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Jessica Andersen
2009-2010 Honors Student

Name: Jessica Andersen
Honors in: French and Political Science
Hometown: Flemington, NJ
Major(s): B.A. in French Language

Title of project: Be This, Not That: The Battle for Frenchness

Abstract or brief description: France, a secular country, is home to 5-6 million Muslims who are made up of mostly North African ancestry. Because religious expression is highly discouraged in the public sphere, France’s Muslim population is faced with laws that curb many of their practices. As a result, they are sometimes forced to cobble together a personal identity that is both Islamic and French. While an individual can be both, the two attributes may seem incompatible in France. I examined three phenomena facing France—the French model of integration, laïcité (or French secularism), and xenophobia—to determine how Muslims are able to function with two identities in the métropole. I conclude that from the time of their insertion into French society, Muslims are failed by the French model of integration. Muslim identity is further threatened by laïcité, exemplified by the ban on the Islamic headscarf, and by xenophobia, which was exacerbated after the attacks on September 11, 2001. I also examine the recent public debate launched by the French government to define “French national identity” and how it crowds out foreign or religious influences of its immigrant population. Since the French public has concluded that Islam should not be part of their collective national identity, Muslims will continue to face discrimination and identity problems in the métropole.

How did you get interested in your topic? In college, I was able to take entire courses on the religion of Islam. I learned that it was a peaceful religion, comparable to Christianity and Judaism. I learned the difference between the Message of the Qur’an and the political Islam that is currently rooted in many countries, particularly in the Middle East. I am not entirely sure when I began to wonder about the lives of Muslims in France. All I know is that I am deeply interested in both. Part of the goal in completing my Honors project was making sure that it spanned both my major in French and my minor in Arabic Studies, thus, studying this "French-Muslim" group fit the bill.

Do you intend to research your topic further, if so, how? If the opportunity presents itself, I would like to expand on my thesis by conducting personal interviews and updating the reader on current policies.

How did you benefit academically by conducting research/participating in honors? From the time I first proposed it until now, it has been over a year, during which time I learned a lot about the process of individual research. There was a lot of reading involved at first. I probably gathered and read four times as many sources that actually wound up in my paper, and all that was a part of whittling down my subject and then crafting a thesis. What I hoped to achieve by completing this project was not only a personal fulfillment to learn more about France, and indeed I learned a lot, but it was also to inform others about what goes on elsewhere, so that they could perhaps apply it to their own environment.

How has the department in which you studied prepared you for the future? The Political Science Department taught me to think critically and question the world around me, while the French Department prepared me to examine things from a French point of view.

What advice do you have for other students interested in honors? Choose a topic that will sustain your interest for a full academic year, because that is about the timespan of an Honors project. It is important to stay motivated, so writing about something that interests you will help. Also, utilize your resources! Your Honors liaison, Reeves Library, and the Writing Center can all benefit your paper immensely. Last, never underestimate the support of your friends and family.