- Transnational Politics:Recent Accounts of Muslims in France
Transnationalism necessarily complicates the ways in which cultural and historical specificity informs the academic study of Islam and Muslims in Europe. More precisely, it demands that the secular organization of post-Christian societies within which Islamic subjectivities are constituted as well as the histories and historical projects that animate such structures be brought into sharp analytic and political focus. The need for this type of examination gains added urgency in light of the ongoing attention that Franco-Maghrebi Muslim women's participation in the public sphere receives in countries such as France, which continues to obstruct the visibility of and women's adherence to the Islamic religious tradition. The authors of the four books under review are charged with the responsibility of understanding Muslims in France in terms of the enduring ethnic, religious, cultural, and historical complexities deeply sedimented throughout the colonial presence of France in North Africa. That such complexities emerge in a contemporary transnational connection [End Page 123] between France and the Maghreb, is the starting point of each book. We are thus confronted with the impossibility of upholding the secular or the religious as discrete categories, especially when they materialize out of the history that has defined and transformed them.
Salient to the historical and transgeographical question of the constitution of Franco-Maghrebi subjects in France is how the progressive teleology of the politics of secularism continues to be normatively upheld, and how it is especially counterposed to women's adherence to the Islamic religious tradition. From a US American perspective, from which all of the authors write, however differently, it is easy to be sensitive to the religious and political extremes to which Muslim women are subjected, and which are too often and too easily dichotomized into the strict intransigence of a colonially secured French secularism and Islamic patriarchy. And yet the question remains, to what extent is writing from the standpoint of a tolerant, liberal, inclusive secularism undergirded by an emancipatory politics that is invested in the humanist ideals of self-expression, self-realization, and self-fulfillment, axiomatic when it examines human agency in function of the desire to give women or Muslims "their voice"? The ability to controvert the normativity of freedom to a secular liberal politics that focuses this kind of attention on the female Muslim subject will necessarily have to consider that they are constituted within such an emancipatory project as well as within the strictures of French secularism and/or Islamic patriarchy. Central to each of these authors, consequently, is the tension that this type of interrogation makes productive in their work. The success of the scholarly investigations they undertake is thus dependent on their ability to challenge an unchecked liberal agenda that recovers the voices of women in the form of an emancipatory move overshadowing the structural weight giving shape to their discourses.
Caitlin Killian, author of North African Women in France: Gender, Culture, and Identity, is a sociologist who examines the destructuriCulture, destructuring and restructuring effects of immigration on North African (Maghrebi) women in France. Her focus on the stress of acculturation experienced by these women analytically intersects with social-psychological and identity theories, feminist readings of race, immigration literature, and debates over assimilation. Killian has interviewed 45 Muslim women who, at different times, have immigrated from diverse parts of North [End Page 124] Africa, and who vary in age, ethnicity, and level of education. By situating the women within the context of the history of immigration in France, that is, in the relationship that France has had to the different countries in the Maghreb, her analysis yields an understanding not only of the variety of Islamic cultural practices, traditions, and customs as constituted according to ethnicity, class, and geographical...