'The Islamic scarf in France today: an issue of interculturalism', in Pearson-Evans, Leahy, eds., Intercultural Spaces: Language, Culture, Identity Peter Lang, New York, Bern, 2007. p.73-90. ISBN 987-0-8204-9546-0
This peer-reviewed essay originated in the Royal Irish Academy Symposium, Intercultural Spaces: Language, Culture, Identity (2003). Its contribution lay in its side-stepping of the dualism of the arguments for and against acceptance of the Islamic headscarf in France, and, using tools of linguistic analysis to reveal underlying attitudes and ways of thinking, its critical scrutiny of comments and arguments made on all sides in the debate.
Drawing on my knowledge of Arabic and experience as a lexicographer to examine the terms used to refer to the headscarf in various forms of discourse, including standard reference dictionaries, I assembled a unique terminological paradigm. A wide corpus was interrogated, including radio programmes, press articles and blogs, in which French people, from famous intellectuals to anonymous students, express their views, revealing the premises on which their arguments are based. Exposing conflicting issues of identity, they ranged across a spectrum that ranged from secular republican fundamentalism to Islamic fundamentalism, with groups appealing to republican and/or Muslim ideals to justify opposing stances. A particular case I examined revolved around the way feminism is invoked to justify both positions, one seeing the headscarf as a symbol of male oppression, the other as a pragmatic means of empowerment. New representations of French and Muslim identities emerge, as well as different ways of asserting identity among the French Muslim community, especially young women in that community. Such methodological concerns relate in differing ways to the approaches of other Brighton researchers working on identity, gender and dress.
The substantive period covered allowed evolving social trends and attitudes to emerge. It traces how contemporary controversy follows a long history of colonial and postcolonial representations of Islam and demonstrates that, regardless of the merits of the arguments advanced in the debate, there is still a failure in intercultural communication.