Djemila Benhabib: « I am not ashamed to have been born a woman. I don’t have to apologize for that. I don’t have to hide from it.’’
Author, journalist, lecturer, Djemila Benhabib was born in Ukraine to a Greek Cypriot mother and an Algerian father. She grew up in Algeria and was forced to flee in 1994 after her family was sentenced to death by the Islamic Front for Armed Jihad (IFAD). A refugee in France, she finally settled in 1997 in Quebec where she studied physics, political science and international law. In her struggle against Islamism, and in particular the veiling of young girls, she was the victim of numerous intimidation and harassment acts by Islamists in Canada, including through legal processes. Djemila’s analyses are informed by the portrayal of resistance fighters from Muslim countries, many of whom have fallen in the line of duty: Abderrahmane Fardeheb, Tahar Djaout, Naguib Mahfouz, and those who continue the fight, such as Kamel Daoud, Alaa El Aswany and Boualem Sansal, who wrote the preface to her book « After Charlie ».
About the veil:
« The veil is an obsessive relationship to the body, to the flesh, to sex. The veil is the control of women’s sexuality. Let’s not be naive enough to believe that the Hijab would be acceptable, even progressive, while the Burqa would be retrograde and unacceptable. The difference between the two is only due to the size of the fabric. The meaning remains the same: the archaic manifestation of women’s oppression and submission.
These women claim that they veil themselves so as not to attract the attention of men and awaken their impulses. This conception, which considers women as « unfulfilled temptresses » and men as « perpetual predators », is totally infantile and primary.
I am not ashamed to have been born a woman. I don’t have to apologize for that. I don’t have to hide from it. Islamists blame women for their sexual desires, miseries and sexual frustrations. They’re sex maniacs. Women’s hatred and submission crystallize their ideology. There can be no free and emancipated women ‒or men for that matter‒in an Islamic state. Engels was right to say that « the degree of women’s emancipation is the measure of the degree of general emancipation ». Excerpt from « My Life Against the Koran » (Ma vie à contre-Coran).
Excerpt from an open letter: Dear Hijab day student (from Sciences Po, Paris and elsewhere), have the courage to be a free woman/man!
Dear Hijab Day student, On April 20th, you organized (out of kindness?) a day to celebrate women’s veiling with disconcerting peace of mind. This is the confinement of my daughter, my mother, mine and millions of women around the world.
Where do you get this ability to make other people’s alienation exotic?
Of course, this veil you are promoting is not universally valid. You exclude yourself and your close ones from it. Deep down, you get the lightness, I get the prison. Strange conception. There is racism right there! Have you thought, for a moment, about reversing the roles? Come on, you would have us believe that enslavement is the natural condition of women of Muslim culture or faith? Being one of them, I reassure you right away, I have neither the cult of bigotry nor the gift of submission. I belong to a long tradition of struggle shaped by women who inhabit both their bodies and heads. I claim freedom in an excessive way. It’s not an easy task.
Escaping from domination is a lifelong project.
My revolt was born out of suffering. So I will repeat the obvious: I will never accept, here, what I refused there. There being the Algeria of my childhood, disfigured by the Islamist Hydra in the nineties and marked by the stubborn refusal of barbarism and the veils of servitude.
The veil? Never! Not here, not there, not anywhere else.
The « whores », the veil and democracy:
Dear Hijab day student, I have seen you before in the streets of Paris, not far from your institute. You are the image of your time, living in exalted desire and cultivating yourself in an almost excessive way. I don’t dislike your attitude. It is better to live in the excess of your individuality than to die of its abandonment. Why then do you make MY sexuality everyone’s business? Worse still, you evoke my crotch as if it were your thing. By taking up the symbolism of the veil, that is, the strict separation between « pure » and « impure » women, you are leading me into the realm of morality. You’re acting like a licensed tutor.
By what right do you place me under your supervision?
You make me a « whore ». You designate me as a sexual prey. You’re calling for my rape. If you have ever walked the streets of Cairo, Casablanca or Algiers, you must have noticed that at the end of the promenade there is an open-air prison for women. Their bodies are scrutinized, hated, fantasized, scalpel-cut, when they are not soiled by tough hands ready to all the lowliness to grab a piece of flesh. With or without veil, from cradle to grave, we are but a mass of desolation. How could it be otherwise when « females » are seen as fortresses to be assaulted, flesh balls to be rubbed against on the subway and buses, battlefields where you unwind after a football game, mats on which you wipe your feet without even thinking about it? This is shown, among other things, by Egyptian director Mohamed Diab in his film ‘’Women on the 678 Bus’’ (Les femmes du bus 678). Have you seen it?
« It is Allah who wants »: Dear Hijab day student, if this veil were just another piece of clothing, it would not be so forcefully and rigorously imposed on Iranian and Saudi women, to name but two examples. Attached, the woman’s body becomes the possession of the man, the imam, the tyrant and Allah, all sharing the same detestation of women. ‘’Submit, obey, accept your sub-humanity!’’, they are scanning. This control of the body in the intimate space gradually moves into the public space. On a larger scale, domestic violence becomes the laboratory for systemic societal violence. Women considered immoral are doubly condemned: by the State (the vice police), far from protecting them, and by society, which blames them. This staging of the body’s transgression of the moral and political order is a deliberate call for popular vindictiveness. By making women’s sexuality everyone’s business, those who yearn for purity and abstinence merge the private and public spheres.
However, the detachment of the private sphere from the public sphere is one of modernity’s foundations, which makes democracy possible and guarantees respect for individual freedoms.
Who benefits from a police force that regulates the length of women’s skirts if not these moral zealots? The existence of Islamist regimes depends on their ability to control half of society’s sexuality. The moral order becomes the foundation of political authority. In other words, if the veils fall, the regimes collapse! In this sense, the negation of the sexual subject inevitably results in the negation of the political subject. A woman whose body is occulted carries her head with weariness. In short, the veil and democracy do not work together! Freedom of the mind. Freedom of the body. Freedom at all.That is what we must defend!
Moreover, one just needs to question the condition of the little girls to realize that their formatting to the Islamist norm suffers from no derogation. In March 2002, in the fire at a girls’ school in Mecca, which had 800 students, the religious police prevented girls from fleeing on the grounds that they were not veiled as required by the norm. Several eyewitnesses, including members of the civil security teams, explained that their rescue work had been hampered by members of the religious police who were concerned that men would enter a girls’ school or that girls would come out unveiled, especially since no male family members were there to accompany them. In short, go and die girls rather than reveal a few hair strands!
« No obligation and no ban on the veil », really? Dear Hijab day student, this initiative you have taken has the merit of revealing the state of confusion that has crept into your head. When it comes to concepts, you seem so lost that you no longer know what differentiates freedom from alienation, free choice from voluntary servitude. Étienne de La Boétie, please come back! Exhilarated by an overdose of freedom, you have become indifferent to the fate of your fellow human beings. You have broken up with a part of humanity. Your mind has softened. You deserted your responsibility. In your eyes, emancipation is nothing; fraternity is dated; solidarity is a nostalgic thing. You let yourself be contaminated or even trapped by Tariq Ramadan, champion of double discourse if there is one, who advances masked behind his famous semantic pirouette (another one!) « Neither obligation nor prohibition of the veil » to better strafe the resistance of bare heads (…)
In the West, the veil has become the flagship for all those who advocate the fusion between Islam and the State. Political Islam implies a historical rupture with the Republic, and a major societal reorientation. Weakening the status of women is therefore becoming an imperative. In this perspective, investing the public space through the veil is a major challenge. Power comes through the visibility of the « veils ». Tariq Ramadan knows all this very well. That’s why he makes the veil his priority. He, his activists and their satellite organizations, from the Muslim Brotherhood to the Salafists, are working hard to ensure that the expansion of political Islam is as vigorous as it is rapid.
Obviously, dear Hijab day student, you suffer from the syndrome of the individual jaded by an overflow of privileges and freedom. It is true that in this matter you have not asked for anything. Freedom came to you on a golden platter. So be it. You’ve never risked a hair on your head to get into a classroom. You’re not a little girl from Nigeria. You show a real indifference towards the ordeal of Assiatou, kidnapped by Boko Haram (Michel Lafon, 2016). You are neither Katia Bengana nor Amel Zenoune, two young women murdered in the prime of their lives for their refusal to wear a veil in Algeria in the nineties. You shrug your shoulders in the face of Iranian and Afghan women’s heroic resistance. You have not experienced forced exile nor the deaf and mute persecution of the long nights of terror of Yezidi children and women. You have never hidden to pray, as Eastern Christians are condemned to do. You’ve never had to shake on a bus for fear of being recognized. You don’t know what the revolt of Garcia Lorca means. You feel no solidarity with the fate of Asia Bibi or Raïf Badawi. You visited the Warsaw ghetto as if you were going to a rock concert. You have learned absolutely nothing from the Dreyfus case.
No, the truth is not an average of all postures. Between democracy and green fascism, there is no half-measure. Freedom and alienation cannot be promoted at the same time. It’s either one or the other. You must choose you side.
Have the courage to be a free woman!
Recognizing in the Other your own humanity would have enabled you to grasp Kant’s categorical imperative when he says: « Act only according to the maxim that makes you want this maxim to become a universal law ».
Certainly, the Republic has been generous to you. But what are you doing to defend its ideals? Flirting with theocracy? Kicking Daech? Yes, I will dare to say it and go to the end of my reasoning. Between those who enlist in Daech’s militias and you who participate in normalizing its symbols, there is indeed a common thread. Unless you consider that there is no link between ideology, politics and the military. You should know that, you who spend your days studying the history of political regimes.
With this Hijab Day event, you are helping to trivialize evil as defined by Hannah Arendt. The worst thing is when you give up your primary responsibility as a citizen of a democracy. You’re getting lost. You dishonor thought. You despise knowledge. You’re moving away from the human condition. You betray the philosophers of the Enlightenment. You’re sinking into a servile exoticism. Yet, your privileged status among the privileged does not make you any less able to grasp the complexity of the world in which we live. »
On Islamist strategy:
« I know this terrorism well. I experienced it in Algeria. Its primary objective is terror. However, it must never be forgotten that it is the expression of a political project aimed at destroying democracy (…) Political Islam is moving forward. Despite some failures, it remains a global movement with a gargantuan appetite for power and an undeniable attraction force.
Islamists have now taken root on both shores of the Mediterranean and on both sides of the Ocean. They have been working together since 1960, thanks in particular to Saudi Arabia’s purse diplomacy, which established the OIC and the World Islamic League to spread Wahhabism throughout the world. All this with the United States’ blessing, which saw in this green wave the possibility of engulfing the Soviet red enemy. From then on, all kinds of abuses became possible. Well, here we are!
Muslim Brotherhood’s immediate goal is not to establish Sharia law. They are great pragmatists and astute strategists. They know that in the short term, the requirement of Sharia law is counterproductive. They press another button: respect for « diversity » and religious freedom. They have a visceral hatred for the secularism they fiercely fight. They are acting on several fronts. That of politicians, to influence them and penetrate their institutions. That of the intellectual and media spheres, that they pressure to format public opinion in order to normalize their movement on the political scene. The third one is to work with Muslim communities through a huge network of charities to lock them into the Ummah’s fantasy and isolate them from host societies.
Behind this rise in political Islam, there are well-known supporters, well-known states, such as Saudi Arabia… These are the contradictions in which we live and pay for in terms of human lives… Had it not been for the Saudi Arabia-United States agreement since 1945, oil for security, the world’s configuration would have been different. For international relations have been shaped on the basis of this main contradiction, namely the fact that one of the world’s most powerful democracies has as its ally a theocracy of divine law. It’s absurd, but that’s the way it is. We must therefore call for a reconfiguration of international relations. Sweden’s example is interesting in this regard because it shows us that things can be done differently by breaking off economic relations. »
« When we say: « believers can manifest’’… Should they do so at any time and in any place, that is the question. Does this religious freedom become an absolute obligation of religion? The problem is that this religious freedom has been made almost an absolute right to religion. A freedom, as its name suggests, is not a right. It is modulated by rights and freedoms recognized in a free, plural and democratic society. Beyond this legal debate, the question before us is first and foremost a philosophical and political one. It is quite simple, by the way. How far can religious freedom go in a democracy? We thought this issue was outdated. It has been in a way concerning Christianity. Marcel Gauchet has a beautiful expression to illustrate this process by referring to « the exit of the religious ». Actually, it is more a question of « the exit » from Christianity. That is why one of my book’s chapters is called « God is dead (a little), Allah is alive (a lot) ».
Multiculturalism and communitarianism:
‘’Reasonable accommodation » is the legal tool of Canadian multiculturalism ideology. The very one that fights secularism, that deconstructs universal equality, that undermines women’s rights and institutionalizes the primacy of the religious. It would be too long to go back to the concept’s origin, but here are two examples. Zunera Ishaq, a citizen of Pakistani origin, recently won a judicial debate: she was allowed to participate in the swearing-in ceremony for Canadian citizenship by wearing the full veil, the niqab. Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister, considers that « the wearing of the niqab is acceptable at all times and in all places in Canada ». It all started with another episode in 2002. A 12-year-old Sikh student from a Montreal school wanted to wear his kirpan (a small dagger considered a religious symbol by Sikh orthodoxy) in the classroom. The school opposed it for security reasons and after a four-year judicial saga, the highest court in the country ruled in the boy’s favour. But the kirpan is prohibited in the Quebec National Assembly, on planes and at the UN for security reasons. Don’t look for logic…
It is probably because of my affinity with the left that I feel deeply betrayed by its communitarian current, which has spared no effort to undo secularism and reverse the rights of women and homosexuals under pressure from fundamentalists. I am talking about all the fundamentalists. Because it is not only Islamists who are testing our states with their grocery lists. I have no tolerance for those who have made the fundamentalist bed. I have no sympathy for those who have bowed down and scraped to preachers like Tariq Ramadan while my people were getting their throats cut in Algeria. I come from that story. The Journalists Guild in my home country paid a very heavy price: 123 press employees (not all journalists) were murdered between 1993 and 1997. »
« The dominant media are a reflection of our times, consumerist at will and servile at will. However, understanding the world and its convulsions requires time, knowledge and hindsight. Islamists work in packs, over the long term, and have considerable financial resources. They know how to bribe some people as they know how to throw the anathema on others by accusing them of Islamophobia. To be critical of Islam is to take the risk of being accused of Islamophobia… We are in the most complete confusion.
I think that something has been achieved since the Enlightenment and that is the criticism of religions. And it applies to all religions. When I talk about the Enlightenment, I also think about the Arab Enlightenment. In the eighth century, in the Arab world, there existed a rationalist school that distanced itself from the Koran, that was not in sacredness, but in criticism, in the exercise of judgment, that was not in fragmentation according to a religion but in the continuity of humanity.
However, what Islamists want today is precisely to cut us off from this humanity, to double lock us in an ethnic and religious cage with our noses glued to the text in its most literal form, hence the jihad, discrimination, etc. I would like the Muslim world’s unequivocal response to the simple question of the use of violence to be denouncing it, but we realize that there are schools of thought that continue to legitimize it.
We must learn again to defend our values without shame, and that is something that is very difficult for Westerners to do. As much as our opponents are uninhibited, we are hesitant, constantly wondering if we are not tickling them too hard… »
- Entretien avec Djemila Benhabib: «les Lumières ont existé grâce à la critique de la religion» http://kabyleuniversel.com/2015/07/19/entretien-avec-djemila-benhabib-les-lumieres-ont-existe-grace-a-la-critique-de-la-religion/
- Djemila Benhabib « Nous faisons face au projet envahissant de l’islam politique » https://www.lecho.be/actualite/archive/Djemila-Benhabib-Nous-faisons-face-au-projet-envahissant-de-l-islam-politique/9810122
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