French Magazine Le Point’s Shameless Headline

France is and will always be my special soapbox, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when crap like this comes out. On November 1st, the magazine ran a cover with a niqabi (OF COURSE) on the front, with the headline “Cet Islam sans gêne” (This Brazen Islam), with a sub-headline of examples of where Muslims are behaving badly: schools, cafeterias, pools, schools, school programs. Note that in France these are always the examples of Muslims behaving badly, the actual content is such weak sauce I wonder how it even made copy in national press.

November 1 cover of Le Point.

The real deal is that, yet again, the image of a Muslim woman is used to illustrate a “OMG WTF BBQ THE MUSLIMS ARE TAKING OVER” story. Using niqab to drive the “islamization” point home is nothing new, and is part of a laundry list of media and political campaigns (e.g. the Swiss minaret vote, one example among thousands) to give people a handy visual in understanding that if you tolerate Islam on any level, all women will be walking around fully covered and that Islam=extremist=niqab. It is so old it isn’t even funny or creative. Just your typical, recycled, islamophobic crap passed off as journalism when it is neither fresh, pertinent, nor interesting. An interesting side note is that the cover picture was taken at a demonstration of less than twenty women in Lille in October. Brazen indeed. Much like Charlie Hebdo, who decided to recycle the Mohammed cartoons schtick last September after already getting in trouble with teh Muslims in 2011.  It seems that Le Point was also lacking in copy and decided to recycle some fundie copy from early 2011.

Speaking of Charlie Hebdo, I wonder if that episode played more than a small part in what I consider a very unexpected backlash from the rest of the mainstream media, where this time, the cover went a little too far. Could it really be that people are tired of the bottom of the barrel constantly being scraped when it comes to Muslims and MSM?  While with Charlie Hebdo, people jumped on the freedom-of-speech bandwagon, for Le Point, finally people have some sense and are either tired of the same old crap, or are really getting a clue that calling out Muslims may be a smidge bigoted in this day and age. [Read more...]

Muslim Women Get Naked! Femen’s Topless Tactics and Muslim Women in France

Recently, Femen, the controversial Ukrainian feminist organization, has been established in France. Femen was founded in 2008 to protest sexism, patriarchy and violence while advocating for feminism. Its members became well-known for protesting naked against sexism, trafficking, religious institutions and sex tourism, among others.  The group, which has become internationally known, has also been able to gather members in some other countries in Europe.

The movement’s founder, Anna Hutsol, is an educated 28-year-old who created the organization to enable women to gain access to the public sphere in an environment where men are still favoured. For the members, Femen sets itself apart from traditional Western feminism in that they aim to advocate for a “real women’s revolution” where women do not have “to be like men” to be recognized in society.

Femen pursues many of its political goals by holding topless protests (although most of their members remain dressed). Femen has protested in a number of places, an important one included the Iranian embassy in Ukraine; there, Femen protested the possible execution of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. Likewise, its members have opposed the legalization of prostitution and sex tourism in Ukraine and they have demonstrated against Putin’s government.

Femen has now settled in France by invitation of some French feminists. What has been labeled as a “feminist boot-camp,” due to its goal of “training” women in a variety of areas including feminist ideologies (or what Femen considers to be “feminist”), now has its main office French in an area with a large immigrant Muslim community.

Femen’s slogans include things like “better naked than the burqa” or “Muslim let’s get naked,” so it’s not hard to imagine the reaction among some Muslim communities.  [Read more...]

When Laïcité Goes Wrong, or When Burqa Checks Start Getting Real

Since the anti-burqa law (or whatever you want to call it, I can’t anymore) was passed in France, women with “full cover” can be cited for non-compliance, and can be stopped for identity checks.  We all remember the story of the polygamous butcher and his many niqab-clad wives gleefully committing welfare fraud.  One of his wives was stopped while driving, and it was argued that she was pulled over, not for a traditional traffic offense, but because she was driving with a niqab on (which is why she was stopped). Last month in Marseille another lady, whose only crime up until that point was wearing niqab, was stopped for an identity check and to be cited for wearing niqab in public (an “offense” in France for which you have to pay a fine). This didn’t go down well with her and her entourage, and the story made headlines for after she bit a female police officer ; a similar incident  happened recently as well in the northern city of Roubaix.

It is useful to note, as an aside, that France has a long history of abusive identity checks where people who “don’t look French” get checked by police just for existing. So people of certain skin tones or ethnicities would get randomly stopped even before it was legal to be stopped for wearing face covering. Despite being whiter than snow, I got more than my fair share of “identity checks” in hijab and the comments that went along with it, like “we don’t wear headscarves here, this is France.”  So the context of these particular events is more complicated in France than it seems on paper. [Read more...]

Change Is Now? No, Not Yet: Manuel Valls as France’s New Interior Minister

I was rather excited about Francois Hollande winning the French elections this month.  I hoped that five years of hateful, fear mongering policy towards Muslims by Sarkozy and his minions would come to an end and that Hollande, for all his supposed blandness, would bring some low-key normalcy to the French presidency.

There was one flaw in my reasoning: Manuel Valls, Hollande’s new Interior Minister.  The Interior Minister in France is a quite important cabinet position, responsible for internal security, law enforcement, identity documents and the like.  But what’s wrong with Mr. Valls personally? Known for being as far to the right as possible, he’s a man after Marine Le Pen’s ideological heart, and his personal battle cry is the sacrosanct laïcité, French secularism. After five years of niqab bans and Muslim scapegoating, Manuel Valls is in the continuity of Sarkozy’s policies, not the disruption Hollande promised.  And I’m not the only one who thinks so. [Read more...]

The French “Niqab Ban,” One Year On

A year ago this week, a French law came into effect banning face veils for women.  At the time, the law was subject to much derision for “only” affecting the very specific number of 367 niqab and burqa-clad women (as of 2009) in France, although at its time, the law was thought to concern a couple thousand women.

Anything relating to Muslims has long been a political tool in France, be it from the far-right National Front (FN) party, or from President Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party, whose government passed the law.  Admittedly, to bring a little of the “fair and balanced,” the first headscarf affairs did take place during the Mitterand (Socialist) administration. Given that preying on anti-Muslim sentiments and adopting parts of the National Front’s platform (much like the Republicans court the Tea Party) seem to be two of the UMP’s hobbies in an election season, I was curious to see how the one-year mark would be “celebrated” in the unique context of France’s upcoming presidential elections, where Sarkozy is not assured re-election, and where the country is just coming off the tragedy of the Merah shootings. [Read more...]

The DSK Rape Victim is Everything but a Victim, According to the Media

The media response to the Dominique Strauss-Kahn rape charges is predictably horrific. The salacious gossip can maintain itself for weeks: the victim lives in a complex for HIV-positive residents (no wait! She doesn’t); wears hijab; and is “pious and respectable.” No, you say, she’s not unattractive—she’s actually got great breasts?

A full 57% of French citizens claim that Strauss-Kahn, who was set to unseat Sarkozy in the upcoming election, was set-up at his Sofitel Hotel. This, of course, is particularly concerning because the victim is Muslim.

The case has shed renewed light on France’s growing Islamophobia and general intolerance toward overt religious expression, but also on the problem of its politically, socially and economically marginalized Muslim and Arab communities and the discrimination they face. Amid speculation about whether Strauss-Kahn preyed on his victim because she is a Muslim woman who wears hijab or because he knew that her class and position made her less likely to report the crime, it’s interesting to note the extent to which her external expression of religion is being used to both lend her credibility (as her Guinean family suggested it should) and undermine her accusation.

Reading the comments of pieces that mention the victim’s religion, it’s interesting to note that of her many marginalized identities—immigrant; possibly HIV-positive; Guinean; young, single mother; black—her Muslim faith is the only one that opens the floodgates for conspiracy theorists and unconscionable victim-blaming. (There is obviously a more insidious kind of victim-blaming by the likes of Ben Stein and Bernard-Henri Levy, but I’m referring to the kind of comments that flatly deny the victim’s claim to truth on the basis of her religion, as opposed to the usual culprits of class or sex). Many of these comments reflect mistrust of Muslims and, by extension, a willingness to withhold judgment on Strauss-Kahn until the victim’s “motives” have been made clear. As one commenter says, “She probably is just a poor woman from Guinea who just wanted to work hard to support her daughter. I remember a few innocent students from Saudi Arabia who just wanted to learn to fly planes.”

This is, after all, a political case; so it’s not shocking that a lot is being made of the victim’s and defendant’s externalities. The dichotomies include French vs. immigrants, Jews vs. Muslims, and the standard rich vs. poor. And I don’t mean to suggest that any or all of these were not factors in Strauss-Kahn’s bad, bad decision to select a victim because—let’s face it—the grids of inequality in cases like this one are compelling enough to discuss for weeks.

But exceptionalizing this case the way the media has, with the many conspiracy theories and speculation of political motive (she must have been invested in the French election, tried to seduce him, etc.) belies America’s own denial of a strong rape culture. Rape happens every day, everywhere. And though it’s much easier to believe that there was a terrorist plot to seduce the head of the IMF, the fact is that someone we trust with what is literally the whole world’s future likely did something wholly vile and inexplicable.

The assumptions that come with the Sofitel maid’s external expression of Islam—she was pious, so she wouldn’t have seduced him; she was extremist, so it was a plot to kill him—only further demonstrate how far we are from what matters here: she was a victim of rape, first and foremost. In our discussion of class, race, ethnicity, background, religion, politics, and money, we seem to have let slide a more important discussion of the kind of culture that engenders victim-blaming, and, more importantly, victims of rape.

Check out an earlier post on the DSK case here.