pen
took in the second round, it is also the case that over the past two decades
many of Le Pen™s once marginal issue positions have become mainstays of
French politics. Many politicians on both the right and left realized the
threat many French perceive from the country™s Islamic minority and in
the year following the 2002 election there was a stream of proposals to
address the social and political issues, aimed at undercutting the National
Front™s support. Among these was a renewed interest in headscarves in
schools as a direct challenge, and threat, to the integrity of French culture
and values.
There were several initiatives concerning Islam in France aimed at
solidifying the government™s position, and calls for change from the
socialist left as well. Led by Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy, the

The bandana, like the foulard and voile, covers the hair and ears. It is important to realize
that there are many styles of how each is worn.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

government moved to create a French Islamic Council, the Conseil
Francaise de Culte Musulman (CFCM), parallel to one that exists for
Protestants and Jews to facilitate communication and control. The
government hoped the CFCM would reduce the in¬‚uence of foreign-
trained clerics, especially those whose views, such as promoting Islamic
law in France, run counter to French values (Fernando 2005a; Sciolino
2003a: 16). However, in the April 2003 elections for the CFCM, there
were more Islamists elected than expected and the Algerian-backed Paris
mosque that Sarkozy supported did poorly.19 Following the election,
Sarkozy was quite explicit about his expectations. ˜˜It is precisely because
we recognize the right of Islam to sit at the table of the republic that we
will not accept any deviation. Any prayer leader whose views run contrary
to the values of the republic will be expelled™™ (Sciolino 2003a: 16).20
Within a year, tensions in the council grew between Muslims from dif-
ferent countries as well as between those who were foreign born and those
who were second or third generation French (Fernando 2005a).
Sarkozy and others want ˜˜model Muslims™™ meaning Muslims who will
integrate into French society and will separate religion and politics.
˜˜Model Muslim women would not wear headscarves in the workplace;
model Muslim girls would not try to wear headscarves to school. Most

The elections showed how factionalized Muslims are in France and how most groups
have close ties to speci¬c Muslim countries. The group that elected the most members on
the council had close ties to the Moroccan government. There were also members elected
with ties to Turkey.
The rhetoric of many who have written or spoken out on Islam in France strikes an
outsider like myself as inconsistent in many ways. Jean Daniel, long-time editor of the
left-leaning Nouvel Observateur, has long opposed racism and anti-Semitism in France. At
the same time he is capable of writing an editorial where he declared that the headscarf
issue is a challenge to the Republic and its values and should be banned in schools,
describing those who support the right to wear headscarves as provocative and
threatening. He went on to say that he was ˜˜shocked, irritated, disconcerted that in
their desire to wear the foulard, a yarmulke, or any other distinctive symbol, there is a
desire to af¬rm a difference that is neither rooted in a Luddite eccentricity, nor an isolated
challenge. It is an af¬rmation of collective difference and the existence of a community
outside the nation. What is shocking, irritating, and disconcerting, is that the guests [italics
added] of a state don™t even have the politeness to respect the laws of their hosts and even
battle against them. After all, it took a long struggle to obtain a public school that is
Republican, secular, compulsory, and open to all. It is shocking that one brandishes
religious freedom as a reason to deny equality before the law and fraternity among
children™™ (Daniel 2003: 55). Thomas (2000: 178) reports that former President Valery
Giscard d™Estaing used the same guest-host image saying that the girls should remove
their scarves in school as a sign of respect for their hosts the same way that he would
remove his shoes before entering a mosque.

Dressed to express

important, model Muslims would call themselves French ¬rst and Muslim
second™™ (Sciolino 2003b). State efforts to shape of¬cial Islam are part of
the effort since the 1990s to use ¬nancial power to direct and control local
organizations in and around Paris that primarily serve Muslim popula-
tions. There is some criticism that these organizations, generally led by
French born and educated somewhat secular elites, are a sort of colonial
administration that does what the French bureaucracy cannot do directly
(Withol de Wenden and Leveau 2001: 121“24).
With the debate over Islam in general, and the veil in particular,
heating up, and with proposals for new legislation in the spring of 2003,
French President Jacques Chirac appointed a Commission headed by
former minister Bernard Stasi and consisting of twenty members drawn
from diverse parts of French society (including six women, three Muslims,
and three Jews) to examine ˜˜Non-Denominationalism in the Republic.™™
He asked the Commission to engage in a wide-ranging constructive
discussion, reminding them that secularism was a duty, not just a right,
and that their object was to reconcile national unity and the neutrality of
the Republic with the recognition of the religious diversity in France
(AFP 2003).
Following testimony from 140 witnesses, the Commission™s detailed
report emphasized that ˜˜secularism is not negotiable™™ and they made
twenty-six speci¬c proposals including one for a law to ban students from
wearing conspicuous religious signs “ large crosses, skull caps, and veils “
in school.21 They emphasized how their ¬ve-month investigation and the
testimony they heard persuaded them that the display of contentious
religious symbols had become a matter that could no longer be handled
adequately at the local level and required national legislation. The com-
prehensive report offered a vigorous defense of Republican principles and
a plea for tolerance, emphasizing the importance of secular principles in the
public domain while guaranteeing religious freedom to all. Its recom-
mendations included proposals to add Yom Kippur and Aid as school
holidays, to end school instruction in ¬rst languages of students in cases
where it is not French, to increase the teaching of Arabic as an academic
subject, and to make culturally appropriate meals available in school
cafeterias, and encouraged the destruction of urban ghettos. To renew the
national commitment to secular principles, the Commission called for

The full text of the report is available at: www.ladocumentationfrancaise.fr/
rapports-publics/034000725/index. shtml

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

the development and adoption of a ˜˜civil charter™™ (charte de la la±cite ) that
would reaf¬rm and renew the relevance of the principle of the separation
of church and state. In sum, the Commission took a hard line on the
headscarves while trying to expand the boundaries of what could be
considered French.
A week after he received the report, President Chirac, aware of both
public support and the upcoming local elections, announced his support
for a law banning conspicuous religious signs, saying that if France suc-
cumbed to the demands of religious communities, ˜˜It would sacri¬ce its
heritage; it would compromise its future; it would lose its soul™™ (Sciolino
2003c). However, students could still wear discrete signs such as small
crosses, stars of David, or hands of Fatima. Six weeks later the legislative
debate took place and the law banning religious signs starting the next
school year was passed quickly. The outcome was never in doubt given
Chirac™s control of the legislature. Nonetheless, there was a vigorous
debate that, like 1989, cut across traditional political divisions. Muslims
were divided with the more militant voices strongly opposed but others
such as Dalil Boubakeur, head of the Paris mosque, supportive of it,
declaring, ˜˜We absolutely do not want any confrontations™™ (Sciolino
2004a). Catholic and Protestant groups opposed the law as did small
numbers of people on the left and center, while most of the center-right
governing coalition as well as the opposition socialists supported it.
School teachers and of¬cials generally supported it as they no longer
wanted to deal with the contentious cases themselves at the local level.
During the debate, it became clear that the actual number of problem
cases each year involving headscarves was small and hardly a good
explanation of the need for the law. There were 1260 cases at the opening
of school in 2003, 20 of which were dif¬cult, meaning that a resolution
was not found, and 4 exclusions (Lorcerie 2005: 22). At this time only
about 100“150 students continued to wear the scarf in school, but this did
not mean the issue had lost its emotional potency (Brizard 2003). Alain
Madelin, a member of Chirac™s coalition who opposed the law warned
that if one symbol is banned, another will emerge. He asserted that the
˜˜national psychodrama™™ and the passage of this law might exorcise
French fears of immigration, of the vitality of Islam, of communalism, and
of the ˜˜other™™ but would hardly address the social problems in France™s
ghettos (Madelin 2004).
Following the law™s passage, the administration began formulating
speci¬c rules for its implementation and Muslims opposed to it
Dressed to express

considered how to respond. One response was to turn to clothing, such as
bandanas, which have no religious signi¬cance per se, rather than traditional
scarves, that could permit girls to cover their hair, There was a certain
amount of press discussion of how to de¬ne a bandana and when it might
or might not be a fashion accessory rather than a religious garment.22 One
Muslim leader suggested the possibility of a student strike in defense of
human rights if bandanas were banned and called for students to follow
their conscience. For its part, the Education Ministry suggested that in
some situations traditional clothing would be acceptable, which suggested
further possibilities for accommodation.23 Fillion also made it clear that
speci¬c decisions would be made inside schools “ away from cameras and
journalists. There would be a period of dialogue (but no negotiation)24
before any hearing would be held that might lead to expulsion. Meanwhile,
all of the Commission™s other recommendations were ignored and Stasi
himself said how he was sorry that only the headscarves proposal received
any government attention (AFP 2004; Kramer 2004).
As schools were about to open in September, two French journalists in
Iraq were kidnapped and their abductors announced that they would be
killed unless France annulled the headscarf law. In response, French
Muslims rallied behind the nation and called for the rapid release of the
hostages; it was clear to them that this was not the moment to provoke a
confrontation. The Ministry of Education reported that after the opening
of the 2004“05 school year, of the 12 million students some 240 wore veils;
a larger number wore them to school but removed them as they entered the
buildings; 170 of them agreed to remove them in a short time, leaving 70
unresolved cases.25 Most were in and around Strasbourg and involved
Turkish, not North African, families, and Lille in the north.26 The
government interpreted the small number of cases, in comparison with

To understand how contorted some of the discussion became, consider the view that
some expressed that if it covered the forehead or was attached to other clothing, then it
was no longer a fashion statement.
It was not clear what traditional clothing might be included and some suggested this
provision was made to prevent con¬‚ict in overseas territories such as Reunion and
Martinique rather than with Muslims in France.
Some have suggested that dialogue only meant that the more powerful school authorities
would put pressure on the students, delivering the message that the law could not tolerate
The number shifted slightly over the next few weeks and was reported to be 101 late in
September (Malingre 2004).
There was only one case in Paris, and the student was reported to have removed her scarf
within a few hours on the ¬rst day of school.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

the 1200 students wearing veils at the opening of school the year before,
as widespread acceptance of the law (Bronner and Malingre 2004).
However, the chilling effect of the hostage taking certainly made a large
difference too. A small number of Sikh students who refused to remove
their turbans were caught in the battle over the headscarves as well. They
argued that their practice was cultural, not religious, and some school
of¬cials sought a compromise that teachers, who feared a backlash if there
were two standards, thwarted.
The schools moved slowly in the remaining cases in part because of
the hostage situation that did not end until the two journalists were
released just before Christmas. In late October, the ¬rst expulsions, two
12-year-old girls in Mulhouse, were announced. One father com-
mented, ˜˜It feels like an Inquisition™™ (Laronche 2004a). By December
there were forty-three expulsions under the law including three Sikhs.
Forty-one students enrolled in correspondence programs and seventeen
in private schools. There was continued bickering about whether, and
when, a bandana is a veil and when it is a fashion accessory.27
Although the law was speci¬cally about students, there were efforts to
broaden its application. Some schools sought to prohibit mothers wearing
head coverings from picking up their children at school although even-
tually the Education Ministry said such a prohibition was illegal. In late
December the prefecture of Seine-Saint-Denis in the suburbs of Paris
prohibited ¬ve women wearing veils from attending a naturalization
ceremony in which three of them were to receive French citizenship; they
were told that ˜˜for a ceremony as symbolic of their integration into the
French national community where the Marseillaise is sung any con-
spicuous sign of community af¬liation should be banned™™ (Coroller
2004). Although the women still got their citizenship papers, the daughter
of one of them said she resented the exclusion and its accompanying
humiliation (Bernard 2004). The next year, the same prefecture denied a
Moroccan woman a residential visa because she was wearing a headscarf, a
sign of Islamic fundamentalism. Only when the woman hired a lawyer to
appeal the decision was it reversed (Coroller 2005b; 2005c).

The Education Ministry got into this somewhat absurd situation when it attempted to
distinguish between an ordinary bandana and one that has been turned into an Islamic
scarf. It de¬nes the second in terms of three de¬ning criteria: ˜˜It must be worn all day
without interruption, all the days of the week, and it totally hides the hair™™ (Laronche

Dressed to express

Conclusion: competing images of French identity
Psychocultural dramas surrounding the Islamic headscarf in France are
recurring and unresolved and there remains a signi¬cant contradiction
between the dominant narrative of the French nation and its Republican
principles, and the multicultural reality of France today. The language of
assimilation and acculturation that leaves little room for multiple iden-
tities is clearly at odds with the diversity of French reality and worldwide
discourses concerning pluralism and multiple identities. While the
French understanding of multiculturalism and the needs of Muslim citi-
zens is far more sophisticated than a decade ago, the political situation is
highly constrained as the public continues to express a visceral opposition
to Islam and often perceives all Muslim religious expressions as signs of
extremism and an unwillingness to integrate into French society. In this
context, young girls and women wearing the voile are viewed as challen-
ging the nation and the state; this perception keeps the con¬‚ict from
moving toward deescalation and constructive dialogue. Absent are more
nuanced and inclusive symbols and rituals that could emphasize how
French and Muslim identities are compatible. ˜˜The headscarf law halted
the ¬ghting, but settled nothing™™ (Coroller 2005a).
Hani¬ Cheri¬, who has served on the HCI and on the Stasi com-
mission, warned in 2001 that juridical solutions are inadequate by
themselves, as Turner (1957) argued, although she backed the ban in the
Commission report. More and more Muslim women are choosing to wear
veils in public and Muslim women are speaking publicly on both sides of
the issue more than they did earlier (Bouzar 2001; Bouzar and Kada
2003). The con¬‚ict which the headscarf has symbolized has clearly moved
beyond the school in France particularly after the 2005 street violence.
There are some like Cheri¬ who argue that the voile is a trap that mar-
ginalizes and isolates young girls who choose to wear it (Simon 2001).
However, what she says is needed is not exclusion and rules but education
and engagement, although it is not always clear what these entail. Cheri¬
emphasizes that there is a good deal of variation in Islamic practice, the
headscarf is not worn at all in some Islamic countries, it is banned in
others, and that in the Maghreb traditionally it was not worn by many
Central to the con¬‚ict are claims about the motives of the girls and
women who wear the scarves. Yet, it is clear that wearing the headscarf,
like other powerful symbols, does not have only one meaning or one

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

motive (Coroller 2005a; des Deserts, Fohr, Monnin, and Vigoureux
2003). Opponents readily, and often aggressively, say that families or
extremist religious groups obligate girls to wear the foulard and in some
cases this is true. But there are other motives as well. Some girls and
young women adopt it as a means of personal security, believing that
when they wear it young men are less likely to harass them and make
unwanted sexual advances in the tough suburbs where many live
(˜˜Ripostes™™ 2003).28 Bouzar (2003), an anthropologist and a government
appointed member of the CFCM, argues that the headscarf is a strategy
for protection that expands opportunities for participating in French
society rather than limiting them. It can communicate that the young
woman wearing the foulard is pious, serious, and ready for marriage (des
Deserts, Fohr, Monnin, and Vigoureux 2003) and can also provide social
space for girls to move between their family and its culture and the French
Republican traditions (Bouzar 2001; 2003). Wearing the scarf allows
some women to do things they might not have otherwise imagined “
going to university, having a career, getting involved with voluntary
associations, and ¬nding others like themselves (des Deserts, Fohr,
Monnin, and Vigoureux 2003). It is indeed paradoxical, Bouzar says, that
what she sees as signs of integration are widely perceived as a rejection of
it (Millot 2003).
Fernando (2005b) and Bouzar and Kada (2003:12) emphasize the
individualistic nature of the choice for many women. Bouzar (2003) says
that the choice often pits younger women against their families. As a
generational con¬‚ict, she argues that French-born Muslims wearing the
veil are not rejecting integration but af¬rming it. The women feel suf¬-
ciently at home in France that they are willing to appear in public with it.
For them, the foulard is about equality, respect, and authentic personal
identity construction (Branine 2003). Freedman (2004) adds that for
younger women it is often more a sign of self-identity than religiosity,
while Cheri¬ too argues that for many of the girls Islam is ˜˜my culture,
my identity™™ in great part as a response to stigmatization, hostility, and
discrimination (Simon 2001).
What has been clear since 1989 is that the headscarf con¬‚icts are
hardly just about headscarves and that the many psychocultural dramas
have failed to move the parties toward effective dialogue over the
underlying identity issues. If anything, the 2004 law threatens to further

Some Muslim women in the US make the same argument.

Dressed to express

polarize the situation and invites challenges from which neither side will
be able to easily back down, although none took place in the ¬rst two
years after the law went into effect. Despite the fact that most voices from
North African associations in France have sought more, not less, inte-
gration into French society, the political fallout from the affair since 1989
has had important consequences that have inhibited, not enhanced,
integration. Public opinion has long been ˜˜persuaded that immigration “
particularly from Islamic counties “ represents a fundamental threat to the
cultural cohesion of the nation™™ (Hargreaves 1995:85).29 For many
Muslims, the con¬‚icts underlined their vulnerability in French society and
their lack of public voice, and Muslim organizations in France came to
pay less attention to integration and assimilation and focused more on
their own community (Withol de Wenden and Leveau 2001). This then
reinforced the dominant French view that these actions were evidence
that Muslims were incapable of assimilation and their presence in France
was a threat to the secular state.
In this, as in many, identity con¬‚icts, the different parties have little
appreciation of the others™ sense of vulnerability. To the Muslims, the
French express arrogance, condescension, and little respect for Islam as
the country™s second largest religion. At the same time, many French non-
Muslims interpret Muslims as lazy and/or extremist and worry that they
are incapable of developing the values and lifestyle needed to become
truly French. Consequently, relations between the French mainstream
and Muslims are characterized by high tension surrounding issues such as
suburban violence and crime,30 as well as spillover from con¬‚icts in North
Africa and the Middle East.31
Concern for French cultural survival can be seen in the work of the Academie Francaise in
defense of the French language, legislation restricting non-French language shows and
¬lms on French television, and French subsidies for francophone cultural projects
throughout the world.
Discussions of suburban crime or problems of suburban youth have increasingly become
code words for anti-immigrant positions in French political discourse (Chebel
d™Appollonia 2002) in the the same way that in the late 1960s the phrase ˜˜crime in the
streets™™ was a code for referring to black crime in the US.
One small moment when many tried to bridge the cultural divide came in 1998 when the
multicultural and multiracial French soccer team won the World Cup before a delirious
home audience. However, the lesson that the team was victorious because of cooperation
among culturally diverse players did not generalize to widespread support for
multiculturalism. In fact, many drew a somewhat different lesson: that the team™s success
was evidence of French non-racialism and the importance of shared goals and common
understandings, reinforcing their prior pride in French assimilation and the integration of
(deserving, model) immigrants.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

There is a strong resistance to the use of ethnic or racial categories
within the Republican framework that emphasizes state neutrality in
matters of culture and religion, but little French self-awareness of how
these cultural assumptions privilege the majority. Kastoryano (1996) and
Chebel d™Apollonia (2001; 2002) argue that the way in which French
political discourse approaches the problem and frames action is a sig-
ni¬cant barrier to deescalation and the analysis here supports their
argument. One consequence of the French refusal to recognize ethnic or
religious communities is that France collects no data on religion, ethni-
city, or national origin, making it dif¬cult to document the fate of
immigrants over time and to address structural problems involving
minorities, such as housing, segregation, and social services that were
cited as primary causes of the 2005 riots. In addition, there is tremendous
opposition to using terms such as ghetto or ghettoization because they are
viewed as inconsistent with Republican ideology and symptomatic of
(inadequate) American and British approaches to race (Chebel d™Apollo-
nia 2002). An important consequence of French rejection of sub-national
identities means that the government often dismisses underlying issues of
discrimination out of hand which means that policies such as af¬rmative
action (which the French call positive discrimination) are rarely even
considered (Bleich 2001). As a result, to date despite the large size of the
Muslim population, there are very few Muslims in visible public roles, as
elected of¬cials, top administrators, or television personalities, which only
reinforces feelings of exclusion.
Hargreaves suggests that the non-Muslim French view of Muslims has
overemphasized their homogeneity creating unnecessary fears of a uni-
¬ed, fundamentalism Islamic communitarianism in France, or obstacles to
the very integration the French have called for:
if the French are often anxious over what is seen as the threat of ethno-cultural
minorities, it is in part because they mistake the phantoms created by their own
ethnicization of minority groups for the much more diffuse modes of ethnicity
which characterize many peoples of immigrant origin.
(Hargreaves 1995: 37)

A related issue is that Muslims are decentralized politically and have not
been integrated into the existing political structure since the failure of the
Beurs and socialists to effectively work together in the 1980s. In the
unfolding psychocultural dramas, it was often unclear who could speak for
the Muslims. No members of the National Assembly are of North African

Dressed to express

origin and they are unrepresented in other elected bodies as well. In such a
setting, Cohen™s (1969) observations about how minorities use cultural
organization to deal with political challenges offer a good way to under-
stand French Muslim organizations as multifunctional and especially
relevant for within-group communication. Furthermore, in Islamic
societies religion is not compartmentalized from other domains as it is in
France and other Western countries. French non-Muslims often view
religious images and practices as expressions of blind faith and commu-
nitarianism, missing their function as a mechanism of social connectedness.
Because the French are uneasy about intermediate identity groups
between the individual and the nation, when ethnic or religious com-
munities undertake independent actions of any kind they easily see them
as threats to the nation and its sovereignty, putting the two on a collision
course. Kymlicka makes a strong case for the generalizability of Canada™s
multicultural policies to countries like France. He argues that multi-
culturalism is about the terms, not the idea, of integration. He examines a
series of multicultural policies in Canada ranging from af¬rmative action
to bilingual education and argues that they facilitate institutional inte-
gration in a way that ˜˜in itself is likely to generate a sense of psychological
identi¬cation™™ (Kymlicka 1998: 53). The key, he says, is that multi-
culturalism has an important symbolic value in that it ˜˜makes explicit the
principle that the interests and lifestyles of immigrants are as worthy of
respect (and accommodation) as those of the people descended from the
country™s original colonists™™ (Kymlicka 1998: 56). Looking at France, a
country far from adopting such a position, he adds that even if France
rejects the term multiculturalism, it cannot avoid the need for multi-
cultural policies in practice. Finally, Kymlicka agrees that multicultural
policies cannot be a license for immigrant groups to do whatever they
choose in the name of cultural autonomy. Instead, he argues that the
norms of Canada™s liberal democratic polity set limits on what behaviors
and practices are acceptable. To make his case, he distinguishes between
group rights that permit groups to control the behavior of their members
and sti¬‚e internal dissent, and the rights of the group against the wider
society to protect it from external pressures. He views the ¬rst, which he
calls internal restrictions, negatively, while supporting the second,
external protections, in terms of basic notions of individual rights.
The model of multiculturalism in Canada supports the ability of immigrants to
choose for themselves whether to maintain their ethnic identity. There is no

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

suggestion that ethnic groups should have the power to impose a conception of
cultural tradition or cultural purity on their members, or to regulate the freedom
of individual members to accept or reject their ethnic identity.32
(Kymlicka 1998: 65)

Certainly his suggestions are very much at odds with the hard
Republican narrative as is the cultural diversity found in France and most
of Europe today. Although the con¬‚ict over the foulard focuses on a
symbolic object, one reason the con¬‚ict continues is the failure to identify
new or existing inclusive symbols and rituals that might bridge some
differences and emphasize shared experiences, values, and identities.
Bouzar (2001) and Cheri¬ (Simon, 2001) point to a need for greater
emphasis on what Islam and the French Republican tradition have in
common than there has been to date, and my argument is that this might
be most effective if it is communicated in an emotionally meaningful
manner through inclusive symbolic expressions and ritual enactments.
For now, the existing narratives about diversity and integration appear
far apart and the media emphasize their incompatible positions. While the
narrative that one can be French and Muslim at the same time is more
common than in 1989, Kastoryano argues that movement forward
requires explicit recognition of communities and negotiation of their
differences surrounding identity issues which has not yet taken place
(1996). Bowen (2004: 35) points toward ways that Islamic scholars are
exploring compatibilities between Islamic social norms and those held
more widely in France.
Exactly how a softer Republicanism can replace hard-line positions is
far from obvious. It is likely, however, that a successful outcome will take
one of two forms: (1) the pragmatic position (soft Republicanism) will
prevail and there will be some acceptance of intermediate identity groups
and even multiculturalism in France in particular and Europe in general;
and/or (2) behaviors and practices previously considered non-French will
become incorporated into what it means to be French (as happened
earlier with Protestants and Jews). This is similar to what Zolberg and
Woon (1999:14) call ˜˜attenuated pluralism™™ to describe arrangements in
many European settings, including France, referring to arrangements
involving funding legal access and recognition, tolerance of differences in

Here is where the discourse justifying the headscarf law as protecting young girls from
fathers and community members who oblige them to wear them is relevant. What is
absent, however, are good data on the extent to which this, in fact, happens.

Dressed to express

marriage and family laws, provision of burial facilities, chaplaincy in
public institutions such as the military and prisons, and sometimes
recognizing differences in religious education in schools and holidays in
ways that can produce boundary crossing, blurring, and shifting over
A good outcome cannot result only from formal negotiations; if the
psychocultural dramas over headscarves are to decline in intensity the
parties will have to engage cultural and affective concerns as well as
substantive issues and practices. Just as a person from Brittany or Prov-
ence can maintain a national and regional identity, and the classrooms in
Alsace can have crosses on their walls, there needs to be a cultural space
for people to be both French and Muslim. To do that there has to be
more real engagement characterized by respect even though complicated
issues including ones rooted in the country™s colonial past are sure to
provoke some tough moments for all.


The politics of memory and memorialization in
post-apartheid South Africa

How people understand the past matters, because it can tell us a lot about
how they think about the present and future. As Connerton says, ˜˜Our
experience of the present very largely depends upon our knowledge of the
past. We experience our present world in a context which is causally
connected with past events and objects™™ (1998: 2). This point of view
focuses not on establishing objective facts about past events but on how
present needs shape what people believe and emphasize about the past,
and how this affects present beliefs and actions. Narratives rely on
metaphors and images about the past, offering general, practical lessons
about groups, their motives, opportunities, and dangers; worldviews make
sense of the past in ways that can render present action alternatives more
or less plausible, exacerbate or lower anxiety, and facilitate or make less
likely the peaceful settlement of disputes.
From this perspective, the past is ¬‚uid in terms of what people
emphasize, worry about, commemorate, and celebrate. Popular and
scholarly accounts of the past shift as particular details are selectively
remembered and forgotten and as the speci¬c lessons that are drawn from
past events are selectively emphasized. For example, in South Africa, the
focus of this chapter and the next, historian Leslie Witz (2003) argues that
Jan van Riebeeck, the founder of the ¬rst Dutch settlement at the Cape in
1652 and long a symbol of Afrikaner anti-British pride, was recast more
broadly as a white hero during the 300th anniversary celebrations in 1952,
four years after the Afrikaner-led Nationalist Party took power in the
country. This recasting was part of an effort to build white solidarity
following a long period of intense British Afrikaner con¬‚ict.
Societies have many ways of remembering the past, including emo-
tionally signi¬cant narratives and rituals associated with key events, sacred

Post-apartheid South Africa

places, holidays, and historical personalities. Preserving memory is
complicated, of course, since there will be differences of opinion in any
society concerning which memories are most important and how they
should be remembered. Levinson describes the complex process in
changing societies by which decisions are made concerning public art and
the narratives it embodies. He points out that ˜˜Public power within a
given society organize[s] public space to convey (and thus to teach the
public) desired political lessons . . . [that] always promote privileged nar-
ratives of the national experience and thus attempt to form a particular
kind of national consciousness™™ (1998: 10). As we have already seen,
cultural institutions both re¬‚ect and create images of the past and are
sometimes at the center of con¬‚icts over how the past should be repre-
sented and who controls the narrative and images associated with it
(Linenthal 2001a).
The physical presence of monuments proclaims a narrative™s legiti-
macy while at the same time freezing an account that is often literally set
in stone at one point in time. As Crampton says, monuments ˜˜focus on
the use of public space in the production of national images. They are
important sites at which national traditions are invented and situated
symbolically on the landscape and in the popular imagination™™ (2001:
223). Any effort to alter a monument intimately associated with an
emotionally powerful narrative is a potential source of controversy, as loss
of control over a symbolic space and the symbolic landscape is easily
perceived as a threat to a group. Yet over time, meanings are renegotiated,
sacred sites and rituals are transformed, and changes in the narratives a
site presents and represents occur. For example, Verdun, a World War I
battle¬eld site in Northern France where about 420,000 French and
German soldiers died and probably twice as many were wounded, evolved
from a patriotic French memorial site to one that now marks mutual loss
and celebrates the post-1945 peaceful relationship between the long-time
former enemies. At the core of such transformation is the replacement of
mutually exclusive accounts by more joint inclusive images and an
acceptance of, if not necessarily support for, the symbolic presence of the
former opponents on the site.1

A space associated with one group may be rede¬ned to include others. For example, in the
early post-Civil War years, monuments at Gettysburg were built for northern soldiers.
Only after a generation did southern states get permission to build ones to their dead there
as well. Simultaneously, the role of slavery as a cause of the con¬‚ict was fast fading from
the narrative shared by northern and southern whites.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

Dominant groups ¬nd it particularly dif¬cult to share symbolic space
with subordinate groups when they feel that their dominant position is at
risk. This is seen clearly in the case of Orange Order parades discussed in
Chapter 4 where the intensity and expression of aggression has increased
as Protestant dominance in Northern Ireland has declined (Bryan 2000).
Almost always, initial requests or demands for transforming exclusive
monuments, memorials, and other sacred sites into more inclusive spaces
are rejected. At other times, symbolically important sites are controlled by
the keepers of the faith for whom a change in their orthodox account is
quickly experienced as an attack on their identity or a political risk they
are unwilling to take. For example, in 1991 the US government and
President George H. W. Bush rejected proposals for Japanese participa-
tion in the 50th anniversary ceremonies at Pearl Harbor on the grounds
that the Japanese government had not yet apologized for the attack.
Similarly, in 1995 at Washington™s National Aeronautics and Space
Museum a proposed exhibit on the end of World War II and the decision
to drop the atomic bomb was radically scaled back when veterans™ groups
vociferously objected to questions the exhibit planned to raise about
President Harry S Truman™s decision (Linenthal 1996).
Memorial sites serve as key linkage mechanisms to the past (as we saw
in the case of Jerusalem in Chapter 6), and even though the content and
narratives associated with them change over time, visitors often experi-
ence them as timeless. Most ritual behavior is presented as timeless, even
though often we can observe the use of current categories to explain past
behaviors, and implicitly assume that present group goals are the same as
past ones.
Two different dynamics of change in memorial sites and the narratives
associated with them can be identi¬ed. The ¬rst is incremental change
that accumulates over time as a result of intergenerational transforma-
tions, and new shifting contextual demands. One example is how holiday
celebrations evolve. In the United States, Memorial Day was a sacred
civil-religious holiday for as long as there were living Civil War veterans
(Warner 1959). In the second half of the twentieth century, while parades
continued in many places, the tone of the celebrants became more casual
and the day provided an occasion for families and friends to enjoy the long
weekend that marked the start of the summer. The second change
dynamic is one that occurs when modi¬cation in the meaning and/or
physical structure of a site occurs in direct response to demands re¬‚ecting
changing political alignments. In the US, since the 1960s, prior exclusion
Post-apartheid South Africa

of women and minorities from history museums and textbooks has
produced protests that have led to major shifts in how American history is
presented. While in this case the movement was toward greater inclu-
siveness, movement toward exclusiveness also occurs as it did in Quebec
and Jerusalem.
Linenthal (1993) offers an excellent description of the transformation
of a sacred site in his analysis of the Little Bighorn battle¬eld site and the
power of the symbolic con¬‚icts pitting competing narratives “ General
George Custer as savior and Custer as oppressor. His accounts of Little
Bighorn, and of the politics of memorialization at four other major
American battle¬elds, are instructive in showing how groups contest
whose narratives will be told on a site and in so doing can transform
memorial sites in a more inclusive direction.
In June 1876 at Little Bighorn in South Dakota, Lakota Sioux,
Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors defeated Custer™s Seventh Cavalry
troops. The battle assumed mythic proportions and three years later the
US government built a national cemetery named the Custer National
Battle¬eld. For nearly 100 years the story of the heroic defeat came to
symbolize the sacri¬ces those bringing civilization to the frontier made
and for decades what was called the ˜˜massacre™™ was remembered as a
model of enduring bravery and sacri¬cial death (Linenthal 1993: 130“32).
Only in the 1970s did Native Americans begin to succeed in publicly
challenging the presentation of the battle and their exclusion from the site
and the surrounding symbolic landscape.

At the Little Bighorn, Native Americans have sought to resurrect their story from
an alien patriotic landscape and an alien orthodoxy that excluded them for a
century. Often the only form of power available to those who are excluded from
the ownership of important cultural symbols is symbolic guerrilla warfare.
(Linenthal 1993:163)

At the centenary celebrations in 1976, Native Americans directly
challenged Custer™s symbolic dominance on the site, and the National
Park Service, which manages it, recognized the site™s very one-sided
nature. Finding a middle ground was not easy, however, and there was
strong resistance to the Native Americans™ efforts to overturn a century of
symbolic domination (Linenthal 1993:143). Native Americans began to
hold their own ceremonies and presented the battle in a very different
interpretive framework. While Native Americans emphasized Custer as a
symbol of their mistreatment by the US government, supporters of the
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

traditional narrative attacked the placement of a quote from Sioux
Medicine Man Black Elk outside the visitor center that reads, ˜˜Know the
Power that Is Peace™™ as the pollution of sacred ground (Linenthal
1993:148). There were virtually no symbols that did not produce
opposing reactions from each side. In 1988 there was another powerful
symbolic confrontation when members of the American Indian Movement
(AIM) placed a plaque in a cement base next to a monument on a burial
area for enlisted men of the Seventh Cavalry whose inscription read, ˜˜In
honor of our Indian patriots who fought and defeated the US Calvary [sic].
In order to preserve our women and children from mass murder. In doing
so, preserving rights to our Homelands, Treaties, and sovereignty™™
(Linenthal 1993: 159).
The Park Service™s proposal to change the name of the site from the
Custer National Battle¬eld to the Little Bighorn Battle¬eld National
Monument unleashed another extended controversy. Finally, in 1991
Congress authorized the change as well as the construction of an Indian
memorial on the site; it was not dedicated until 2003, due in great part to
con¬‚ict among Indian groups (Linenthal, personal communication). Both
the site and the narratives recounted there have greatly changed their
meaning. The current focus on the clashing cultures deemphasizes
Custer, and attention to Indian culture and life in the region provides a
much broader and more inclusive narrative. Visitors are now offered tours
of nearby Indian reservations and sites. While some diehards on each side
remain unsatis¬ed, they seem to be a distinct minority.
When a site is constructed, it represents a particular constructed truth
that the site™s presence validates. Change can occur and often the dynamic
involved is highly contentious because this means that contending groups
are also renegotiating their relationship. This dynamic by which sites and
their narratives change includes the speci¬c locations that are de¬ned as
part of a site; the structures themselves; the location and content of objects
such as plaques and statues; the written texts and videos; how tour guides
describe past events; and the use of inclusive versus exclusive language.

Heritage sites and the South African transition
Collective memory that is institutionalized in public sites such as bat-
tle¬elds and monuments often serves a legitimating function for a regime,
and for the same reason these sites are also likely to serve as focal points of
political protest for those attacking a regime. When regimes change in
Post-apartheid South Africa

radical ways, we can deepen our understanding of the escalation and
mitigation of con¬‚ict by asking when and how previously important sites
of memory and group identity are appropriated, accepted, destroyed,
taken over, transformed, moved, or ignored. Levinson argues that when
there is radical regime change, often one of the ¬rst tasks of the new rulers
is the destruction of the old symbols (Levinson 1998: 12). Widely known
images of regime change include those of statuary with its heads cut off
after the French Revolution and monuments to Lenin and Stalin smashed
with the fall of the Soviet Union. However, there are other possibilities, as
Levinson (1998) points out, such as the Hungarian case where monu-
ments from previous regimes were not destroyed but were removed to a
park in Budapest where they are visible as historical, rather than
contemporary, objects.
South Africa provides another striking example. The entrenched
apartheid government perpetrated a racialized system of inequality and
legal separation of the country™s residents based on the government™s
constructed racial categories. Intense con¬‚ict went on for decades and
politics seemed more and more stuck. Despite UN resolutions, diplo-
matic isolation, and economic boycotts, few foresaw the rapid negotiated
transition in 1990“94 that led to universal elections and majority rule.2
Furthermore, even given that change, few predicted the relatively non-
violent manner of the transition after the elections, or the level of
acceptance of the new government and its values that followed (Gibson
and Gouws 2003). While the country continues to face huge challenges,
its progress and stability to date make it a particularly interesting and
important place to explore issues of symbolic representation and political
transition. My attention in this chapter and the one that follows focuses
on the transformation of an exclusive public, symbolic landscape into a
more inclusive one in the post-apartheid period.

The vision of the new South Africa
The 1990“94 transition to majority rule in South Africa broke with the
past in a number of dramatic and important ways, including the adoption
of a new non-racial constitution that ended apartheid and instituted
majority rule. The African National Congress (ANC) and the South
Here I do not engage the important question of how a transition that few social scientists
and other observers expected took place, although this fascinating question still remains
mainly unaddressed and unanswered.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

African Communist Party (SACP) had long emphasized how colonialism
and capitalism constructed and employed racial and ethnic categories in
their politics of domination. In addition, they had long emphasized the
role that individuals from all groups had played in the anti-apartheid
struggle. Nelson Mandela™s statements and actions upon his release from
prison had reaf¬rmed the commitment to build a non-racial society based
on the equality of all people. South Africa™s new leaders sought to avoid a
vindictive and/or exclusive approach that would have been a political
mirror image of the apartheid years, and therefore incompatible with the
goal of reconciliation and the inclusive political vision that apartheid™s
opponents had articulated for decades. Thus, whites who wanted to
remain in South Africa and participate in building a new ˜˜rainbow
nation™™ would be fully accepted.3
Complementing its commitment to inclusion, the new government™s
decision to ensure widespread public testimony concerning the practices
of the apartheid era and the many ways they had affected the country™s
citizens was of particular importance in the change process. Perhaps the
most dramatic way this was carried out was through the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that in 1995 was charged with
examining gross human rights abuses committed during the apartheid era
by both the government and liberation groups. It sought to make public
the stories of victims and perpetrators in the belief that public recounting
of people™s experiences could be healing for individuals and the society
(Minow 1998). Hearings were held throughout the country over many
months and excerpts were televised daily. There is no doubt that the TRC
process was incredibly powerful emotionally for many South Africans.
Many whites who had dismissed stories of government atrocities as pro-
paganda learned that they were real, while many blacks and some whites
had their own experiences of victimization, or those of family members,
validated (Hamber and Kibble n.d.; Krog 1999).
The TRC process clearly had an impact on South Africans in all racial
groups. Gibson™s (2004) data show that a large portion of the blacks,
whites, coloured and Asians accept the TRC™s core conclusions, and its
work seems to have had some in¬‚uence in creating a South African col-
lective memory (Gibson 2004: 155). However, Gibson also ¬nds that

The image of the rainbow does not deny differences but emphasizes the way differences
come together to produce a totality in which the parts combine such that the whole is
more than the sum of its parts.

Post-apartheid South Africa

group identities ¬lter how the past is understood and affect the extent to
which acceptance of the TRC process and its ¬ndings are related to racial
reconciliation and political tolerance. This collective mutual acknowl-
edgment of pain and suffering appears to have mitigated some emotional
barriers, and pressures for revenge, that might have made a vision of an
inclusionary future impossible to share or to implement.
The ˜˜rainbow™™ vision of the new government, reinforced by the
TRC process, has led to a great variety of efforts to recognize the
country™s multicultural past. Recognizing local and other identities will,
it is felt, work toward building attachment to the country as a whole.
For example, the country now has eleven of¬cial languages; and
departments of ˜˜heritage™™ have been created in many of the country™s
universities to facilitate the study of South Africa™s past in ways that go
beyond of¬cial history. Narratives recounted to tourists in the disparate
sites around the country emphasize its diversity and traditions, in ways
that Rassool, Minkley and Witz (1996) call a narrative of ˜˜the world in
one country,™™ through a set of handy essentialisms, and snapshot his-
tories that provide an exalted sense of knowing the whole. A past“
present relationship is established through the gaze on human culture
scripted as tradition and designed as authentic (Rassool and Witz 1996;
Witz, Rassool, and Minkley 2001). These strategies raise concerns about
the tension between focusing on acknowledging diversity that meets
one set of needs, and the potential rei¬cation of colonial and apartheid-
era racial and ethnic categories used in popular and tourist narratives
that, once developed, become hard to modify (Witz, Rassool, and
Minkley 2001).

Symbolizing the vision
The new government, highly conscious of the importance of symbolic
presentations, appointed commissions that put a great deal of energy into
the question of monuments, memorials, and museums. Other groups
considered the issue of the ¬‚ag, the national anthem, the coat of arms,
public holidays, and languages (Wessels 1994). A widespread consensus
soon evolved that the apartheid years and resistance to apartheid needed
to be documented and memorialized in a variety of ways but that
wholesale destruction of existing symbolic places or objects would not
occur. However, the extent to which apartheid and post-apartheid era
symbols and structures could coexist, and what forms they might take, was
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

unclear at the outset. In 1999, Parliament created the South African
Heritage Resource Agency (SAHRA) charged with implementing policies
concerning heritage resources. SAHRA developed decisionmaking pro-
cedures for preserving older sites and buildings and for implementing a
national heritage policy that would nurture a holistic celebration of the
country™s history with a particular eye toward healing and material and
symbolic restitution.
Against this background, an obvious question regarding public sym-
bolic space and regime change is what happened to the monuments,
memorials, museums, and other sites representing the previous regime™s
core values and memories when the new South African government came
to power. Many of the symbolic changes that some had thought likely did
not occur. For example, there was no destruction of monuments and
statues honoring the former white rulers and apartheid, although a few
statues and portraits were moved out of prominent locations.4 There was
no construction of a new capitol. There was no closing of monuments,
museums, and sacred Afrikaner sites. There was no wholesale renaming of
cities, streets, and public parks.5 Rather, it was widely accepted that
whatever was done needed to take place within the ANC™s long-stated
non-racial framework with a focus toward building an inclusive society.
In examining memorials, monuments, and museums in South Africa,
my goal here and in Chapter 9 is to explore the transformation of
important parts of the symbolic landscape and the South African past,
present, and future in the early post-apartheid years. To do this I look at
memory sites and interpretations of the past at four heritage sites “ the
Voortrekker Monument outside Pretoria, Blood River and Ncome in
KwaZulu Natal, and Robben Island and the District Six Museum in
Cape Town “ to examine how they recount the past and its lessons for the
present and future. Underlying this analysis is the hypothesis that
the narratives recounted in these and other signi¬cant symbolic sites can

For example, the statue of Hendrick Verwoerd, the former prime minister who was widely
recognized as apartheid™s chief architect, was removed from the grounds of the Union
Buildings in Pretoria, the seat of the country™s executive branch.
There have been some debates about names and some name changes, however. For
example, beginning in 2003 there has been a vigorous and sometimes heated debate over
renaming Pretoria, the country™s capital that was named for Andreis Pretorius, the Boer
Trekker leader at the Battle of Blood River in 1838. In 2005 the municipal council
changed the name of the metropolitan area to Tshwane, after an African chief who ruled
the regions prior to white arrival, while retaining Pretoria as the name for the central
business district. The name Tshwane means ˜˜we are the same.™™

Post-apartheid South Africa

be crucial in articulating and reinforcing a new more inclusive narrative of
the South African national experience (Gibson 2004).
In South Africa we can identify three strategies of transformation as
part of post-con¬‚ict peacebuilding: appropriation, meaning associating the
older holidays, symbolic places and buildings with the new regime™s
practices and institutions; modi¬cation, marking events and narratives that
previously had received little or no public attention through physical
alterations at an existing site, changing the story told on it, broadening the
audience it is aimed at, and/or a shift in the objects exhibited; and in
addition, creating new symbolic sites where the stories of previous
oppression, struggle, and triumph are told. It should be noted, however,
that while the analytic distinction between these three strategies is clear,
they often occur in varying combinations at a given site.

Transformation of older symbolic spaces
While building new sacred locations of memory that acknowledge past
injustices and horri¬c actions committed in the name of apartheid has
been important in South Africa since 1994, the daunting challenge that I
consider in this chapter involves the transformation through appropria-
tion and modi¬cation of older sites intimately associated with the apart-
heid regime. Appropriation, which took a number of different forms,
proved to be simpler than many had expected; modi¬cation has been
slower and more complicated. Modi¬cation of a sacred site is never
simple, as Linenthal™s (1993) research tells us. Chapter 9 will focus on the
strategy of addition.

The simplest, and in some ways most visible, forms of appropriation
involved state institutions once associated with exclusive white rule, such
as the Parliament in Cape Town and the Union Buildings in Pretoria. The
new government and post-apartheid leaders simply took over these sites
and used them to conduct business. For many, the image of Nelson
Mandela taking the oath of of¬ce as president before hundreds of thou-
sands of blacks, coloureds, Asians and whites in front of the Union
Buildings evoked intense emotions and signaled the tremendous trans-
formation that had taken place in the country. Likewise, the multiracial
character of the new Parliament and the new voices heard within it had a
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

huge symbolic signi¬cance on the country as once outlawed and banned
groups came to power in a peaceful, democratic election. The substitution
of Nationalist Party apartheid-era of¬cials with those from the ANC and
other formerly banned groups including the South African Communist
Party was symbolically dramatic. Most of the new leaders™ faces were black
ones and they included not only ex-prisoner Nelson Mandela but also the
new defense minister, Joe Modise, who had headed the ANC™s military
wing while in exile, as well as other ANC and CP members reviled by many
whites for years. Just as jarring was the appointment of whites such as Joe
Slovo, the long exiled, one-time head of the South African Communist
Party, as minister of housing, and Albie Sachs, a high-ranking exiled leader
whom the South African Defense Forces had severely wounded in a car
bomb attack, as head of the Constitutional Court.
Some sites were both appropriated and modi¬ed in dramatic ways.
In Johannesburg, the Old Fort Prison which held political and other
prisoners during the apartheid era was renovated and renamed Con-
stitution Hill and now houses the country™s Constitutional Court.
Many symbolic appropriations occurred in a comparatively short time,
communicating both change and continuity. Continuity stressed a com-
mitment to ef¬ciency and sound ¬scal management, a message that was
particularly important to whites in general and the business community in
particular. The change message emphasized the new values that would
guide the ANC led government: an end to racially based allocation of
resources, and a vigorous commitment to redressing past inequalities on
social issues such as education and housing. The message of non-white
inclusion was clear as public of¬cials committed themselves to new pro-
grams and parts of the country that apartheid-era of¬cials rarely visited.

Modi¬cation occurs when the group controlling a site alters some key
elements in the site™s meaning and presentation. There have been many
such changes in South Africa “ in the universities, in housing, employ-
ment, and government. Modi¬cation of a site™s symbolic meaning differs
from appropriation in that control over the site does not necessarily
shift from one group to another. In South Africa, given that the new
government™s commitment to a multicultural society was central to its
nation-building project, there have been no steps taken to appropriate
non-governmental sites associated with the Afrikaners.
Post-apartheid South Africa

In thinking about the problem generally, Coombes points out the need
to ask about the:

possibilities and impossibilities for rehabilitating . . . monument [s] with an explicit
history as a foundational icon of the apartheid State . . . how far it is possible to
disinvest such an icon of its Afrikaner nationalist associations and reinscribe it with
new resonances which enable it to remain a highly public monument despite a new


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