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30/08/2016 MaryamNamazie

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Theveilisnothingbuttheflagofthe
Muslimfarright

InterviewwithMariemeHelieLucas

MaryamNamazie:Limitationsontheveilinschoolsandanalloutbanontheburqaorniqabare
oftenseentobeauthoritarian.Yourviews?

MariemeHelieLucas:Firstofall,itisusefulnottoconflatethetwoissues:thatofveilinggirlsin
schoolsandbanningthefacecovering.Iwillthusanswerthemastwoseparatequestions.

Whentalkingofveilsinschools,oneautomaticallyreferstotheveilingofunderagedgirls,i.e.notthe
veilingofwomen.Thequestionthusbecomes:whoistodecideongirlsveilingthemselvesorthe
adultswhoareinchargeofthem?Andwhichadults?

Iknowofonlyonebookthatlooksatthisissueitisapamphletentitled'BaslesVoiles'(byChahdortt
Djavann,Gallimard2003)thatwaspublishedbyanIranianwomanexiledinParisatthetimewhen
theStasiCommissioninFrancewascollectingtheviewsofconcernedwomen(andmen)beforethe
adoptionofthenewlawonreligioussymbolsinsecularstateschools.Theauthorstatesthatthe
psychologicaldamagedonetogirlsbyveilingthemisimmenseasitmakesthemresponsiblefor
mensarousalfromaveryearlyage.Thispointrequiresspecialconsiderationgiventhenewtrendto
veilgirlsasyoungas5asshowninthenumerouscampaignsthroughoutNorthAfrica.Theauthor
goesontoexplainthatthegirlsbodyisthusturnedintothesiteoffitnah(seductionorsourceof
disorder)meaningthatshecannotlookatitorthinkofitinpositiveterms.Thisattitudebuildsgirlsthat
fear,distrust,andfeeldisgustandanguishattheirownbodies.Atsuchanearlyage,littlegirlshave
nowayofcounteringthisshapingoftheirselftheyareentirelyunderthethumbofantiwomenmen.
Thewomengrowingupfromthesepsychologicallydamagedgirlsarelikelytoneedalotofhelptobe
abletoreconsiderthemselvesandtheirbodiesinmorepositiveterms,toreconstructtheirselfimage,
toconquertheirbodilyautonomy,toabandonguiltandfearandtogivebacktomenthe
responsibilityoftheirsexualacts.Ithinkitwouldbeveryusefulformorewomenresearcherstodelve
intothepsychologicaldamagedonetogirlswhoareveiledfromanearlyage.

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Also,whoisthe'adult'inchargeofprotectingthegirlchild'srights?Thestatealreadyplaysthisrole
onnumerousoccasions,suchasinpreventingfamiliesfromperformFGMongirls,orinpreventing
forcedmarriagesforinstance.Whyshoulditnotalsotakeresponsibilityinpreventingthedeep
psychologicaldamageinducedbywearingaveilbeforeadulthood?

MaryamNamazie:Whyshouldthestatebeseenasauthoritarianwhenitpreventstheveilingofgirls
butnotwhenitprotectsthemfromFGM?

MariemeHelieLucas:Itisinterestingtorememberthatgroupsofleftiesandfeminists(alas!)in
EuropeandNorthAmericadefended'therighttoFGM'intheseventiesasa'culturalright'and
denouncedwesternimperialism'sattemptsateradicatingthepracticeinEurope.Atnopointwasany
referencemadetothestrugglesofwomenonthegroundtoeradicateitinthelimitedpartsofAfrica
whereFGMwaspracticedbothbyanimists,ChristiansandMuslims.Weseethesamepattern
replicatedregarding'therighttoveil',whichisnowseenasa'religiousright'despitethefactthat
numerousprogressiveinterpretersoftheQu'ranhavestatedthatitisnotanIslamicinjunction.

Whatstrikesmeistheimbalanceintreatmentof'authoritarianism'bythoseontheleftandinthe
humanrightscommunityinEuropeandNorthAmerica.MillionsofwomeninpredominantlyMuslim
setupshavebeenassassinatedforstandingfortheirrightNOTtobeveiled(sofar,veiledwomenare
notassassinatedforwearingaveilinEurope,norinNorthAmerica,evenifitistruethattheymaybe
verballyattackedbyfarrightracistindividuals,who,mayIemphasise,arethentakentocourtand
generallyconvictedasshouldbethecase).

Iwishthemagnitudeofthevociferousdefenceofveiledwomen's'choice'and'righttoveil'by
'progressivepeople'wouldbematchedwiththeirdefenceofwomenslaughteredfornotveiling.But
whatwesee,instead,hiddenbehindtheleftandhumanrightscommunitysunilateraldefenceofthe
humanrightsofveiledwomen,isinfactaclearlypoliticalposition.'Progressives'havechosento

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defendfundamentalistswhotheydepictexclusivelyasvictimsofUSimperialism,ratherthanthe
victimsoffundamentalists,i.e.,amongstothers,themillionsofunveiledwomenwhohaveresisted
theirdiktatsaswellasthemillionsofsecularists,agnostics,atheists,andsoonwhohavebeen
abandonedas'westernised'oreven'alliesofimperialism'!Historywilljudgethisshortsightedpolitical
choicejustasitdidthecowardiceofEuropeancountriesattheonsetofNazismsriseinGermany.

Withregardsyourquestion,IcanonlyspeakfrommyperspectiveasanAlgerianlivinginFranceat
thetimeofthedebateonthetwoFrenchlawsthatareincriminatedtheworldoverasbeing'anti
Islam':thelawonveilinginschoolsandthebanonfacecovering.Thesearetwodifferentissuesand
inFrancetheyhavebeentreatedseparately.

Thebanonreligioussymbolsinstatesecularschoolsisdoneinthenameofsecularism,whilstthe
banonthefacecoveringisdoneinthenameofsecurity.Theburqahasbeenaddedtootherformsof
facecoveringsuchasmasks(outsideacarnivalsetting)orfullmotorbikehelmets(whennotriding)as
alloftheseareroutinelyusedtoprotecttheidentityofriotersor'terrorists.(AsanAlgerianoldenough
tohavelivedthroughtheBattleofAlgiersduringtheliberationstrugglefromFrenchcolonialism,I
knowforcertainthatveilswereusedtocarryarmsandbombsfromplacetoplacehenceIcannotbe
surprisedthatfullfacecoveringsareaddedtothelistofforbiddenoutfits.)

Letmedealwithveilinginschools.

ThesituationsofFranceandBritainareverydifferent.

Franceisasecularcountrythat,sincetheFrenchrevolution,separatedthenewsecularstatefrom
thepoliticalinfluenceoftheChurch.Thesecularlawsthatestablishedthisseparationdatefrom1905
and1906,waybeforeanyimmigrationfrompredominantlyMuslimmajoritycountries.Article1ofthe
1906lawguaranteesfreedomofbeliefandpractice.Article2ofthesamelawstatesthatbeyondthis
guaranteeoffundamentalindividualrightsthesecularstatewillhavenothingtodowithreligionandits
representatives.Thestatewillnotrecognisechurches,norfundthem,andsoon.Inthewordsofa
modernanalystofsecularism,HenriPenaRuiz,thestatedeclaresitselfincompetentinreligious
matters.Beliefsbecomeaprivatematter,andestablishedreligions(atthattimemostlytheCatholic
Church)loseallpoliticalpoweroverthestate.Thesecularstatewillsimplyignorethemaspolitical
entities.Citizensaretheonlypartnerthestaterecognises,throughdemocraticelectionprocesses.

Itisaconsequenceofthedefinitionofsecularismasaseparationofstateandreligionthat,since
1906,displaying'anysymbol'ofreligiousorpoliticalaffiliationisforbiddeninexclusivelytwospecific
situations:forbothpersonnelandpupilsinprimaryandsecondarysecularstateschools(i.e.for
underagedchildren,andnotincludinguniversitieswherestudentsareofadultage),andforcivil
servantsincontactwiththepublic.

TherationaleforthisisthatchildrencometotheschoolsoftheSecularRepublic(whereeducationis
free)tobeeducatedasequalFrenchcitizens,notasrepresentativesofanyspecificcommunity.
Educationasequalcitizensisapowerfultoolagainstcommunalismandthedivisivespecificitiesthat
leadtounequallegalrightswithinagivencountry,asisalreadythecaseinBritain,withthesocalled
'shariacourts'becomingparallellegalsystemsinfamilymatters.

Similarly,civilservantswhenincontactwiththepublichavetoperformtheirdutiesasrepresentatives
ofallcitizensofeveryethnicorreligiousbackground,andthatiswhytheyarerequestednotto
displaytheiraffiliationwithinthetimeframewhentheyrepresenttheSecularRepublic.

Thisisafarcryfrom,forinstance,Britishpolicestations,whereonecanrequesttobeheardbya
policemanofhisorherowncultorethnicgroupasifacivilservantcannotbeeducatednottobe
biased,andisnecessarilyfirstandforemostfaithfultohisorher'community'ratherthantofellow
citizens.

MaryamNamazie:Itisthusinthenameofsecularismthatveilinghasbeenoutlawedinsecularstate
schoolsandforcivilservantsinFrance,justascrossesorkippashave.Interestingly,theemphasisis
ontheveil,notoncrossesorkippas.Why?Andwhoisbehindthishierarchy?

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MariemeHelieLucas:WhatblurredtheissuewasthattherightwingpresidentSarkozypassedthe
newlawin2004whilsttryingtorallythexenophobicfarrightinfavourofhiscandidacy.Therewasno
needforsuchanewlawthe1906lawmerelyhadtobeapplied.

TherightandfarrightforcesinFrancehaveneverstoppedattackingthe19056secularlawsforthe
past100years.TheyhavenowfoundactiveandpowerfulpartnersinMuslimfundamentalistfarright
forceswhichalsowanttodismantlesecularismandtoreturntothestagewhenreligionshadpolitical
powerandofficialrepresentation.Itisclearthatwhiledifferentreligionswillcompeteatalaterstage
iftheyaretosucceedintheirattempttoeradicatesecularisminFrancetheyareusefulalliestoeach
other.JustwatchhowrepresentativesoftheCatholicChurchandJewishhighauthoritiessupport
practicallyeverydemandbyMuslimfundamentalists!Theissueoftheveilinprimaryandsecondary
schoolsinFranceisbutoneofthemanydemandstheyconstantlydevisetofundamentallychallenge
thelawsoftheSecularRepublic.

Isn'titironicthatlawspassedacenturyago,atatimewhentherewasvirtuallynoimmigrationfrom
Muslimmajoritycountries,nowpassoff,theworldover,aslawsagainstIslam?Thisalludestothe
expertiseofMuslimfundamentalistsinmediacommunications.

ComingbacktotheissueofveilandburqaintheUK,letmestatethatBritainisNOTasecularstate.
TheQueenistheHeadoftheAnglicanChurch,thusitcannotrootitsbanoftheburqaorniqabor
evenheadscarfonsecularlawsdatingbacktomorethanahundredyearsnorshowitscommitment
tofreeandqualitynonconfessionaleducationforallchildrenasisthecaseinFrance.

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Britainhasdevisedanalternativedefinitionofsecularism,notasseparation,butasequaltoleranceby
thestatevisvisallreligions.ThusthestateinBritaininteractswithreligions,andconsiders
'churches'(orthelikeinotherreligions)aspoliticalpartnersandrepresentativesofcommunities.Itis
thiswhichleadstocommunalismandculturalrelativism.Isn'tithightimeforBritaintoreturntothe
originaldefinitionofsecularismandtoaformofdemocracyinwhichcitizenshipisatitscentre?

Whatweseehappeningisthefragmentationofpeople,offellowcitizens,intosmallerandsmaller
competingentitiesthateachdemanddifferentrulesareapplicabletothemandtheir'community'inthe
nameofculturalandreligiousidentities.Lawsthatwerevotedbyallcitizensarechallengedforthe
benefitofsupposedlydivinelyordainedlawsadirectattackontheveryprincipleofdemocracy.We
seetheeradicationofthenotionofcitizenship,andthiswillhavedrasticpoliticalconsequencesinthe
nearfuture.Allinthenameofrights!

MaryamNamazie:Whathappenstoawomansrighttochooseherclothing?Somewouldsayforcing
womentounveilisonparwithforciblyveilingthem.

MariemeHelieLucas:Iwouldliketofirstpointoutthefactthatthedebateisformulatedin'western'
terms.Tomyknowledge,womeninMuslimcontextsareNOTpreventedfromveilingandthat'sthe
vastmajorityofsupposedlyMuslimsintheworld.Inmostinstances,theyareforcedtocover,to
variousdegrees,oftenbylawandwehaveyettohearaworldwideoutcryabouttheirsituation.

Insharpcontrast,wehearsomuchaboutthepoorwomen'forcedtounveil'innonMuslimcontexts
mostlyinEuropeandNorthAmericabutIhaveyettofindWHEREthishappensnowheretomy
knowledge.Thelimitationsonveiling,inspecificcircumstancesinFrance,havebeenaddressedin
myresponsetothepreviousquestion(underagedgirlsarerequestednottoveilonlywithinthe
premisesofsecularstateprimaryandsecondaryschoolsandburqacladwomenarerequestedto
uncovertheirfaceforpurposeofidentificationtherestoftheirbody,hair,andheadcanbecoveredas
theylike).Also,aspermyknowledge,whenveiledwomenareverballyorphysicallyattacked,there
aretribunalstodefendthemagainstanyformofaggression.Inactualfact,thedebateisreducedto
therighttoveilinEuropeandNorthAmericawithnoregardfortheresistancetoveilingeverywherein
theworldandthedirecircumstancesforresisters.Thisreductionisutterlyunacceptabletome.

Ontheonehand,therearemillionsofwomenworldwideforcedtoveilwhorisktheirlibertyandlives
whentheytransgressveilingorders.Theyareabandonedto'cultural'and'religiousrightswithno
analysisofthefarrightpoliticalforcesmanipulatingandhijackingcultureandreligionforpoliticalgain
underthepoliticallycorrectpretextthatUSimperialismmisusedthedefenceofwomen'shumanrights
toconcealitseconomicreasonsforinvadingAfghanistanandthat'whites'areracists.Ontheother
hand,therearewomenofthediasporainEuropeandNorthAmericawhose'righttoveil'isdefended
byapoliticallycorrectcoalitionofleftandhumanrightsdefenderswhoshowlittleinterestinthe
numerouscasesofyoungwomentryingtoescapeforcedveiling.

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MaryamNamazie:Isn'ttheresomedisturbingimbalanceinsuchanutterlydiscriminatorypolitical
choicebetweenthosewhoserightsdeservetobedefendedandthosewhodon'tqualify?Couldthese
championsofourrightspubliclyclarifytheirreasonsforsuchahierarchyofrights?

MariemeHelieLucas:Clearlythequestionhereexclusivelyreferstothe'righttochoose'ofwomen
whowanttoveilinEuropeandNorthAmericaandthatthisisaverylimitedandpartialwayof
addressingtheproblemitmeans'disappearing'thevastmajorityofconcernedwomen.

About'choice'ingeneral,muchhasalreadybeenwrittenbyfeministsabouthowmuchfreedomone
canexpectinsituationswherewomenhavenosayeitherlegally,culturally,religiouslyorotherwise.
Recently,apowerfulacademicarticlebyAnissaHelieandMaryAshe:MulticulturalistLiberalismand
HarmstoWomen:LookingThroughtheIssueoftheVeil(publishedinUCDavisJournalof
InternationalLawandPolicy,Vol.19.1,2012)concludedthatproponentsofveilingofteninsistonan
individualwomensrighttochoose(theveil)CraftedbythetheoreticiansofradicalIslam(who
usurpthemantraofsupportersofabortionrightsforwomen),suchsloganscanconfoundWestern
liberalswho,afraidofbeinglabelledracist,fallintothetrapofculturalrelativism.

Iwould,however,gobackevenfurthertotheolddebatesparkedbyMarxonworkers''freedomto
work'atthetimeofBritainsindustrialisation,i.e.atimewheninordertonotactuallystarveanddie,
workers'only'freechoice'wastowork14hoursadayinhellishcircumstancesthatalsokilledmanyof
them,includingwomenandchildrenundertheageof10.

MaryamNamazie:WomeninmanycountrieswhereMuslimfundamentalistsruleandterrify
populationshavethesame'choice'thatworkershadinaBritainthatwasindustrialising:todieof
starvationorsurvivealittlebitlongerasslaves/todiebecausetheyresistfundamentalistsorsurvive
asslaves.Greatchoice'indeed!Isthattheonlyalternativewomenareofferedbyculturalrelativists?

MariemeHelieLucas:Thenumberofwomenassassinatedbyfamilymembers,aswellasby
fundamentalistarmedgroups,orimprisonedbyfundamentaliststatesinourvariouscountriesonall
continentsforthesimplereasonthattheydonotconformwithveilingdiktatsshouldattheveryleast
countasmoreimportantintheeyesofhumanrightsdefendersthanthe'pleaofveiledwomen'who
mayoccasionallyhavetocopewithracistscommentsintheWest.

Howcanonedarecompare,forinstance,the200,000victimsofthe'darkdecade'(throughthe
1990s)inAlgeria,avastmajorityofwhomwerewomenassassinatedbyfundamentalistarmed
groups,mostlyignoredandabandonedtotheirfatebyinternationalhumanrightsorganisations,with
ahandfulofveiledwomenyelledatinParisorLondon?Yes,howdareonecompare.Thisaccepted
inequalityoftreatmentonlyshowsthatforhumanrightsorganisationsandleftparties,theWestisstill
thecentreoftheworld,andwhathappenstherehoweversmallandmarginaltakesprecedence
overthemanycrimescommittedelsewhere.

Iwouldliketopointoutaninterestingblindspotintheanalysisoftheleftandhumanrightscrowd,
whichifitweretakenintoaccountwouldpreventthereducingoftheissueto'individualchoice.'

ThenumberofveiledwomeninthestreetsofEuropeancapitalshasbeensteadilygrowingoverthe
pasttwodecadesonly.Theirnumberisnotproportionaltoasignificantincreaseofmigrant
populations.Thesewomendonotweartheirnationalcostumes(includingheadcoveringornot)but
theSaudiveilinsteadwhichneverexistedinothercountries.Thereisagrowingnumberofwomen
adoptingthemostdrasticformofnotjusthaircoveringbutoffacecovering.

MaryamNamazie:Inlightofthis,howcanthisformofveilingbeseenasaculturalissuewhenitin
facteradicatesalltraditionalformsofhaircoveringandofnationalandregionaldress?

MariemeHelieLucas:Howcanthisformofveilingbeseenasareligiousissuewhenprogressive
theologiansandscholarsofIslamonallcontinentskeepdemonstratingthatveilingwomenisnota
religiousprescription,thatitisaculturalone,circumscribedtotheMiddleEast,bothformenand
women,adaptedtoitsclimate,andcommontoallreligiousgroupsasshouldbelargelydemonstrated
byChristianiconographythatdepictstheVirginMaryandalltheholywomenthatsharedthelifeof

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ChristinhistimesaswellasJewishwomenasveiled.Whynotriseindefenceofallthese
endangeredcultures?HowcantheynotmakethelinkbetweenthepropagationoftheSaudiveiland
Saudifundingofmostofthemosquesandreligiousorganisationsthathavebeenpoppingupin
Europeancapitalcities?Howcantheynotseethisformofveilingasfundamentalismspoliticalflag?
HowcantheynotlinkitspropagationwiththeotherpoliticalactivitiesofSaudi(andQatari)
imperialism?Howcantheynotmakeapoliticalanalysisofthissuddenexplosionofveiledwomenin
thediaspora?Howcantheyreduceitto'individualchoice'ofindividualwomeninthewakeofsucha
massiveandsuddennewphenomenon?

If,let'ssay,therewasasuddenspreadofnuns'outfits,concomitantlyinItaly,FranceandSpain,andif
Catholicwomeninvisiblenumberswouldaggressivelyasserttheirrighttobecladas'trueCatholics'(
amoderninventionthatwouldbecontestedbyrespectedChristiantheologians,justasthisnew
rageforveilingiscontestedbynumerousprogressiveMuslimtheologiansandscholarsofIslamthat
neithertheleftnorhumanrightsorganisationseverquoteindefenceofunveiledwomenagainstthe
inaccurateclaimsmadebyfundamentalists),wouldn'ttheleftpointattherightandfarrightpolitical
movementshiddenbehindthissupposedlyreligiousrevival?Wouldn'ttheleftanalyseitinpolitical
terms,ratherthaninreligiousones,anddenounceit?Iftherewererumours,orexamplesof
improperlycladCatholicwomenbeingcoercedintothisoutfit,orbeatenup,orforciblysecluded,or
killed,wouldn'thumanrightsorganisationsstartlookingintoit?Wouldn'ttheydefendthevictims?
Wouldn'ttheydenouncetheseashumanrightsviolations?Orwouldallthesesupposedlyprogressive
forcescontinuetoturnablindeyetohumanrightsabusesandtothecriesformercyofvictims?
Wouldtheyfocusonthe'righttoveil'ofCatholicwomen?

Itiscleartomethatbyreiteratingtheclaimsoffundamentalistsoverwomen,withoutevenchecking
outthemostblatantoftheirlies,theleftandhumanrightscrowdonlybetraytheirfearofbeing
labelled'Islamophobic.Theyunwittingly(Ihope)reinforcefundamentalistviewswhichclaimtheyare
theonlylegitimaterepresentativesofIslam,andthattheiropponentsantiIslam.

Thisiswhatisbehindthequestionof'choice':itplacesthedebateawayfromanypoliticalanalysis
thatwouldpointattherightandfarrightnatureoffundamentalists'manipulationoftheveil.Theright
andfarrightviewsofthesupremacyoftheindividualarerootedineconomicliberalism.

MaryamNamazie:Whilstwemightconsidersecularismapreconditionforwomensrights,Islamists
considerSharialawapreconditionforwomensrightsinthewaytheyseethem.Whoistosaywhois
right?Theywouldarguesecularismisawesternconceptandaformofculturalcolonialism.

MariemeHelieLucas:Iobjecttousingthetermsharialaw.Itpresupposesthatthereissomewhere
writtenabodyoflawsthatareusedbyallMuslims.AsimpleoverviewoflawsinMuslimmajority
countriesshowsthatthereisnosuchthing.ThevastdiversityoflawsinpredominantlyMuslim
contextsshowthatlawshavedifferentsources:fromgivinglegitimacytolocalculturalpractices(FGM
passingoffasIslamicinsomeregionsofAfrica),todifferentreligiousinterpretations(forexample
AlgerialegalisedpolygamywhilstTunisiabansitusingexactlythesameverseoftheQuranbutwitha
differentreadingofit!),tousinglawsofformercolonisers(suchasthebanoncontraceptionand
abortioninAlgeria,usingthe1920Frenchlaw),andsoon.Itwouldthereforebeahugemistaketo
thinkthatallthelawsinMuslimmajoritycountrieshavetheirsourceinreligion.

Shariaisatermcoinedbyfundamentalistsinordertomakebelievethatsuchabodyoflawsexist
usingthetermjustallowsmorepeopletobelieveinitsexistence.Exactlyjustasmediastartedusing
othertermscoinedbyfundamentalists,suchasjihad(whichmeansaspiritualfightwithinoneselfto
comeclosertoGod,ratherthanawarwithweapons,astheyinterpretit)ortheIslamicveilwhen
theypropagateSaudiveilingorIslamophobiawhenonechallengestheirviewsonIslam...Donot
usethelanguageoftheenemy!Itgivescredibilitytotheirlies

AsIhavealreadypointedat,therearelotsofplacesintheworldwhereveilingiscompulsoryandno
forcedunveilinganywhere.NoteveninprimaryandsecondaryschoolsinFrancebecauseultra
orthodoxfamilieshaveachoicetoenroltheirdaughtersinreligiousschoolsoftheirchoice.Theonly

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obligationoffamiliesistosendtheirdaughterstoschoolbutthechoiceofthatschoolisnotwithinthe
mandateofthesecularstate.

AndnowherearewomenforcednottowearaveilinpublictheyareonlyaskedinFrancetonotcover
theirface.Hencesecularismneitherveilsnorunveilswomen.Undoubtedly,however,fundamentalists
interpretationofsupposedlydivineordersaimsatveilingwomen.Secularismisnotanopinionnorisit
abeliefitisexclusivelyadefinitionandaregulationofthepositionofthestatevisavisreligion.
Eitherthestateinterfereswithreligionoritdoesnot.Secularismistheformalsetupinwhichthestate
doesnotinterferewithreligion.Weshouldnotacceptanyotherdefinitionofsecularism.

Asfortheaccusationofsecularismbeingawesternconcept,haventweheardthatoffeminismfor
decades?Butifwearetolookintohistory,especiallythehistoryofwomeninMuslimcontexts,wefind
outthatmanywomen,forcenturies,foughtforwhatisnowconsideredfeministideasandwomens
rights,thattheydedicatedthemselvestoliterature,poetry,womenseducation,politics,legalrightsfor
women,justasisthecasenowandthattheyweresupportedbyenlightenedmenandwomen,both
believersandatheists,justasisthecasenow.Anyoneinterestedinexploringsomeofthesestories
fromthepastshouldreadGreatAncestorsbyFareedaShaheedandAishaShaheed(publishedby
WomenLivingUnderMuslimLaws).

Similarly,therehavebeenmanysupportersofsecularisminMuslimcontextsoverthepastcenturies,
justastherearemanytoday.Thatincludesatheists,agnosticsandbelieverswhothoughtandstill
thinkreligionsbenefitfromthefactthatpoliticalpowerdoesnotinterferewithpersonalbeliefsor
spirituality.Today,theformerGreatMuftiofMarseillesisastrongsupporterofsecularisminFrance,
asaremanyprogressiveImamswhogopubliceverySundayinareligiousTVshowonFrench
channel2abouttheirsupportforFrenchsecularismwhichguaranteesfreedomofbeliefandfreedom
ofpractice.

Sotherealquestionformeis:whydontwehearmoreaboutsuchMuslimsupportersofsecularism
andwhywontthemediagivelesspublicspacetotheexpressionoffundamentalisthatredfor
secularism?Itisyetanotherfundamentalistdistortiontopresentfactsinthelightofsecularlawbeing
againstdivinelaw

Recentsurveysshowthatabout25%ofthepopulationinFrancedeclaresitselfatheist,andthe
percentageisthesameamongsupposedlyChristiansandsupposedlyMuslimindividuals.Butthe
percentageofallthosewhodeclarethemselvesinfavourofsecularismrisesto75%,andisidentical
forpresumedMuslimsandpresumedChristians.

TherearestrongmovementsforsecularisminallsocalledMuslimcountries,whetherinPakistan,
AlgeriaorMali.Citizensgopublicinsupportofsecularismriskingtheirlivesinplaceswhere
fundamentalistsrunarmedgroupsthatattacktheiropponents.Whyarephotosoftheirpublicevents
andstreetdemonstrationsneverseenoutsidetheirnationalmedia?

MaryamNamazie:Somewillsaythisraisesthequestionofhowfarwearewillingtoallowthestate
tointerveneinprivatematterssuchasthewaywedress.Yourcomments?

MariemeHelieLucas:Ifwedoagreethatthissuddenriseofspecificveilsworldwidepassingoffas
THEIslamicveilisneitherculturalnorreligiousbutapoliticalflagthatfundamentalistsuseinorderto
increasetheirpoliticalvisibilityattheexpenseofwomen,thenwemustalsoadmitthatwearingthis
formofveilnowinEuropeandNorthAmericahasapoliticalpurposethewomenwhowearit,
whethertheyareawareofitornot,arewearingtheflagofafarrightpoliticalparty.HenceIcould
hardlyagreewiththeformulation:awomanchoosinghowtodress.Thisveilisdefinitelynottobe
equatedtowearinghighheelsversusflatshoes,orminiskirtsversustrousers.Itisnotafashionitisa
politicalmarker.Ifonedecidesoneisgoingtowearaswastikaasabrooch,onecannotignoreits
politicalmeaningonecannotpretendonedoesnotcareforthefactthatitwastheflagofNazi
Germany.Onecannotpretendonejustlikesitsshape.Itisapoliticalstatement.

WomenfromalloverAsiaandAfricawhowearafacecoveringorburqatodaywhethertheydosoin
EuropeandNorthAmericaorwhethertheywearitintheirowncountriesarewearingaformofveiling

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thattheyhaveneverseenbefore,exceptiftheygrewupinaveryspecificandlimitedpartofthe
MiddleEast.Theycannotpretendtheyaregoingbacktotheirrootsandwearingthedressthattheir
foremothersworecenturiesagonorcantheypretendthattheywearitforreligiousreasons.Muslims
wereMuslimsforcenturieswithoutwearingsuchanoutfit:inSouthAsia,theywerewearingsarisorin
theSaheltheywerewearingboubousToday,burqacladwomenwearanoutfitthatwasunseenand
unheardofuntilacoupleofdecadesagowhenfundamentalistpoliticalgroupsinventedtheburqaas
theirpoliticalflag.

Henceifthestateweretoregulateburqasortheniqab,itwouldnotregulatethewaywedress,nor
woulditdealwithapersonaltasteinfashion,butwithpubliclywearingthepoliticalsignofanextreme
rightmovement.

Itmaybetheroleofthestatetodoso.Thiscanbedebated.Butwhatisnotdebatableisthatwomen
wearingtheburqatodayareinthegripofatransnationalfarrightmovement.Whetherburqaclad
womenareawareofthepresentdaypoliticalsignificanceoftheirveilorwhethertheyarealienated
intothefundamentalistspoliticoreligiousdiscourseisirrelevant.

MaryamNamazie:Inpractice,howcanrestrictionsbeputinplace(alsolookingattheFrench
example)withoutfurtherinflamingracismandbigotryagainstMuslimsandimmigrantsandwhatisthe
connectionbetweenthetwo?Iaskthisgiventhatsomewillarguethatacriticismoftheveilandniqab
areracist.

MariemeHelieLucas:Inthatcase,isresistancetoniqab/burqa/headscarfandanyotherformof
veilingtobelabelledracistinourcountriestoo?Werethewomenwhochosetodieratherthantoveil
inAlgeriaintheninetiesallracistagainsttheirownpeopleandagainsttheirownfaithasmanyof
themwerebelieversinIslam?

CantwestopthinkingtheWestisthecentreoftheworld?WhatabouttheSudanesewomanwhoat
thisverymomentinKhartoumrisksfloggingandimprisonmentforrefusingtoveil?Whataboutthe
numerousIranianwomenwhohavebeenjailedfordecadesforwearingunIslamicdress?

Racism,xenophobia,marginalisationofandattacksonmigrants(orpeopleofmigrantdescent)have
alwaysbeenthere.AtthebeginningofthetwentiethcenturyinSouthernFrance,therewerepogroms
againstItalianmigrantswhocametostealthebreadofFrenchworkerssoundsfamiliartoday,
doesntit?Therewerenumerousdeadandwounded.ButifwelookatFrenchcitizenswhosefamily
namesbetrayanItalianorigintoday,theyarefullyintegratedandnooneeventhinksofcontesting
theirbelongingtotheFrenchnation.ItisthesameforSpaniards,Portuguese,GreeksorPolesand
RussianswhoallcametoliveinFranceinrecenthistory,becameFrenchcitizensandhavenow
meltedintothegeneralpopulation.

ThereareagrowingnumberofwellknownpeopleinFrancewithArabicnames(andoften
erroneouslypresumedMuslim)theyareprofessors,lawyers,medicaldoctors,scientists,journalists,
filmmakers,actors,bankers,computerexperts,entrepreneursThissignifiestheirincorporationinto
thenationjustliketheItalians,Spaniards...lessthanacenturyago.

AbeautifulplayentitledBarbesCafewasshownlastyearindifferentcitiesofFrance.Itwasentirely
theworkofpeopleofAlgeriandescent,mostofwhomfledfundamentalistsdeaththreatsandattacks
ontheminthenineties.ThisplayisahymntoemigrationusingpopularsongsinArabicfromthe
beginningtotheendofthe20thcenturyandtracesthehistoryofemigrationfromNorthAfrica,the
painandlongingofmigrantsandtheterribleconditionsofworkbutitalsocelebratesthelawthat
allowedfamiliestojoinworkers,thefreeandseculareducationfortheirchildren,thesolidarity
betweenindigenousandmigrantworkersinunionsandleftpartiesandsoon.Itendswithimagesof
thoseofmigrantNorthAfricandescentwhomadeitandopenthegateforgenerationstocome.Itis
amanifestoofhope,albeitnottryingtoconcealthehardshipmanyworkersfacedfortheirchildren
andgrandchildrentobecomeapartofFrance.

October27wastheanniversaryoftheMarchForEqualityandAgainstRacismthatfouryoungmen
andwomen,FrenchcitizensofNorthAfricanorigin,initiatedinOctober1983.Theystartedfrom

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30/08/2016 MaryamNamazie

MarseillesandwalkedfortwomonthsthroughoutFrance,visitingtownsandvillages,speakingtotheir
urbanandruralfellowcitizens,denouncingracistcrimesanddiscrimination,andadvocatingthe
equalityofallcitizens.TheyalsodenouncedthelabelMuslimthatwasimposedonthemforreasons
ofgeographicalorigin.Alongtheway,othercitizensofalloriginsjoinedthemandstartedmarching
withthem.WhentheyarrivedinParis,100,000peoplehadgatheredtowelcomethemandsupport
theirgoals.

Itisnotpredeterminedthatoppressedpeopleorvictimsofdiscriminationturntofarrightmovements.
Insuchcircumstances,peoplehaveachoicetobecomerevolutionariesorfascists.The
fundamentalistresponsetoracismisafascistresponse.Weshouldnotunderanypretextgrantthem
anylegitimacy.Weshouldsupportpeoplesmovementsforequalityandfullcitizenship.

Fundamentalistshaveakeeninterestinmakingsuretheygetthebenefitofracistincidentsjustlike
thetraditional(xenophobic)farrightpoliticalmovements,theyneedtoradicalisetheirtroopsand
recruitmorepeopletotheircause.Boththeseapparentlyantagonisticfarrightforcessharethesame
goal:theywelcomebloodshed.Hencetheyarepreparedtoprovokeracistincidents.Inthepastfew
years,fundamentalistinhabitantsofaParisneighbourhoodstartedprayinginthestreetsandblocking
trafficforhoursonFridays.Thepretextwasthattheirlocalmosquewasnotbigenough.Butforsure
theGreatMosqueofParis,onlyafewtubestationsawayfromthemwas/ispermanentlyquasiempty.
Policewatchedonwithoutdoinganythingandthishasnowbeengoingonformorethansevenyears.
Theonlyresponse,ofcourse,camefromafarrightgroupwhichlaunchedpublicinvitationstosharea
wineandporkaperitifontheverysamestreetsonSundays.

Thecowardlyleftshouldhavetakenthisintoitsownhands,demandingthatpeoplevacatethepublic
spaceiftheyhavenotreceivedpoliceauthorisationtooccupyitasislegal.Thecowardlyleftis
preparedtoignoreprovocationsbyMuslimfundamentalistsbecausetheydonotwanttobeseenas
Islamophobic.Inaway,onefeelstheydonotmakeadifferencebetweenbelieversinIslamandthe
farrightsupposedlyreligiousmovementthatfeignstorepresentallMuslims.

ItwasinthehopeofavoidingaconfrontationwithFrancothatEuropeangovernments,includingthe
thensocialistgovernmentofFrance,refusedtohelpandtoprotectthelegitimategovernmentofthe
RepublicofSpain.ItwaswiththehopeofavoidingaconfrontationwiththewellbehavedHitlerthat
EuropeangovernmentswenttoMunichandallowedtheinvasionofPolandbyNazitroops.History
showsthatcowardiceinpoliticsleadsnowhereandthateveryonehastopaythepricefornot
standingforprinciplesandrightsinduetime.

Victimsofracismneedtobedefended,includinglegallysocialandpoliticalproblemsneedtobe
addressedbysocialandpoliticalmeans,notwithreligiousones.

MariemeHelieLucasisanAlgeriansociologistandfounderofWomenLivingUnderMuslimLawsand
SecularismisaWomensIssue.



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