the veil in schools and an all-out ban on the burqa
or niqab are often seen to be authoritarian.
of all, it is useful not to conflate the two issues: that of veiling
girls in schools and banning the face covering. I will thus answer them
as two separate questions.
When talking of veils in
schools, one automatically refers to the veiling of under-aged girls,
i.e. not the veiling of women. The question thus becomes: who is to
decide on girls’ veiling - themselves or the adults who are in charge of
them? And which adults?
I know of only one book that
looks at this issue; it is a pamphlet entitled 'Bas les Voiles' (by Chahdortt Djavann, Gallimard 2003) that was published by an Iranian
woman exiled in Paris at the time when the Stasi Commission in France was
collecting the views of concerned women (and men) before the adoption of
the new law on religious symbols in secular state schools. The author
states that the psychological damage done to girls by veiling them is
immense as it makes them responsible for men’s arousal from a very early
age. This point requires special consideration given the new trend to
veil girls as young as 5 as shown in the numerous campaigns throughout
North Africa. The author goes on to explain that the girl’s body is
thus turned into the site of “fitnah”
(seduction or source of disorder) meaning that she cannot look at it or think
of it in positive terms. This attitude builds girls that fear, distrust,
and feel disgust and anguish at their own bodies. At such an early age,
little girls have no way of countering this shaping of their self; they
are entirely under the thumb of anti-women men. The women growing up from
these psychologically damaged girls are likely to need a lot of help to
be able to reconsider themselves and their bodies in more positive terms,
to reconstruct their self image, to conquer
their bodily autonomy, to abandon guilt and fear - and to give back to
men the responsibility of their sexual acts. I think it would be very
useful for more women researchers to delve into the psychological damage
done to girls who are veiled from an early age.
Also, who is the 'adult' in
charge of protecting the girl-child's rights? The state already plays
this role on numerous occasions, such as in preventing families from
perform FGM on girls, or in preventing forced marriages for instance. Why
should it not also take responsibility in preventing the deep
psychological damage induced by wearing a veil before adulthood?
Why should the
state be seen as authoritarian when it prevents
the veiling of girls but not when it protects them from FGM?
is interesting to remember that groups of lefties and feminists (alas!)
in Europe and North America defended 'the right to FGM' in the seventies
as a 'cultural right' and denounced ‘western imperialism's’ attempts at
eradicating the practice in Europe. At no point was any reference made to
the struggles of women on the ground to eradicate it in the limited parts
of Africa where FGM was practiced both by animists, Christians and
Muslims. We see the same pattern replicated regarding 'the right to
veil', which is now seen as a 'religious right' despite the fact that
numerous progressive interpreters of the Qu'ran
have stated that it is not an Islamic injunction.
What strikes me is the imbalance
in treatment of 'authoritarianism' by those on the left and in the human
rights community in Europe and North America. Millions of women in
predominantly Muslim set-ups have been assassinated for standing for
their right NOT to be veiled (so far, veiled women are not assassinated
for wearing a veil in Europe, nor in North America, even if it is true
that they may be verbally attacked by far-right racist individuals, who,
may I emphasise, are then taken to court and generally convicted - as
should be the case).
I wish the magnitude of the
vociferous defence of veiled women's 'choice' and 'right to veil' by
'progressive people' would be matched with their defence of women
slaughtered for not veiling. But what we see, instead, hidden behind the
left and human rights community’s unilateral defence of the human rights
of veiled women, is in fact a clearly political position. 'Progressives'
have chosen to defend fundamentalists who they depict exclusively as
victims of US imperialism, rather than the victims of fundamentalists,
i.e., amongst others, the millions of unveiled women who have resisted
their diktats as well as the millions of secularists, agnostics,
atheists, and so on who have been abandoned as 'westernised' or even
'allies of imperialism'! History will judge this short-sighted political
choice just as it did the cowardice of European countries at the onset of
Nazism’s rise in Germany.
With regards your question, I
can only speak from my perspective as an Algerian living in France at the
time of the debate on the two French laws that are incriminated the world
over as being 'anti-Islam': the law on veiling in schools and the ban on
face covering. These are two different issues and in France they have
been treated separately.
The ban on religious symbols in
state secular schools is done in the name of secularism, whilst the ban
on the face covering is done in the name of security. The burqa has
been added to other forms of face covering such as masks (outside a
carnival setting) or full motorbike helmets (when not riding) as all of
these are routinely used to protect the identity of rioters or
'terrorists.’ (As an Algerian old enough to have lived through the Battle
of Algiers during the liberation struggle from French colonialism, I know
for certain that veils were used to carry arms and bombs from place to
place - hence I cannot be surprised that full face coverings are added to
the list of forbidden outfits.)
Let me deal with veiling in
The situations of France and
Britain are very different.
France is a secular country
that, since the French revolution, separated the new secular state from
the political influence of the Church. The secular laws that established
this separation date from 1905 and 1906, way before any immigration from
predominantly Muslim-majority countries. Article 1 of the 1906 law
guarantees freedom of belief and practice. Article 2 of the same law
states that beyond this guarantee of fundamental individual rights the
secular state will have nothing to do with religion and its
representatives. The state will not recognise churches, nor fund them,
and so on. In the words of a modern analyst of secularism, Henri Pena
Ruiz, the state declares itself ‘incompetent in religious matters.’
Beliefs become a private matter, and established religions (at that time
mostly the Catholic Church) lose all political power over the state. The
secular state will simply ignore them as political entities. Citizens are
the only partner the state recognises, through democratic election
It is a consequence of the
definition of secularism as a separation of state and religion that,
since 1906, displaying 'any symbol' of religious or political affiliation
is forbidden in exclusively two specific situations: for both personnel
and pupils in primary and secondary secular state schools (i.e. for
under-aged children, and not including universities where students are of
adult age), and for civil servants in contact with the public.
The rationale for this is that
children come to the schools of the Secular Republic (where education is
free) to be educated as equal French citizens, not as representatives of
any specific community. Education as equal citizens is a powerful tool
against communalism and the divisive specificities that lead to unequal
legal rights within a given country, as is already the case in Britain,
with the so-called 'sharia courts' becoming parallel legal systems in
Similarly, civil servants when
in contact with the public have to perform their duties as
representatives of all citizens of every ethnic or religious background,
and that is why they are requested not to display their affiliation
within the time frame when they represent the Secular Republic.
This is a far cry from, for
instance, British police stations, where one can request to be heard by a
policeman of his or her own cult or ethnic group as if a civil servant
cannot be educated not to be biased, and is necessarily first and
foremost faithful to his or her 'community' rather than to fellow
It is thus in
the name of secularism that veiling has been outlawed in secular state
schools and for civil servants in France, just as crosses or kippas have. Interestingly, the emphasis is on
the veil, not on crosses or kippas. Why? And
who is behind this hierarchy?
blurred the issue was that the rightwing
president Sarkozy passed the new law in 2004 whilst trying to rally the
xenophobic far-right in favour of his candidacy. There was no need for
such a new law; the 1906 law merely had to be applied.
The right and far-right forces
in France have never stopped attacking the 1905-6 secular laws for the
past 100 years. They have now found active and powerful partners in
Muslim fundamentalist far-right forces which also want to dismantle
secularism and to return to the stage when religions had political power
and official representation. It is clear that while different religions
will compete at a later stage - if they are to succeed in their attempt
to eradicate secularism in France - they are useful allies to each other.
Just watch how representatives of the Catholic Church and Jewish high
authorities support practically every demand by Muslim fundamentalists!
The issue of the veil in primary and secondary schools in France is but
one of the many demands they constantly devise to fundamentally challenge
the laws of the Secular Republic.
Isn't it ironic that laws passed
a century ago, at a time when there was virtually no immigration from
Muslim-majority countries, now pass off,
the world over, as laws against Islam? This alludes to the expertise of
Muslim fundamentalists in media communications.
Coming back to the issue of veil
and burqa in the UK, let me state that Britain
is NOT a secular state. The Queen is the Head of the Anglican Church, thus
it cannot root its ban of the burqa or niqab or even head scarf on secular laws dating back
to more than a hundred years nor show its commitment to free and quality
non-confessional education for all children as is the case in France.
Britain has devised an
alternative definition of secularism, not as separation, but as equal
tolerance by the state vis-à-vis all religions. Thus the state in Britain
interacts with religions, and considers 'churches' (or the like in other
religions) as political partners and representatives of communities. It
is this which leads to communalism and cultural relativism. Isn't it high
time for Britain to return to the original definition of secularism and
to a form of democracy in which citizenship is at its centre?
What we see happening is the
fragmentation of people, of fellow citizens, into smaller and smaller
competing entities that each demand different rules are applicable to
them and their 'community' in the name of cultural and religious
identities. Laws that were voted by all citizens are challenged for the
benefit of supposedly divinely ordained laws - a direct attack on the
very principle of democracy. We see the eradication of the notion of
citizenship, and this will have drastic political consequences in the
near future. All in the name of rights!
What happens to
a woman’s right to choose her clothing? Some would say forcing women to
unveil is on par with forcibly veiling them.
I would like to first point out
the fact that the debate is formulated in 'western' terms. To my
knowledge, women in Muslim contexts are NOT prevented from veiling and
that's the vast majority of supposedly Muslims in the world. In most
instances, they are forced to cover, to various degrees, often by law and
we have yet to hear a worldwide outcry about their situation.
In sharp contrast, we hear so
much about the poor women 'forced to unveil' in non-Muslim contexts -
mostly in Europe and North America - but I have yet to find WHERE this
happens; nowhere to my knowledge. The limitations on veiling, in specific
circumstances in France, have been addressed in my response to the
previous question (under-aged girls are requested not to veil only within
the premises of secular state primary and secondary schools and burqa-clad women are requested to uncover their face
for purpose of identification; the rest of their body, hair, and head can
be covered as they like). Also, as per my knowledge, when veiled women
are verbally or physically attacked, there are tribunals to defend them
against any form of aggression. In actual fact, the debate is reduced to
the right to veil in Europe and North America with no regard for the
resistance to veiling everywhere in the world and the dire circumstances
for resisters. This reduction is utterly unacceptable to me.
On the one hand, there are
millions of women worldwide forced to veil who risk their liberty and
lives when they transgress veiling orders. They are abandoned to
'cultural' and 'religious’ rights with no analysis of the far-right
political forces manipulating and hijacking culture and religion for
political gain under the politically correct pretext that US imperialism
misused the defence of women's human rights to conceal its economic
reasons for invading Afghanistan and that 'whites' are racists. On the
other hand, there are women of the diaspora in Europe and North America
whose 'right to veil' is defended by a politically correct coalition of
left and human rights defenders who show little interest in the numerous
cases of young women trying to escape forced veiling.
some disturbing imbalance in such an utterly discriminatory political
choice between those whose rights deserve to be defended and those who
don't qualify? Could these champions of our rights publicly clarify their
reasons for such a hierarchy of rights?
the question here exclusively refers to the 'right to choose' of women
who want to veil in Europe and North America and that this is a very
limited and partial way of addressing the problem; it means
'disappearing' the vast majority of concerned women.
About 'choice' in general, much
has already been written by feminists about how much freedom one can
expect in situations where women have no say either legally, culturally,
religiously or otherwise. Recently, a powerful academic article by Anissa Helie and Mary Ashe:
‘Multiculturalist Liberalism and Harms to Women: Looking Through the
Issue of the Veil’ (published in UC Davis Journal of International Law
and Policy, Vol. 19.1, 2012) concluded that ‘proponents of veiling often
insist on an individual ‘women’s right to choose (the veil)… Crafted by
the theoreticians of radical Islam (who usurp the mantra of supporters of
abortion rights for women), such slogans can confound Western liberals
who, afraid of being labelled racist, fall into the trap of cultural
I would, however, go back even further
to the old debate sparked by Marx on workers' 'freedom to work' at the
time of Britain’s industrialisation, i.e. a time when in order to not
actually starve and die, workers' only 'free choice' was to work 14 hours
a day in hellish circumstances that also killed many of them, including
women and children under the age of 10.
Women in many
countries where Muslim fundamentalists rule and terrify populations have
the same 'choice' that workers had in a Britain that was industrialising:
to die of starvation or survive a little bit longer as slaves / to die
because they resist fundamentalists or survive as slaves. Great ‘choice'
indeed! Is that the only alternative women are offered by cultural
number of women assassinated by family members, as well as by
fundamentalist armed groups, or imprisoned by fundamentalist states in
our various countries on all continents for the simple reason that they
do not conform with veiling diktats should at the very least count as
more important in the eyes of human rights defenders than the 'plea of
veiled women' who may occasionally have to cope with racists comments in
How can one dare compare, for
instance, the 200,000 victims of the 'dark decade' ( through the 1990s)
in Algeria, a vast majority of whom were women assassinated by
fundamentalist armed groups, mostly ignored and abandoned to their fate
by international human rights organisations, with a handful of
veiled women yelled at in Paris or London? Yes, how dare one compare.
This accepted inequality of treatment only shows that for human rights
organisations and left parties, the West is still the centre of the
world, and what happens there - however small and marginal - takes
precedence over the many crimes committed elsewhere.
I would like to point out an
interesting blind spot in the analysis of the left and human rights
crowd, which if it were taken into account would prevent the reducing of
the issue to 'individual choice.'
The number of veiled women in
the streets of European capitals has been steadily growing over the past
two decades only. Their number is not proportional to a significant
increase of migrant populations. These women do not wear their national
costumes (including head covering or not) but the Saudi veil instead
which never existed in other countries. There is a growing number of
women adopting the most drastic form of not just hair covering but of
In light of
this, how can this form of veiling be seen as a cultural issue when it in
fact eradicates all traditional forms of hair covering and of national
and regional dress?
Lucas: How can
this form of veiling be seen as a religious issue when progressive
theologians and scholars of Islam on all continents keep demonstrating
that veiling women is not a religious prescription, that it is a cultural
one, circumscribed to the Middle East, both for men and women, adapted to
its climate, and common to all religious groups as should be largely
demonstrated by Christian iconography that depicts the Virgin Mary and
all the holy women that shared the life of Christ in his times as well as
Jewish women as veiled. Why not rise in defence of all these endangered
cultures? How can they not make the link between the propagation of the
Saudi veil and Saudi funding of most of the mosques and religious
organisations that have been popping up in European capital cities? How
can they not see this form of veiling as fundamentalism’s political flag?
How can they not link its propagation with the other political activities
of Saudi (and Qatari) imperialism? How can they not make a political
analysis of this sudden explosion of veiled women in the diaspora? How
can they reduce it to 'individual choice' of individual women in the wake
of such a massive and sudden new phenomenon?
If, let's say, there was a
sudden spread of nuns' outfits, concomitantly in Italy, France and Spain,
and if Catholic women in visible numbers would aggressively assert their
right to be clad as 'true Catholics' ( a modern invention that would be
contested by respected Christian theologians, - just as this new rage for
veiling is contested by numerous progressive Muslim theologians and
scholars of Islam that neither the left nor human rights organisations
ever quote in defence of unveiled women against the inaccurate claims
made by fundamentalists), wouldn't the left point at the right and
far-right political movements hidden behind this supposedly religious
revival? Wouldn't the left analyse it in political terms, rather than in
religious ones, and denounce it? If there were rumours, or examples of
‘improperly’ clad Catholic women being coerced into this outfit, or
beaten up, or forcibly secluded, or killed, wouldn't human rights
organisations start looking into it? Wouldn't they defend the victims?
Wouldn't they denounce these as human rights violations? Or would all
these supposedly progressive forces continue to turn a blind eye to human
rights abuses and to the cries for mercy of victims? Would they focus on
the 'right to veil' of Catholic women?
It is clear to me that by
reiterating the claims of fundamentalists over women, without even
checking out the most blatant of their lies, the left and human rights
crowd only betray their fear of being labelled 'Islamophobic.’
They unwittingly (I hope) reinforce fundamentalist views which claim they
are the only legitimate representatives of Islam, and that their
This is what is behind the
question of 'choice': it places the debate away from any political
analysis that would point at the right and far-right nature of
fundamentalists' manipulation of the veil. The right and far-right views
of the supremacy of the individual are rooted in economic liberalism.
Whilst we might
consider secularism a precondition for women’s rights, Islamists consider
Sharia law a precondition for women’s rights in the way they see
them. Who is to say who is right? They would argue secularism is a
western concept and a form of cultural colonialism.
Lucas: I object to using the term
‘sharia law.’ It presupposes that there is somewhere written a body of
laws that are used by all Muslims. A simple overview of laws in
Muslim-majority countries shows that there is no such thing. The vast
diversity of laws in predominantly Muslim contexts show that laws have
different sources: from giving legitimacy to local cultural practices
(FGM passing off as Islamic in some regions of Africa), to different
religious interpretations (for example Algeria legalised polygamy whilst
Tunisia bans it using exactly the same verse of the Qu’ran
but with a different reading of it!), to using laws of former colonisers
(such as the ban on contraception and abortion in Algeria, using the 1920
French law), and so on. It would therefore be a huge mistake to think
that all the laws in Muslim-majority countries have their source in
‘Sharia’ is a term coined by
fundamentalists in order to make believe that such a body of laws exist;
using the term just allows more people to believe in its existence.
Exactly just as media started using other terms coined by
fundamentalists, such as jihad ( which means a spiritual
fight within oneself to come closer to God, rather than a ‘war’ with
weapons, as they interpret it) ; or
‘the Islamic veil’ when they propagate Saudi veiling; or ‘Islamophobia’ when one challenges their views on
Islam... Do not use the language of the enemy! It gives credibility to
As I have already pointed at,
there are lots of places in the world where veiling is compulsory and no
forced unveiling anywhere. Not even in primary and secondary schools in
France because ultra-orthodox families have a choice to enrol their
daughters in religious schools of their choice. The only obligation of
families is to send their daughters to school but the choice of that
school is not within the mandate of the secular state.
And nowhere are women forced not
to wear a veil in public; they are only asked in France to not cover
their face. Hence secularism neither veils nor unveils women.
Undoubtedly, however, fundamentalists’ interpretation of supposedly
divine orders aims at veiling women. Secularism is not an opinion nor is
it a belief; it is exclusively a definition and a regulation of the
position of the state vis-a –vis religion. Either the state interferes with
religion or it does not. Secularism is the formal set up in which the
state does not interfere with religion. We should not accept any other
definition of secularism.
As for the accusation of
secularism being a western concept, haven’t we heard that of feminism for
decades? But if we are to look into history, especially the history of
women in Muslim contexts, we find out that many women, for centuries,
fought for what is now considered feminist ideas and women’s rights, that
they dedicated themselves to literature, poetry, women’s education,
politics, legal rights for women, just as is the case now and that they
were supported by enlightened men and women, both believers and atheists,
just as is the case now. Anyone interested in exploring some of these
stories from the past should read ‘Great Ancestors’ by Fareeda Shaheed and Aisha Shaheed (published by Women Living Under Muslim
Similarly, there have been many
supporters of secularism in Muslim contexts over the past centuries, just
as there are many today. That includes atheists, agnostics and believers
who thought and still think religions benefit from the fact that
political power does not interfere with personal beliefs or spirituality.
Today, the former Great Mufti of Marseilles is a strong supporter of
secularism in France, as are many progressive Imams who go public every
Sunday in a religious TV show on French channel 2 about their support for
French secularism which guarantees freedom of belief and freedom of
So the real question for me is:
why don’t we hear more about such Muslim supporters of secularism and why
won’t the media give less public space to the expression of
fundamentalist hatred for secularism? It is yet another fundamentalist
distortion to present facts in the light of secular law being against
Recent surveys show that about
25% of the population in France declares itself atheist, and the
percentage is the same among supposedly Christians and supposedly Muslim
individuals. But the percentage of all those who declare themselves in
favour of secularism rises to 75%, and is identical for presumed Muslims
and presumed Christians.
There are strong movements for
secularism in all so-called Muslim countries, whether in Pakistan,
Algeria or Mali. Citizens go public in support of secularism risking
their lives in places where fundamentalists run armed groups that attack
their opponents. Why are photos of their public events and street
demonstrations never seen outside their national media?
Maryam Namazie: Some will say this raises the question
of how far we are willing to allow the state to intervene in private
matters such as the way we dress. Your comments?
we do agree that this sudden rise of specific veils worldwide passing off
as THE ‘Islamic’ veil is neither cultural nor religious but a political
flag that fundamentalists use in order to increase their political
visibility at the expense of women, then we must also admit that wearing
this form of veil - now - in Europe and North America has a political
purpose; the women who wear it, whether they are aware of it or not, are
wearing the flag of a far-right political party. Hence I could hardly agree
with the formulation: ‘a woman choosing how to dress.’ This veil is
definitely not to be equated to wearing high heels versus flat shoes, or
miniskirts versus trousers. It is not a fashion; it is a political
marker. If one decides one is going to wear a swastika as a brooch, one
cannot ignore its political meaning; one cannot pretend one does not care
for the fact that it was the ’flag’ of Nazi Germany. One cannot pretend
one just likes its shape. It is a political statement.
Women from all over Asia and Africa
who wear a face covering or burqa today whether
they do so in Europe and North America or whether they wear it in their
own countries are wearing
a form of veiling that they have never seen before, except if they grew
up in a very specific and limited part of the Middle East. They cannot
pretend they are going back to their roots and wearing the dress that
their foremothers wore centuries ago nor can they pretend that they wear
it for religious reasons. Muslims were Muslims for centuries without wearing
such an outfit: in South Asia, they were wearing saris or in the Sahel
they were wearing boubous…Today, burqa-clad women wear an outfit that was unseen and
unheard of until a couple of decades ago when fundamentalist political
groups ‘invented’ the burqa as their political
Hence if the state were to
regulate burqas or the niqab,
it would not regulate ‘the way we dress’, nor would it deal with a
personal taste in fashion, but with publicly wearing the political sign
of an extreme right movement.
It may be the role of the state
to do so. This can be debated. But what is not debatable is that women
wearing the burqa today are in the grip of a
transnational far-right movement. Whether burqa-clad
women are aware of the present day political significance of their veil
or whether they are alienated into the fundamentalists’
politico-religious discourse is irrelevant.
how can restrictions be put in place (also
looking at the French example) without further inflaming racism and bigotry
against Muslims and immigrants and what is the connection between the
two? I ask this given that some will argue that a criticism of the veil
and niqab are racist.
Lucas: In that
case, is resistance to niqab/burqa/head scarf and any other form of veiling to be
labelled ‘racist’ in our countries too? Were the women who chose to die
rather than to veil in Algeria in the nineties all racist against their
own people and against their own faith as many of them were believers in
Can’t we stop thinking ‘the
West’ is the centre of the world? What about the Sudanese woman who at
this very moment in Khartoum risks flogging and imprisonment for refusing
to veil? What about the numerous Iranian women who have been jailed for
decades for wearing ‘un-Islamic’ dress?
marginalisation of and attacks on migrants (or people of migrant descent)
have always been there. At the beginning of the twentieth century in
Southern France, there were pogroms against Italian migrants who ‘came to
steal the bread of French workers’ – sounds familiar today, doesn’t it ?
There were numerous dead and wounded. But if we look at French citizens
whose family names betray an Italian origin today, they are fully
integrated and no one even thinks of contesting their belonging to the
French nation. It is the same for Spaniards, Portuguese, Greeks or Poles
and Russians who all came to live in France in recent history, became
French citizens and have now ‘melted’ into the general population.
There are a growing number of well known people in France with Arabic names (and
often erroneously presumed Muslim); they are professors, lawyers, medical
doctors, scientists, journalists, film makers, actors, bankers, computer
experts, entrepreneurs… This signifies their incorporation into the
nation just like the Italians, Spaniards... less than a century ago.
A beautiful play entitled Barbes-Cafe was shown last year in different cities
of France. It was entirely the work of people of Algerian descent, most
of whom fled fundamentalists’ death threats and attacks on them in the
nineties. This play is a hymn to emigration using popular songs in Arabic
from the beginning to the end of the 20th century and traces
the history of emigration from North Africa, the pain and longing of
migrants and the terrible conditions of work but it also celebrates the
law that allowed families to join workers, the free and secular education
for their children, the solidarity between indigenous and migrant workers
in unions and left parties and so on. It ends with images of those of
migrant North African descent who ‘made it’ and open the gate for
generations to come. It is a manifesto of hope, albeit not trying to
conceal the hardship many workers faced - for their children and grandchildren
to become a part of France.
October 27 was the anniversary
of the March For Equality and Against Racism that four young men and
women, French citizens of North African origin, initiated in October
1983. They started from Marseilles and walked for two months throughout
France, visiting towns and villages, speaking to their urban and rural
fellow citizens, denouncing racist crimes and discrimination, and
advocating the equality of all citizens. They also denounced the label
‘Muslim’ that was imposed on them for reasons of geographical origin.
Along the way, other citizens of all origins joined them and started
marching with them. When they arrived in Paris, 100,000 people had
gathered to welcome them and support their goals.
It is not predetermined that
oppressed people or victims of discrimination turn to far-right
movements. In such circumstances, people have a choice to become
revolutionaries or fascists. The fundamentalist response to racism is a
fascist response. We should not under any pretext grant them any
legitimacy. We should support people’s movements for equality and full
Fundamentalists have a keen
interest in making sure they get the benefit of racist incidents; just
like the traditional (xenophobic) far-right political movements, they
need to radicalise their troops and recruit more people to their cause.
Both these apparently antagonistic far-right forces share the same goal:
they welcome bloodshed. Hence they are prepared to provoke racist
incidents. In the past few years, fundamentalist inhabitants of a Paris
neighbourhood started praying in the streets and blocking traffic for
hours on Fridays. The pretext was that their local mosque was not big
enough. But for sure the Great Mosque of Paris, only a few tube stations
away from them was/is permanently quasi-empty. Police watched on without
doing anything and this has now been going on for more than seven years.
The only response, of course, came from a far-right group which launched
public invitations to share a ‘wine and pork’ aperitif on the very same
streets on Sundays.
The cowardly left
should have taken this into its
own hands, demanding that people vacate the public space if they have not
received police authorisation to occupy it as is legal. The cowardly left
is prepared to ignore provocations by Muslim fundamentalists because they
do not want to be seen as ‘Islamophobic.’ In a
way, one feels they do not make a difference between believers in Islam
and the far-right supposedly religious movement that feigns to represent
It was in the hope of avoiding a
confrontation with Franco that European governments, including the then
socialist government of France, refused to help and to protect the
legitimate government of the Republic of Spain. It was with the hope of
avoiding a confrontation with the well-behaved Hitler that European
governments went to Munich and allowed the invasion of Poland by Nazi
troops. History shows that cowardice in politics leads nowhere and that
everyone has to pay the price for not standing for principles and
rights in due time.
Victims of racism need to be
defended, including legally; social and political problems need to be
addressed by social and political means, not with religious ones.
Marieme Helie Lucas is an Algerian sociologist and founder of
Women Living Under Muslim Laws and Secularism is a Women’s Issue.