By Selma Bouledjouidja
We, the members of Lallab , want to thank the team behind Muslimgirl.com for having launched, just one year ago, the first ever #MuslimWomensDay. Their creative and innovative leadership gave a voice to the Muslim woman’s narrative – and it inspired us to launch our very own Muslim Women’s Day in France.
And quite frankly, it’s about damn time!
As MuslimGirl’s Editor-in-Chief, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh once said, “It’s time to hear from a community that’s often talked about but rarely given the chance to speak.” That’s exactly what we are doing on a daily basis here at Lallab. We are “centering the voices of Muslim women.”
Yet, in France, the dialogue about free religious expression lags. We must, on a regular basis, struggle against not only random Islamophobic individuals, but against our government’s Islamophobic legislations, our right-minded left wing, and most of all, the media. The media, through which we are misrepresented as submissive, over-sexualized, demonized and infantilized. Muslim women are portrayed as ignorant, if not dangerous, simply waiting for Prince Charming on his white horse to save them, or should we rather say, White Republican Charming on his Charter of Secularism.
“La laïcité” (French for secularism) originates from France’s 1905 law on secularism and the separation of the Church and the State. This charter aimed at guaranteeing the freedom of expression of one’s convictions while expecting strict neutrality from the government. This law is actually used as a tool to explicitly ostracize Muslim women from the public sphere, since they are the most visible targets. Islamophobia is, by the way, not recognized at all. It is, according to many, nonexistent. They argue that Muslims would apparently tend to be paranoid, enjoying victimizing themselves.
Oh, and let’s not forget to discuss “the veil issue,” France’s favorite and most deleterious topic to debate on, whether you are concerned or not. We kid you not! French society’s, as well as many other Western countries’ vision regarding Muslim women rest on the idea that they are oppressed by their male Muslim counterparts and that they need to be saved. It is common knowledge that patriarchy only occurs within Islamic traditions, right? ANYWAYS. Many legislations, as well as the media, made it clear that an integral step to French democracy was for Muslim French citizens to leave behind their “obscurantist” ways to enter a “better” and “fairer” monolithic country.
Our society set up a simplistic dichotomy between Muslim and non-Muslim citizens by defining Muslim ways of life as harmful, while situating French values on the opposite of the spectrum, and perpetuating the idea that French values are discordant with Muslim ones. In other words: French citizen + Muslim = less French.
Being a Muslim woman is getting quite difficult in our land of the “free,” especially for visible Muslim women, who constantly get discriminated and assaulted. In France, women have been prevented from accompanying their kids on school trips; to work; to study; to vote; to get medical assistance; to go to the beach; to pass exams; to workout in a gym; to do politics; and, our last outraging scandal, to sing (see Mennel Affair), because they wear the hijab. It is getting quite excessive, huh? Not a month goes by without hearing about the “VEIL ISSUE” in the news, the newspapers, the radio, social media. It became recurrent. Banalized. Normal.
According to Nacira Guénif Souilamas, these destructive maneuvers of a person or of a whole community translates the possibility of continually justifying Islamophobia. Drawing an interesting parallel with the Dreyfus Affair, Guénif talks about a “virtuous racism,” an unbridled racism that is permissible and legitimate for the greater good.
Politicians, journalists, and many other French public speakers constantly put an emphasis on the need to eradicate the Muslimness of French Muslim citizens, deemed to be troublesome to our République Française. Nowadays, wearing the hijab is perceived by many as a political stance, a “banalization of the Islamic veil” that would somehow end up forcing non-Muslim French women to wear it as well. Muslim citizens are perpetually demonized because that is the method our society has chosen to eliminate fundamentalism from our country. This is achieved through a tired reworking of the media’s favorite emblem: The veil.
Shoutout to the Burkini Affair, or even the 2004 legislation and countless other delightfully democratic means to kindly discriminate Muslim women in the public sphere. We still haven’t figured out whether they wanted us to be “integrated” as they like to remind us, or to outcast us. It is still not clear. You would also have probably noticed the use of we and them, which is not a means to demonize France’s not-at-all islamophobic entreprises. It has simply become a reflex due to the distanciation theycreated in the first place. It appears that being Muslim prevents us from being French because our religious values would undermine la Nation Française. One of France’s values is actually letting non concerned individuals to speak on our behalf, you know, these old, white, cisgender and heterosexual men who “know” better.
That is the reason why we are fighting back this violent combination of sexism, racism, and anti-Muslim bigotry that is prevailing in our country. We dream of a fairer society in which every woman can be whoever she aspires to be. We will no longer bear this undignified treatment, not only in the depiction of our women, but as well of every woman in the world.
Via Lallab, we are reversing the dichotomy that has been set up by using our own platform. We share our stories and bring into light inspiring kickass Muslim women who are, in spite of the political climate, building their lives the way they want to, while constantly fighting both patriarchy and racism. In order to shatter these monolithic and pejorative representations, we debunk stereotypes by sharing different narratives by enhancing the plurality of our identities. Muslim women can be whoever they want to be and do not need to be “saved.” We are complex and complete women who will not be silenced by the banalization of Islamophobia. We are plural and we’re not going anywhere.
Happy International Muslim Women’s Day to Muslim Girl, to the Muslim women of France and to every woman in the world!
Lallab Magazine Co-Editor-in-Chief