Mennel Ibtissem, a contestant on France’s edition of “The Voice,” stunned judges with her Arabic rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. Soon after her cover went viral, the French media uncovered Ibtissem’s tweets which voiced her support for Palestine and criticized the French government. After these tweets came to light, she was dubbed a radical, far-right, anti-France terrorist sympathizer.
At first, the singer–a blue-eyed, hijab-wearing, Arab-French Muslim woman singing a French/English/Arabic version of a song called “Hallelujah”–was hailed as a symbol of unity and coexistence. However, when she condemned the Israeli occupation of Palestine and her own French government, she turned into a “radical Islamist.” TF1 stated they had met with the producers of the show and the singer, and concluded that it would be embarrassing for both the show and the channel to disqualify her this far into the show. This comes a week after Amena Khan of Pearl Daisy stepped down as brand ambassador for L’Oreal due to her pro-Palestine stance.
France is a secular democracy and remains a threat to the freedom of speech. A fundamental aspect of functioning democracies is the freedom of speech and expression afforded to citizens without fear of repression or punishment. Ibtissem has the right to condemn the actions of her government and Israel but is being harassed by mainstream French and social media.
After the attack in Nice, Ibtissem accused the French government of being the real terrorists on social media. The terror incident in Nice was one of the many attacks carried out by ISIS in 2016, and there was a circulating conspiracy theory soon after it occurred that suggested the violent acts were staged to frame Muslims. While this accusation is based on no real evidence, however, it highlights France’s growing integration problem.
Muslims in France are largely alienated and are degraded by the public and the French government. The country’s Muslim population disproportionately resides in the low-income areas, without access to better schools, and face social isolation and stigmatization. According to some reports, this could lead to crime and radicalization (it’s important to note that this is not common, but it does happen). The French government, instead of targeting and abandoning its Muslim population, should implement policies and programs to improve their living conditions.
Mennel Ibtissem addressed being targeted in a tweet, saying that her words were taken out of context. She wrote, “I preach a message of love, peace, and tolerance. The evidence is my choice of singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” this song perfectly illustrates the message I hope to transmit as an artist.”