Sérénade Chafik: « Islamophobia has become the preferred verdict of the new inquisitors »
Serenade Chafik was born in Egypt into a family of left-wing activists. She arrived in France at the age of 12 and then moved back to Cairo. Saved from FGM by her father, she nevertheless suffered the full force of her two successive marriages in Egypt, where her freedom was confiscated. In 1993, she fled to France but without her daughter Leïla, whom her ex-husband refused to let leave Cairo. In the spring of 2003, she went on a 29-day hunger strike to protest against her daughter’s imminent excision. She finally managed to reunite with her after 10 years of trial and legal struggle. She tells her story in a book called Repudiation. A naturalized French citizen, Sérénade Chafik is a writer and social worker in difficult neighbourhoods. A secular and feminist activist, she leads a relentless fight against FGM and for family planning. She regularly intervenes in the French political and associative sphere to advance women’s cause. Committed to combating violence against women, she has created a feminist association called Les Dorines.
About the veil:
‘’We forget that the veil is an essential issue for Islamists. It is no coincidence that the first measure of the Islamic state was to force women to wear it. The veil has always been used as an instrument for society’s appropriation of women’s bodies. These bodies become a collective property. The veil is above all the most visible propaganda tool to affirm the Islamization of the city. The veil limits women’s movement, the space they can occupy and the vision they can have of themselves. We refuse to see that the veil has a function, that of controlling girls and women. It induces in education that they are only sexual objects, that they are guilty temptresses, that their body represents sin and that therefore it must be hidden. The girl is no longer a child, she is the object of male desire.’’
On Identity politics:
‘’For years, some intellectuals have been imposing the expression « moderate Islamism » on us. I accuse them of dishonesty. They know that « ism » induces an ideology, and that political Islam aims at building the Muslim Ummah, an Ummah (nation in Arabic) that encompasses the whole world. They are guilty of complicity, a flagrant offence of violating secularism. Today, some left-wing orientalists publish analyses in which they use two opposing words « Quietist Salafists ». Using the expression ‘moderate Salafism’ is a nonsense. Indeed, in Arabic, Salafist means to refer to the Salafs (the elders). Their rigorousness cannot rhyme with moderation, Jihad being the ultimate goal of Salafism. These orientalists, elevated to the rank of experts, decidedly know neither Arabic nor the Middle East.
As a Franco-Egyptian feminist activist, having fought for secularism here and there, I am entitled to ask these associations, media, political figures and orientalists about their motivation. Is it a political position or purely demagogic alliances, of clientelism? In the latter case, they then fell into the trap of xenophobia. Yes, xenophobia, exactly, because when they opt for a clientelist strategy, they assume that any citizen with origins in the « Maghreb or the Mashreq » would necessarily be Muslim in essence. They’re giving us an injunction to believe. I refuse their injunction.
Wouldn’t there be some remnants of colonial thinking that considers that Westerners would be the only ones to have the right to secularism, to sexual and intellectual freedom, to the right to choose? By defining me only in relation to worship, they reduce my identity. My identity is a cultural and social construction, I claim to be Parisian from Nantes, French from Egypt, feminist and secular… My multicultural identity is the result of the secular values taught at the Republic’s elementary school. When they address me as a Muslim, they destroy my identity and reduce my history as an immigrant to a religious fact, they have broken the republican pact that binds us.’’
‘’We remember that the expression « Islamophobia » has also been used against Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasreen and whenever an intellectual has tried to criticize Islamists, religious practice or so-called sacred texts. We remember that, in parallel with the legal action against Charlie Hebdo, journalists had allowed the bullets to whistle, they had handed over the Charlie team to the vindictive fanatics. They had blackened their articles with obscene accusations. While Islamists around the world were shouting « death to blasphemers », some journalists accused their Charlie Hebdo colleagues of xenophobia. They had adopted the term Islamophobia. Islamophobia has become the preferred verdict of the new inquisitors and their islamo-leftist Western friends. In a way, a political execution that precedes physical execution.’’
‘’In our Islamic lands, we adopt a victimhood posture. Our view of our history is frozen in the era of colonialism that we use to justify the loss of freedom of expression, industrial backwardness, the conservatism of our societies, the absence of human rights in general and women’s rights in particular. Three generations have followed one another since decolonization, but we cling to this intellectual laziness and drown in the determinism that spares us from making the effort to decide our destiny.
Daesh, these are our societies where corruption smells like sewers and interfere in every relationship with the administration. Corruption, erected as a system, is rampant in most political parties, associations, trade unions, etc.
Daesh, it is our societies that have legitimized archaic traditions through laws that give the husband the right to life or death over the wife. It is the judgments of Courts of Cassation that consider the killing of women in the name of defending the family’s honour, the tribe and the nation; to be a mitigating circumstance and which sentence the murdering husband only to suspended prison, thus placing the society’s honour between women’s thighs.
Daesh, it is our societies that make the word ‘woman’ the designation of shame, to be hidden behind a veil, a physical prison when women leave their space prison that is the home.
Daesh, it is us in Egypt: in the spoken language, there is no word for the clitoris. Naming, however, is to give essence or bring to life. The absence of vocabulary introduces the disappearance of the clitoris. Female genital mutilation is then made easier, since we cut off what does not exist, what we have not named. Let us not forget that the rate of female genital mutilation or excision is 97% according to the Egyptian Ministry of Health and 94% according to NGOs.
We even call our dead martyrs. Our children would have died for Allah, so how can we fight the notion of jihad, haven’t we prepared young people to follow Daesh’s call?’’
On the social control of women in communities:
‘’Arab nationalism claimed that from the Mashreq to the Maghreb, we were a single ummah, the slogan being « same language, same religion, same history ». This trickery was largely accepted, in addition to making the specificities of each country invisible, it led to the belief that religion was the same for all.
Not only did this statement deny the existence of Christian, Baha’i, Jewish citizens… but Arab nationalism also denied the plurality of Islam. However, there are differences between Shia and Sunni Islam, dividing themselves into several schools, paths and sects.
Most Muslim citizens who define themselves as believers have not seen that Sunni Islam has undergone an internal transformation. Arab nationalism had given the illusion that the cult was unique, it was thought to be uniform. By this deception, when Wahhabi fundamentalism invaded, no one saw the danger of this transformation in the practice of Islam.
Some young Muslims learn Islam’s precepts by attending mosques run by fundamentalists or by the preaching conveyed through videos they can watch on websites.
It is because Islamists offered a cocktail blending religious precepts and traditions that they were accepted by a large part of the Muslim population. This offer allows women only one rewarding status: mother status is the only one recognized. It is no longer clear whether the expression ‘’paradise is under the feet of mothers’’ belongs to sacred texts or tradition.
Since they can only be recognized by the mother status, women fully invest their role and become the zealous guardians of custom. In reality, the mixture of Islamic precepts and customs proposed by religious ends up making custom sacred. In the name of Allah, conservatism is comforted.
As the years go by, the idea of the « village », sublimated and fantasized, remains frozen and the return, unlikely, so, with the help of the religious – communitarian – racialist – discourse, we will reconstitute the social organization of the native country, not as it has evolved but as it has been engraved in memory.
Women who have become mothers, the only honorable and valued status, safeguard the habits and customs of another era. For fear of Allah’s punishment, and for fear of being laughed at by the people there, they lock up their daughters, and control their virginity.
Finally, the whole family is united around this common issue; men also sit in authority, pressuring mothers who only have daughters to regain some confiscated parental authority.
In the name of being ‘’marriable’’, girls have their bags searched and all their actions are scrutinized. One day, a devastated mother, on the verge of tears, came to see me. She was worried, her daughter was late for her period. Intrigued, I asked her how she knew. She explained with some pride that she knew everything about her daughter. For menstruation, she asks her daughter to give her the sanitary napkins, so that the teenager knows that her mother is aware of any love affair. She told me that her daughter will thank her on her wedding day when she is honoured by her husband and when everyone will know that she has remained « pure »!
Girls are conditioned from an early age to obedience. The parental requirement borders on obsession. Later on, they will be model wives. Properly submitted to the husband. A patriarch who replaces another. They will have children and, who knows, perhaps they will become aware of the life that has been stolen from them and perhaps the reproduction chain of the family scheme will stop! But for that to happen, we need preventive measures!
Girls from immigrant backgrounds (not all of them of course) bear the full brunt of the customs from the countries of origin. Parents organize themselves around the barometer of girls’ ability to get married. The hymen being the only guarantor, we tighten the noose on the girls, we control their exits, we forbid them to have a sexuality. They are stripped of their bodies, that body which is the collective property of the whole family, that body which has this enormous power, this ability to dishonor an entire tribe. This is an opportunity for boys to exercise their « manhood ».
Little brothers also have rights over this body, they even have a duty to preserve the precious good that is this little piece of skin generating so much suffering. Girls’ control also allows the family to transmit to boys the principles of ‘’ virility’’ and ‘’manhood’’ through the exercise of authority. The boy must show authority very early on. He is delegated the role of supervisor. He becomes responsible for his sister or his cousin. This delegation can be extended to the neighbour. All under the guise of preserving the family’s honor. An honor that is very fragile. I have always wondered about the future of girls born without a hymen! And what about their family’s honor?
The boy, the pride of many families, has the right to go out, his domain is the street. He must learn to measure himself against his peers. He must prepare for the world. If he has any conquest, it is further proof of this much encouraged « virility ». Boys, therefore, dominate girls under the adults’ applause.
In the name of respect for cultures, by claiming that there is institutional segregation and that society is divided into whites and natives, a real and widening gap has been created between the desire by some to integrate (the society) and the anchoring in community traditions, ignoring laws in favour of women’s rights.’’
On cultural relativism and the alliances of some feminists with Islamists:
‘’Over the past few years, I have witnessed the return of the cultural relativist movement that is seducing and gradually gaining ground in the ranks of some feminist associations, associations that had marked the history of women’s rights. These associations still affirm that « My body belongs to me » and campaign for our rights, our choices, our freedom.
However, we cannot defend our rights and choices and sign a petition with those who promote not only sexist but also homophobic ideas. Islamists who separate us into white and indigenous. Islamists who adopt a victimhood posture with a fixed view on our history and who drown us in a fatalist determinism by claiming that we are not active subjects but always victims of colonialism, even three generations after decolonization.
In reality, it is about the substitution of the citizen’s identity by the Islamized subject who would be freed from alienation from the West. This theory is opposed to the universalism of fundamental rights, citizenship, secularization or modernism.
Nor are Islamists allies of democracy. They claim to be part of the Umma Islamiyya (Islamic Nation). This nation would encompass the entire world with the establishment of a power based on fundamentalism and would apply Sharia law. This visceral attachment to this notion only reflects the totalitarian and dangerous vision of the Islamist ideology.
If the motivation of these feminist associations, as I presume it is, is to defend democracy and oppose political decisions that they consider to be a security drift, the Islamists’ signature is however based on other reasons.
Islamists are especially concerned for their imams who vociferate sermons inciting hatred and domestic violence, imams who teach children to hate music, culture, and who insult in videos widely broadcast on the Internet the « pig eaters », let us be clear, these are Christians. They fear the closure of radicalization places, those forums that spread their ideology of violence, hatred and jihad.
According to them, Europe must not only give in to their community demands by repealing the law banning the veil in schools and public services, but it must also give in to their desire to establish courts reserved exclusively for Muslims. Community courts that would deal with the civil code. According to them, it is important to formalize informal Islamic courts, in mosques or Islamic educational centres such as those in England or Canada, for example.
Establishing Muslim courts would mean that marriage and its dissolution, inheritance, parental authority, children custody, for a category of French women and men, would be under religious authority, with the discriminatory Sharia law for women, which would be the motivational source for the judges of these specific courts.
There are several major risks if the authorities yield to these claims.
First, the family organization with its gender roles distribution would be maintained.
Secondly, the principle of inequality between men and women would be reinforced by judgments that would deprive women of their rights.
Thirdly, arguing the sanctity of judgments, any opposition within certain communities would be considered as disobedience to God’s message, an apostasy.
Fourthly, the equality of rights would be violated, with the emergence of a sub-category of French women for whom being born as women would be a misfortune.
Far be it from me to incriminate the so-called « divine » religious texts, what I condemn is this trap set for women, which would consist in presenting laws to them that are sacred and therefore non-negotiable.
Feminist associations rightly demand that sexuality education and the prevention of gender-based violence be taught throughout the school curriculum. Yet, the veil is not emancipatory, it induces that women provoke the most bestial impulses in men; it is the learning of the hatred of the Self. The veil, as well as demands for sexual segregation in sports halls, municipal swimming pools… are also insults against men. They would be unable to look at women other than as sexual objects; their sexual impulses would be uncontrollable. Reduced to the state of rutting animals, they are dehumanized.
Because it is not anecdotal, but a dangerous repositioning that would result in the trivialization of unnatural alliances with Islamists, I break my oath to never criticize the feminist associations with which I had militated.’’
EXTRACTS FROM :
- LE SITE INTERNET DE SERENADE CHAFIK : https://serenadechafik.wordpress.com
- SERENADE CHAFIK sur le Huffington Post : https://www.huffingtonpost.fr/author/serenade-chafik/