Fatiha Boudjahlat:‘’Feminism is universal or it is nothing’’
Geography and history Professor in Toulouse, author of numerous articles and essays, as well as two books: ‘’The Big Diversion. Feminism, tolerance, racism, culture’’ and ‘’Combating the veil. Islamist entryism and multiculturalism’’. A polemicist, a brilliant argumentator, a passionate reader, a solar activist and a warm-hearted person, we had the chance to meet her in Paris in 2017. A committed feminist (especially against sexual violence against children), abolitionist (like almost all other universalist secular feminists!), Fatiha has become an important intellectual in the French-speaking cultural landscape.
About the veil:
« About the veil, different registers (legal, theological, etc.) can be used. The only valid, effective register is the political register. It is the one that legitimizes our opposition to veiling without falling into excess. To refere to the title of a column by Catherine Kintzler: ‘’it is a false secular question, but a real political question’’. This choice and this act of veiling are not innocent for women born here, educated without headscarves. These women choose a veil that is not that of their parents. The veil participates in the construction of an ostentatious invisibility, an ostentation of and in invisibility, uniformity, deindividualization. This development of veiling is based on a semantic diversion that has the effect of minimizing: we no longer speak of « Islamic fashion » but of modest fashion. Similarly, the term FGC is being replaced by « female circumcision ». This an-historicity is part of the ambiant relativism. The strategy is clear: to conceal the political and religious offensive against women under more acceptable cultural and traditional clothing. I make this analogy between the veil and excision to highlight the main argument, which is that of tradition, which should always be respected and which would take precedence over the application of the law. This argument has only one purpose: to reduce feminism to a Western particularism in order to deny its universality. For example, sociologist and feminist Christine Delphy stated in the columns of The Guardian: ‘’Feminism must adapt to Muslim cultural and religious specificities to avoid the accusation of Islamophobia’’7. Adaptation and specificities…. The title of the article speaks for itself: ‘’French feminists must not betray Muslim women by supporting French racist laws’’. The alibi of tradition and culture already allows us to question our threshold of indignation. We tolerate for women what we would never accept for men. Politicians even turn to obsequiousness on official visits, with women in French delegations wearing headscarves. Other women in political or public office have not done so, such as the Queen of Morocco, for example, without any diplomatic consequences. Cultural and religious specificities, wrote Ms. Delphy, to oppose the laws that the Republic has adopted, to adapt them: We are well within differentialism – defending the differentiation of rights according to ethnic and religious affiliation. The trap of identity assignation is closing.
So let’s ask ourselves : why should what is good for some women not be good for women of another colour, another culture, of different religious practices? Why should some accept what others refuse for themselves and their daughters? Feminists here would refuse the veil because they perceive it as a sign of enslavement, but at the same time, they defend it for ‘’these’’ women, because that’s the way it is in their culture? We are in the orientalism denounced by Edward Said. Let us ponder about our vision of women from different cultures, about our conception of otherness. Religious practice seems to serve as the basis for the construction of otherness, which would therefore exempt from the application, not only of the law, but also of what is usually considered just or ideal. ‘’I don’t want the headscarf for myself because it is a sign of women’s enslavement, but I defend this possibility for ‘’other’’ women because, being ‘’other’’, this symbol is no longer negatively connoted’’: this feminist discourse is contaminated by the paradigm of purity, authenticity; it is the return of the good savage. Relativism always: would the meaning, the significance, the signal of the veiling be different according to the person’s ethnicity? The key issue is in fact the universality of the feminist struggle. It is a political struggle, it is therefore universal. Feminism is universal or it is nothing. Women’s dignity and equality in rights between women and men are universal, because if they are particular or specific, they are nothing.
I reject the vision of making veiled women victims. It is a choice, but the freedom to hide oneself does not exclude the notion of constraint. These women do not wear the veil at gunpoint, but under the integrated constraint of the triptych proper to all patriarchies: virginity, modesty, decency. The headscarf is fetishized under these male demands that always make the woman’s body the recipient of the family’s honour. Feminism is a political struggle for the individual and collective emancipation of women. There is no free choice without education about choice. It is necessary to consider the nature and modalities of obtaining and constructing consent. It is a coercion, without physical violence in general, a sectarian or community-type social hold. This control is chosen and assumed, but it is no less exogenous and coercive. One of the modalities of this constraint is in the form of an alternative. The alternative between vice and virtue, between the whore and the modest. On social networks, Islamists speak of women not wearing the veil as « naked women ». In his Metaphysical Meditations, Descartes described free will as the ability to « determine oneself without any external force compelling us to do so ». One can only speak of free choice if there is moral equivalence between the two terms of the alternative, and therefore building an alternative between vice and virtue does not give the possibility of choosing freely. It’s a pitfall, a trapped choice. The alternative built between loyalty to a group to which one is emotionally bound and what is experienced and presented as a betrayal of it is no more a free choice. Moreover, in a democratic Western country, of individual and collective freedoms, the woman who veils herself is not simply exercising a freedom, individual a fortiori, which is the definition of a right. She is creating a coercive framework for other women, since she validates this alternative. She is the instrument of collective pressure that forces other women to do the same. The woman who chooses this veil from far away, from further away than the countries of her immigrant parents, puts at risk the ones who do not wear it. Because a radical practice becomes the standard metre of ordinary religious practice, there is a tendency towards radicalization, the intensity of the practice being assimilated to its purity. It is also the argument of orthodoxy, a clever semantic alibi for disguising this new religious radicality that is unprecedented in France. We cannot speak of free choice without education in choice and freedom, which is autonomy. This is the case for little girls, younger and younger, veiled in an increasingly covering way. Where is our indignation threshold ?
This veil imposed on little girls clearly tells them that their feminine condition makes them different beings, of second value. The veiled little girl grows up with the idea that she must correspond to a predetermined place in the family and society, that she must conform to what the group expects from her. This is also the case for little boys used to the veiling of women and girls, the veil becoming the norm after being standardized. What choice is offered to these girls? The one of pleasing their parents? To make them proud in this overbidding for virtue ? To displease them and disappoint them? Imagine the courage, the independence of mind needed to dare to remove your veil! How can we expect women who have been veiled since childhood to be able to arbitrate the conflict of loyalties between their autonomy and conformity to the group, the family and the community? How can we expect men who have grown up with this vision of women to be able to emancipate themselves from it and consider them as their equal in rights and dignity?
The law made it possible to overcome this tear of choice and the marginalization that would result from unveiling, its coercive character providing shelter. The law would have the same role as the sociologist Abdelmalek Sayad assigns to the school: « Immigrants expect from the school, and more precisely from the ‘’metamorphosis’’ that it is supposed to operate on their children […] to allow them what they cannot allow themselves, namely to root themselves, to give themselves legitimacy, in their own eyes and in the eyes of others ». This analogy with the school, in its expected effects, makes sense. No one can expect or demand, from a member of a community whose identity is rebuilt on a rigid religious basis, that they make the choice to distinguish themselves and risk exclusion or even excommunication. This religious radicalisation makes our compatriots immigrants from within, immigrants for life.
The veiling is accompanied by the rest of the mental, political and religious equipment it involves. If it is the choice of virtue that is imposed, it must be sought everywhere. The Obin Report on Religious Signs and Manifestations in Schools, submitted in 2004 to Minister Fillon, stated: « Everywhere, men’s moral control and surveillance of women tends to be reinforced and to take on obsessive proportions. Almost everywhere, sex mixity is denounced and chased.
And we rethink about these demands for non-mixity, these slots reserved for women in municipal swimming pools, this driving school in which the female instructor refuses to train men to drive, this ultra-orthodox and ultra-minority Jewish sect recommending to prevent women belonging to this community from pursuing studies.
A false compromise between tradition and modernity: The ratchet effect is obvious, everything that is achieved serves as a basis for new claims. A ratchet effect whose manifestations are described in the conclusion of the Obin Report: we are faced with « opponents experienced in tactics and quick to use all the loopholes, setbacks and hesitations of the public authorities and for whom a compromise quickly becomes an acquired right ». One of these skills was, in the beach burqa case, to turn feminism against women and present the right to hyde oneself as the exercise of women’s freedom. It is an opportunity to challenge a spreading argument: that of the compromise between tradition and modernity, that of the necessary step towards emancipation. The burkini would be the ideal compromise between the will to practice one’s faith and the desire to participate in family and outdoor leisure activities. Its wearing would even be the first step towards emancipation, in a slow but steady evolution, from the burqa to the simple headscarf, even to unveiling. In short, the burkini would lead to integration and emancipation through leisure. The proof? Salafists do not allow their wives to go to the beach. They stay at home.
These rather condescending and resolutely contentious arguments reveal a flaw in the reasoning. Women who opt for this radical veiling were born here. They were educated without headscarves. They are our compatriots, not immigrants on the path to integration, who choose these space-time capsules, Islam being the pretext for, in the words of Tahar Ben Jelloun, « joining in a strange leap the regression that their parents left behind in their country « 10. Even worse, they opt for outfits from the Middle East, not the Maghreb. So yes, we see these women in burqas driving, owning smartphones, going to restaurants, going to the beach. Opening up in their confinement, which is therefore compatible with leisure and mobility. Tolerating this inflationary veil is not a necessary compromise, an effective second best solution. If they make the choice of confinement, they should assume it, they cannot have their cake, the religious arrogance, and eat it too with Western and modern comfort. The question then arises as to the effectiveness of accepting this intermingling of combining Western products consumption and leisure with proselyte demonstration. Access to the sea or consumerism say nothing about the degree of individual emancipation.
Let’s make no mistake about it. The law (in France) has limited full veiling in the public space since 2010, for security reasons, thus avoiding censorship by the European Court of Human Rights. The law limits partial veiling for minors in public schools and for civil servants. For the rest, we must engage in a political power struggle and oppose veiling, to women who choose it and brag about it, to men who glorify it and defend its application, dignity, equality in rights and emancipation. Let’s repeat it: the veil, even signed by Hermes, inferiorizes women in terms of rights and dignity. The very accommodating European Court of Human Rights does not say anything else in its judgment of February 15, 2001 when it repeats a decision of the Swiss court taken in the Dahlab case, confirmed by the Grand Chamber of the ECHR in its judgment Leyla Sahin v Turkey. The Court thus emphasizes the « strong external sign » represented by the wearing of the headscarf by a teacher and questions the effect of proselytism that the wearing of such a symbol can have, since it seems to be imposed on women « by a precept that is difficult to reconcile with the principle of gender equality ». The veil is not compatible with the dignity and equal rights of women. It is not a matter of being in the miserabilistic generosity that the acceptance of this veil conceals for our compatriots. It is a matter of justice, respect and ambition, that makes it possible to recognize these women as our compatriots and therefore our equal in rights and duties.
The work of islamists consists in tying the veil to modesty. Which is like making women who don’t wear it whores. We are no longer in the logic of « Neither whore nor submissive », but in that of « Neither whore, nor modest ». This alternative between the whore and the modest is imposed by the religious and their useful idiots. But it only exists in their heads, we must not let it settle in society. Their victory is already in the installation of modesty as a standard metre against which the value of women is measured.It is already a religious orthonorm. It is already a political defeat. Islamists subcontract the constraint. Submission was outdated for the new ayatollahs because it too ostensibly signalled its oppressive and coercive dimension by being imposed from the outside. But with this recent emphasis on modesty, this criminalization of the female body rests entirely on women: coercion becomes endogenous, women impose it on themselves. And with a smile. With this link between veil and modesty, religious reverse the burden of proof and responsibility. They outsource the control of male impulses to women. When it comes to sexuality, modesty is women’s responsibility: it is up to them not to arouse men’s desire by exposing parts of their bodies. But what excites men? Bare legs? Loose hair? A face? A silhouette? Or the simple fact of being a woman, even if hidden entirely under fabrics? We come to think that men are constantly in rut. Women can never do enough. Brigitte Deydier’s report on Women and Sport, submitted to the Minister for Parity and Professional Equality in 2004, warned of a decline in the practice of sport by girls in deprived neighbourhoods. Sport is indecent because it puts the body in motion. The same logic of guilt of the female body is at work, the novelty lies in its extent and the strange complacency it benefits from the media, among some elected officials and intellectuals. They support a system in which women who do not wear the headscarf invite, or even encourage, lust.
In his lecture ‘Secularism and Religion in Modern France’, Abdennour Bidar spoke of « alienated subjectivities » about « women who claim to exercise their free will and freedom by wearing this veil ». Alienation can be voluntary, but it is no less alienating. Vauvenargues had mentioned « voluntary servitude », this servitude which « demeans (…) to the point of being loved ». The same applies to the Islamic veil as to battered women who remain loyal to the men who oppresse them. When they wear the Islamic veil in France, these women put at risk all women who do not wear it. They validate Islamic thought externalising virtue. According to them, it is not for men to be in control of themselves, it is for women not to tempt them. »
Pro veil feminists:
« Pro-veil feminists expressed shock at the results of the recent survey conducted for francetvinfo.fr, in which we learned that 27% of French people thought that the perpetrator of a rape is less responsible if the victim wore sexy clothes. But with this veil spreading, it is the bare heads of women that make them sexy and therefore guilty of inciting debauchery. The burden of proof and virtue is reversed. Some feminists are shocked here, and strangely complacent elsewhere. It is not a lack of coherence, it is the acceptance that tradition, if it comes from the East and takes the form of the colonial victim, is superior to the Law. Equality in the Western self, inequality in the rest of the world. These feminists have lost themselves in cultural relativism. They defend for the other, the oriental, what they reject for themselves. The Western way of life seems to them to be an instrument of male domination against Eastern women. In doing so, they are playing the useful fools of radical Islamists. And they find themselves castigating secularism, which left-wing-culturalists present as an instrument of white domination. The veil is sympathetic to them, but, because of privileged socio-economic conditions, they are not exposed to the rest of the panoply: arranged marriage, domination, restriction of movement. I suspect that rich Saudi women suffer less from their religious clothes covering luxury goods than Afghan women. The veil marks women as inferior in their rights, it must be said and acknowledged.
I consider that my skin colour, my origins, my beliefs do not make me different from my white compatriots. For these new feminists to challenge my right to speak because I am not staying in the place they want me to be, that is racism. Racism of the good feelings that deliver women to the Eastern Patriarchate. Veilement, excision, early and/or forced marriages, triptych imposed on women of virginity, modesty and humility. If you deny women who are not white what you demand for you, it is not tolerance, it is racism, the racism that protects your class privileges. These Sunday feminists are constantly calling for parity in semantics and titles, asking that scholarly meetings no longer be called seminars, a term that is too masculine, but ovarium. On the other hand, they have no problem with little girls wearing the Islamic headscarf. The enemy is the dominant white man, from whom the dominant oriental man is also a victim. They are therefore in solidarity with them, hence their silence and strange behaviour during the mass sexual assaults in Cologne. This ethnic and cultural differentialism is nothing but contempt and condescension. Because it creates a double standard. It combats the white man’s patriarchy but finds extenuating circumstances to that of the eastern man on the pretext of cultural fact, and considers that criticizing it would be discriminatory. It wants to decriminalize FGC so as not to judge the culture of others. It makes the veil an object of freedom, arguing that most veiled women act on their own free will, while they submit, in doing so, to the integrated injunctions of all patriarchies: virginity, modesty, modesty. However, an Oriental woman suffers no less than a white woman. And there is no reason to consider that what is good for white people is not good for others. This is nothing more than racism and a resurgence of the good savage figure. We must get out of the political imposture and name things: the indigenists and Islamists are far-right conservatives. Their leftist supporters are racialist reactionaries. I’m left-wing, and I have a social reading of things, not an ethnic one. Feminism is being distorted. And this is as much the result of political activists as it is of dogmatic academics. When Judith Butler explains that Afghan women should not get rid of their wire burqas, so as not to lend their support to American imperialism, I see a great white American bourgeois woman in the comfort of her office, who delivers, with feet and fists tied, these women to their fate. This new racialist feminism fights the white patriarchy, but validates its eastern counterpart. It is then reduced to a struggle so that non-white women, since ethnicity is decisive, can obtain the maximum of what they can hope for within the limits of the mental, cultural and legal framework that the men of their religious community have set. The words tolerance, culture andfeminism have been diverted from their universal political meaning to become factors and pretexts for ethnic partition. »
Islamophobia, racism :
« One idea I like to quote is the law of American sociologist and politician Daniel Moynihan, who says that the more complaints there are about racism in a country, the better the situation. Because if I am going to file a complaint for racism, it is because I am aware that I have been harmed, and I think that the State will fix it. We are not going to file a complaint for racism in a racist state… So, since they can no longer really base their theories on racism, the most orthodox Muslim leaders have invented Islamophobia. On the one hand to silence people, on the other hand to coalesce Muslims and create a community that did not exist. Structurally, there is no pope among Muslims, which allows each of them to follow different paths of life.
Who is the most racist? Nowadays, it is the one who summons a daughter of immigrants to return to an alleged origin and authenticity, that of religion, practiced in a radical way. The racist is the one who forbids thinking outside the epidermis and the ethnic community in which they place the other. The racist is the one who prevents people from living happily and freely here, by making the link with the rest of the world into a chain that alienates and oppresses. The racist prohibits or criminalizes emancipation, i.e. autonomy, self-thinking.
Because identity is built, it is individual, evolving, multiple, soothing and then it is happy. It is not received, whether by blood or by coercion, it is neither communitarian nor collective, much less religious. We are not happy when we are enlisted in a war against the country in which we were born and raised. Left-wing Islamists and identity politics activists pose this alternative: to love France is to betray one’s own community and who one is. Like Solomon, justice demands to get rid of the one who imposes the alternative, the trap of thought. Religious identity is not the primary or irreducible identity of an individual. We must get out of this blackmailing of authenticity and fidelity. »
« Bhikhu Parekh, one of the advocates of multiculturalism, writes: « By definition, a multicultural society is composed of several cultures or cultural communities, each with its own systems of meaning, meaning and views on man and the world. One can voluntarily choose to embrace a tradition that includes discriminatory norms by European standards, but acceptable and even desirable by those of the community to which one belongs. The community, more particularly the religious one, is based on this « free » adherence, it is a servitude that « debases man to the point of being loved « 9.
It is in the name of freedom that Parekh speaks out against the prohibition of FGC since it « shows no respect for women’s freedom of choice and culture. « He writes elsewhere: « FGC of children is unacceptable. In some communities, however, FGC is freely consented to by healthy and educated adult women after the birth of their last child as a means of regulating their sexuality, or to remind themselves that they are now primarily mothers, « 10 and in this case of free consent, he does not see why this practice should be prohibited. He holds the same reasoning about arranged marriages: « Even if they have not made this choice consciously and are satisfied with the situation as a social routine, [the married couple] should have the same right to manage their personal lives as others ».11 Veiling and early marriage can be included in this « social routine », but it is associated, in our democratic states, with the exercise of freedom. Therefore, we must not put forward the argument of freedom, but question its content, the aims and modalities of its exercise.
It is therefore necessary to restore ethical content to freedom, using the definition given by Montesquieu in Book XI of ‘’The Spirit of the Laws’’ : « Political freedom does not consist in doing what one wants. In a State, that is to say in a society where there are laws, freedom can only consist in being able to do what one must want, and not being forced to do what one must not want… It is necessary to disconnect the community’s freedom in order to restore its universality and to bring the individual and the nation-state into contact without the intercession of the community, with regards to categorical imperatives such as gender equality. Free choice also requires autonomy in judgment, far from the « social routine ».
The multiculturalist system functions as an embassy district: human communities become consular territories, parts of them settled here, operating according to the rules of there, which the State recognizes. The preamble and article 22 of the 1961 Geneva Convention on Diplomatic Relations could be applied to these communities: ». [States being] convinced that an international convention on diplomatic relations, privileges and immunities would contribute to fostering friendly relations among countries, regardless of the diversity of their constitutional and social systems, convinced that the purpose of such privileges and immunities is not to benefit individuals but to ensure the effective performance of diplomatic missions as representatives of States.
The same argument is used in a multiculturalist situation, as the community becomes a diplomatic mission. State laws do not apply to it. Its members enjoy immunity from territorial law. Under a multiculturalist regime, the State is seen and treated only as a mere legal operator, of the same rank as that of the individual or community; the laws it prescribes do not apply to communities living in the territory it administers. However, the Republic is a legal regime but it is also a category of the imaginary and a strong content in terms of civic virtue. As such, it is based on consent to laws whose legitimacy is recognized by the citizens and whose sovereign decision is made by the Nation. The multiculturalist political conception of co-sovereignty in the name of the general interest dissolves into false individual claims. We are in the logic of what the State owes the individual (whose identity is defined by the recognition of a group), and no longer in what the individual owes to others, their fellow citizens and not only to those who resemble them, to form a political association. This is a considerable diversion, which is detrimental to the national political community and the State. We must therefore defend the nation-state and its political conception of the national community governed by a territorial law that assumes not to recognize communities, especially religious ones, as exercising a monopoly on the path to good life. Through this firmness, we will allow what community members cannot allow themselves: to take root in France while preserving essential cultural traits. A culture should not build its stability and value on perpetuating rituals such as FGC, early marriage or the veiling of young girls. We must disconnect the preservation of the community from the vitrification of its most ostentatious or invasive practices. As Will Kymlicka writes, « The cultural community continues to exist even when its members are free to modify the characteristics of the culture in question, and even if they find that its traditional ways of life are no longer valid. The problem posed by multiculturalism, and its defence of unbearable practices in the name of preserving some communities’ cultural authenticity is also that of individual autonomy and the ethical control of their destiny. »
MeToo and intersectionality :
« The « Me Too » movement has liberated women’s voices. First Western women, and let’s be frank, of privileged social classes. And first of all, exposing influential men and systemic predation behaviours. But Metoo has spread and attention has been focused in France, for example, on the fate of socially precarious cleaning women. It have not caused as many beautiful victims as actresses or journalists. We must recognize this and question what is the marketing formatting essential to meet media success.
The feminist struggle, rather than being worn out by fashionable racialism, can never do without a social classes analysis : As early as 1846, the French socialist and feminist activist Flora Tristan wrote that women were « the proletarian of the proletarian ». Religion and religious thus contribute to the maintenance of the social and economic privileges system by allowing precarious, illiterate and poor men to dominate. Men will forget or deal with social injustices, the control of a few families over the economy, as long as they have a property right over women, reduced to movable goods by national family codes. How can we get them to give up this power?
MeToo denounces the effects and means of patriarchy and rape culture in the West. It must also be an opportunity to denounce all patriarchies. What neo-feminists refuse to do. The lack of coherence raises questions when we join forces to denounce an atavistic feudal right to sex in the West without challenging here and elsewhere the effects of the Arab-Muslim patriarchy, which I am talking about and fighting because it is the one I know best. How can we call ourselves feminists without challenging the triptych that all patriarchies impose on women and which is expressed according to the holy masculinist trinity of virginity, modesty and humility and that the veiling concretizes?
The tendancy in social sciences and political activism is to deconstruct, since everything is a socio-linguistic construction. Religions must be no exception to this deconstruction. And neither is Islam. Especially since forgetting the rich petro-monarchies, it is the religion of the working classes, with a multiplied effect of domination. It is obvious that all religions, monotheists and polytheists, are structurally and ontologically patriarchal and serve the interests of men by justifying their domination over women. Why recognize it and fight it in Catholicism and not in other religions? Is it because in other religions, Judaism and Islam, we imagine people believe for real?
This particular moment that MeToo is, this change of global paradigm, will only be effective if its universal dimension is claimed and assumed. It is by dividing feminism, especially on an ethnic and religious basis, that women are harmed. Universalist feminism is accused of being a reducer of otherness, of imposing an emancipation and rights conception carried by white people, and that it cannot carry the aspirations of non-whites. Pretending to denounce it, we are in fact switching to orientalism with a caricatured opposition between Easterners and Westerners (Asians, it seems, are not very interesting). But what about those who were born and raised in the West? It is therefore not a criticism of a social norms system, but a racial and therefore racist regression. In the name of what would I have different, and indeed less, aspirations than white bourgeois feminists? In the name of what would what they refuse for themselves and their daughters be good for me? Who instituted me as an irreducible Other? Who then makes me a good savage? Who carries this speech and blackmailing of ethnic authenticity overriding my aspirations and ambitions as a woman?
I understood very early on, as an only child with seven brothers, what was expected of me as a girl. Housekeeping. Consent. Discretion. During the whole time my father lived with us, my brothers were automatically exempted from it, it was a vocation for my mother and for me. Less access to outdoor activities for me was also evident. Alienation is in principle integrated. The Youth and Culture Centre in my neighbourhood was very active. But it was enough for a boy to decide to register for an activity for girls to leave it, often on their own, because we always had to be good girls, or because our brothers demanded it. This system, which is nothing new, has never worried municipal funders. Already this little racialist aftertaste of « it’s like that in their country ». I was not a feminist, yet I perceived my brothers’ privileges, without putting my big mouth on the account of an already westernized education. One evening while I was in bed, sharing my room with three of my brothers, my father summoned me from the living room to change the TV channel, while the TV set was only three meters away from him. Having dared to complain about this ridiculous situation, I could taste his violence, being beaten with slaps, fists and a clapper. Because I hadn’t slipped into the role of a remote control. It was unfair, but it was the father’s arbitrariness, so I was at fault. The Arab-Muslim patriarchate consecrates the father’s omnipotence over his children, who are pieces of furniture.
To a lesser extent, the mother’s too, because it is as a mother that the Arab woman is sanctified. The abuse of this power is then also feminine. I remember my mother exploding with anger and yelling at me « I pulled you out of my ass, I talk to you and I do what I want.’’ However, it was not during these numerous demonstrations of violence, also linked to our extreme poverty (itself organized, since all the money earned by my father’s salary or paid by the institutions was redirected to Algeria, for the construction of a house) that I understood the second place that the Arab-Muslim patriarchy reserved for girls. I really perceived it on holiday, in a small village in the country. A poor village in the Mascara region. The house my father had built at our expense was almost finished. But my father had had the stairs built outside, so to get to the second floor, my mother had to cover herself, and in this village, women only showed one eye. Just one. During the summer holidays, when my mother arrived in Oran, she wore her uniform. This big, typical white sheet that I thought was pretty. It frightened me at the same time because I was afraid of losing my mother in the crowd, all the women looking alike in this outfit. In Froha, my father’s village, women were only allowed one visible eye too. Should we bless textile engineering that facilitates the concealment and disappearance of women’s individual identity? I don’t think so. One summer, on the evening of our arrival in the village, I wanted to join my brothers who were playing on the street with children from the village. One of my brothers, the most gifted at school, the most reasonable, said to me: « This is not France. You don’t stay with us, you don’t leave the house.’’ Without violence, it was a simple fact. That I should have known. It was during that same summer that my father stole our French papers, left us on the street, because he had decided to punish us for who knows what. He had bought himself a second younger wife. He is currently married for the seventh time in a row. By religious marriage, which frees him from the obligations and protection offered by civil marriage. But he is a three-star hadj: he left us penniless but he is a saint who went to Mecca three times. My mother had the intelligence to lie and pretend she had lost those papers. Because the French consulate would have respected the Algerian family code, which enshrines authority, in fact the absolute ownership right of father over his wife and children.
I remember that years later, one of my older brothers tried to hit my mother ‒ abandoned at under 45 with eight children – because she had expressed a wish to remarry. But this brother jealous of our honor made no reproach to my Bluebeard father. This father who, one day, going to the market with one of my brothers, told him that if he came home right away, he would find my mother in bed with a neighbour. This mistrust and hatred of women is amazingly strong in our « culture ». This obsession with pride, far from any ethical consideration, just reduced to the strength and power exercised over women, this recipient of men’s honour. I get angry when I see these dear white bourgeois feminists keeping non-white women in this patriarchal oppression out of condescension, because it is our « culture ». Because this one, mine, unlike theirs, should be fixed, traditional, sacred. Too bad for us. I have had two contacts with my father since that famous summer of 1993. A postcard in which he wrote that he hoped I would become a flight attendant to « buy truck parts » for him. Another, a long time later, announcing that he had given me in marriage to his nephew living in England. My brothers laughed. My father’s abandonment was both our greatest misfortune and our greatest opportunity, because it freed us from orthodoxy, and none of my brothers alone possessed the monopoly of legitimate authority and violence. I was lucky, I was able to leave my city to study. However, of all these events and many others, the one that most impressed me was this episode in the street of Froha. I didn’t belong outside. Playing with boys, when I was a child. But above all, my brothers changed their attitude when we were in Algeria. They played a role. The weight of the community. The opinion of others. A rank to be held. This ridiculous and so Mediterranean male pride. A thousand times reinforced by the Muslim religion.
These biographical elements are only given here to make it clear that Eastern Patriarchy is as violent and oppressive as its Western counterpart. Refusing to acknowledge this is to hand over generations of girls and women to an undisputed male power. I am therefore amazed by these wordly feminists who track down the patriarchal behaviours of whites in grammar but bow to its oriental counterpart, because oriental women accept it, neglecting all the advances of social and behavioural sciences on the concepts of alienation and constraint. They remind me of those bourgeois women visiting human zoos. The signs indicated that it was forbidden to feed. These days, I’m guessing it is forbidden to emancipate. Prohibition of universality. A non-white woman should not be considered as equal in law and dignity. In the name of respect for culture. Cultural relativism is a trap for idiots.
Culture is the element of language that allows religious patriarchy to maintain women’s subjection: Relativist white feminists reject for others the historicity of the struggle for women’s rights. They do not share with me, the Maghrebi born and raised in France, a regime of common historicity, they exclude me in a condescending allochrony, since it amounts to saying that I have not reached the same level of development and ambition as they have. They refute the need to obtain through opposition, combat and prevention, the abandonment of practices whose age only confirms the patriarchal dimension. They would have the right to benefit from the evolution, still in progress, of their rights, but deny it to others in the name of respect for their « culture ». What’s good for them wouldn’t be good for me, because of who I am? In doing so ‒ and this social and political dimension must be highlighted – they only reinforce their class privileges. Then comes the key question formulated by Martine Lefeuvre, a common alibi among worldly feminists: « Should we emancipate [those who practice and those who undergo FGC]? But in the name of what? What point should we occupy to judge these customs? « Yes, ladies, you have claimed this overhang point with MeToo for your daughters, your sisters, for yourself, but you refuse it for « us », the others. This stand over is not an idealized West, a historical or geographical fixed point. It is political, it is the fight for rights and dignity. It is the sum of our efforts and requirements. It is ours.
MeToo has been successful also because of its adaptation to modern communication. Born from social networks, declined in 180 characters or threads, short, punchy, punchlined, it is formatted for the time. Yet, I see these new feminists, worldly and modern in communication, defending ultra-conservative positions on veiling or meetings in non-racial mixing. Universalist feminism is now considered old-fashioned. Not sexy enough. Not modern enough, not subversive enough. Still, it is the greatest subversion to the global enterprise of women’s control and domination carried by religions.
Often, they oppose us that our divisions would play the men’s game. And doesn’t their tolerance of the non-white patriarchy play into their hands ? Like this sorority injunction. Always the diktat of the family structure. I don’t have a sister. I am only my brothers’ sister. I am the equal, the compatriot, the companion of feminists. I do not want solidarity constrained by biological relationships to others, but political relationships. The strangest thing about this neo-feminism is its claim to carry a subversive message against the system. In addition to the unpleasant impression of seeing bourgeois women becoming entangled, one can only wonder about the subversive nature of their sites, from which a letter to subscribers was subsidized by Guerlain.
The luxury industries have always objectified women, imposed masculinist, misogynistic and grossophobic standards. They create new markets, new spending, not new rights. What a claim to be subversive when you are received by all the institutions, the media, when you are subsidized by the luxury industries… It is the false fashionable subversion that is part of a feminism-washing marketing strategy. However, these feminists want to be at the forefront of all these fights, so fashionable and united by this intersectionality concept.
But intersectionality serves men: Social sciences live by words and have developed a real semantic engineering. An insecurity complex via-à-vis hard sciences perhaps? As long as specialists use them, they are useful and advance knowledge. Provided they can also be questioned. When they are instrumentalized by activists, they must be recognized for what they are: propaganda and not science. This is the case with the so fashionable intersectionality. Bringing the struggles together and seeing the cumulative effect of different oppressions… Let’s do it. But in reality, as in a road intersection, there is always a yield sign. A priority to be respected.
And it is always women who give way to the interests of the ethnic and religious group to which they are assigned, to the interests of the men who are the leaders. That Houria Bouteldja explains that a black woman raped by a black man should not file a complaint against him so as not to harm the black community, that « feminists » have opposed the criminalization of street harassment because it would have targeted men of a certain ethnic origin, as if it were an impassable atavistic cultural trait: it is always men who must be protected at the expense of women, their words and their suffering. The anti-Metoo actually. Houria Bouteldja has the candour to describe the political consequences of this racialized feminism: « For me, feminism is indeed one of the exported European phenomena ». Earlier in the same chapter, « If an assumed feminism were to emerge, it could only take the sinuous and steep paths of a paradoxical movement that would necessarily pass through a community allegiance », « We belong to the community and we assure it of our loyalty » or « I belong to my family, my clan, my neighbourhood, my race, Algeria, Islam. I belong to my history and, God willing, I will belong to my descendants. « When you get married, (…) Then you will be your husband’s.’’ Culturalism creates feminism under the conditions and within the limits that the community and therefore its male leaders are setting. Isn’t the basis of feminism to consider oneself as nobody’s property? Or is it still too white a vision? In which I would also be wrong to recognize myself? The philosopher and psychoanalyst Sabine Prokhoris denounced the orientalist hypocrisy of such a posture: « If for non-Western women, this « power to act » is legitimate only under the condition of submission to the « cultural tradition » of « modesty » and other parental signs of emancipation, then double standards are used to assess the relevance of feminist struggles. Is it only in the West that women are entitled to speak out against male domination by breaking the cultural diktats that this male domination prescribes? » The writer Wassyla Tamzali devotes an entire book to this two-speed feminism, which denies the fact that for non-white women, « it is always on women’s bodies that identity wars are fought ». Veilement, sexual rights of men in power : it is the same requirement of a usufruct right on women’s bodies, at the disposal and well disposed to men’s requirements. The weight of the community and the religious: The challenge of controlling women’s bodies is always the same, whether they are raped, abused or veiled. Philosopher Michael Walzer explains : « Women subordination ‒ manifested through isolation, physical retirement, or actual mutilation – is not only intended to promote the enforcement of patriarchal property rights. It must also be linked to the reproduction of the cultural or religious model, whose women are considered to be the safest agents. […] Once women enter the public sphere, the question arises of this transmission of tradition. (10) « Women are entrusted with the mission of perpetuating their community’s cultural and religious model. They can be excellent agents of their own alienation through the education they receive and the education they will in turn provide. Neo-Feminists therefore refrain from identifying, naming and combating the subordination and alienation factors of women in the East. This makes the veil a major feminist issue: as oriental women enter the public sphere, with access to education almost everywhere and visibility in more and more countries, the question of preserving the patriarchal model that attributes public space to men and private space to women, subjected and dominated, arises. This domination is the cornerstone of the social status quo. Their passage through the public space must be as stealthy, anonymous and utilitarian as possible, under the conditions imposed by men, which is guaranteed by the veil. Hence the struggle to introduce the headscarf into schools: « It is therefore because education is the key to entry into the public sphere that the problem of wearing the headscarf in public schools is so fiercely debated ». We must reject this patriarchal strategy of women’s retraditionalization.
An article in Les Inrockuptibles made fun of American female Youtubers praising virginity until marriage. The same magazine finds nothing wrong with the obligation of virginity in Arab-Muslim culture. My ex-sister-in-law’s mother keeps all the sheets of her daughters’ wedding nights in a suitcase, bearing the blood mark of their lost virginity. She is very proud of it. At the time of my brother’s marriage, she had offered to show my mother the bloody sheet as a guarantee of her daughter’s virtue. My mother refused. Although she was only slightly younger than her, she found this practice archaic. Women evolve. When they are given the means to evolve, not when they are asked to conform to a fixed and fantasized culture. For nearly two years, I have been working as an Assessor Judge at the Toulouse Children’s Court, which consists of a professional judge and two citizens, deciding by a majority vote on the guilt or innocence of young people, as well as on sanctions and penalties. One day, in an all-female courtroom, a young man appeared accused of forcing a girl to perform oral sex, the only way for her to recover the smartphone he had stolen from her. The boy kept denying it, with a defense that would despair even his lawyer. He was innocent because he « would never have done anything with such a girl », who the whole city knew was « a whore ». The girl, present with her mother, then brandished, and that shocked me so much, a virginity certificate issued by a gynaecologist. The young man replied that she could be « virgin from below » and do things with her mouth… The respondent and the girl were Arab. No link between the act and the origin. But a coherence between the two defence systems and what the « culture » assigns as obligation to girls. And I understood that this certificate had been especially useful to the parents, to reassure them and preserve their honour. A friend has since explained to me that doctors issue these certificates, at a high price, on request and for the protection of girls, without any medical action. That doesn’t make me feel any better. Yet this is a direct manifestation of Eastern patriarchy: this fetishisation of virginity, and this certificate erected as evidence before a Court of Justice in France in 2018… Refusing this patriarchal norm of modesty is not defending immodesty. It means refusing to submit to the male demands of controlling women’s bodies, recipients of the family honour while being movable asset.
MeToo is a wonderful moment and a tool that calls to be overtaken by what is simply coherence: denouncing all patriarchies. This « me too » victim must be the first step of a « me too » fighter, a « me too » feminist, in this era where « we rise to claim recognition of our identity as victims, which becomes a combat identity ». In this time of confusion and incoherence in which freedom is now put forward to justify objective regressions. My body, my choices? It’s a little short. Wassyla Tamzali writes: « Feminist thinking has imposed itself by its ability to renew the content of universalism, not because it has turned its back on it. « To renew it by advancing it, for the individual and collective emancipation of women and societies.
I wasn’t a remote control. I refused to be one. I am everywhere in my place. Even if a religious or traditional law puts me at the mercy of male power. I knew I would have to face men who refused to give up this power. I didn’t know they would be helped by neo-feminists, fighting so hard against white men, yet so complacent with non-white men. There is no religious feminism. There are religious women. Beliefs and religious practice are legitimate. Blindness to the patriarchal dimension of religions is not. Dear feminists, Me too. So do I. Yes, no matter how Arab and Muslim I am, me too. »
- Le voilement est un enjeu féministe https://www.mezetulle.fr/voilement-enjeu-feministe-fatiha-boudjahlat/
- Mères accompagnatrices voilées : pourquoi il faut être ferme https://www.revuedesdeuxmondes.fr/meres-accompagnatrices-voilees-faut-etre-ferme/
- Hijab Day, Burkini : la femme est toujours l’arme du crime https://www.marianne.net/debattons/tribunes/hijab-day-burkini-la-femme-est-toujours-l-arme-du-crime
- Considérer l’excision pour penser le multiculturalisme https://www.mezetulle.fr/considerer-lexcision-penser-multiculturalisme/
- Fatiha Boudjahlat : «Contre le racisme des bons sentiments qui livrent les femmes au patriarcat oriental» https://www.leparisien.fr/societe/fatiha-boudjahlat-contre-le-racisme-des-bons-sentiments-qui-livrent-les-femmes-au-patriarcat-oriental-18-08-2018-7856688.php
- Fatiha Agag-Boudjahlat https://www.revuedesdeuxmondes.fr/auteur/fatiha-agag-boudjahlat/
- Fatiha Boudjahlat https://www.marianne.net/auteur/fatiha-boudjahlat
- Fatiha Boudjahlat https://www.huffingtonpost.fr/author/fatiha-boudjahlat/
- Fatiha Boudjahlat : «Les néo-féministes sont les idiotes utiles des indigénistes» https://www.lefigaro.fr/vox/societe/2017/10/27/31003-20171027ARTFIG00359-fatiha-boudjahlat-les-neo-feministes-sont-les-idiotes-utiles-des-indigenistes.php
- Fatiha Boudjahlat : «Le féminisme est universel ou il n’est pas» https://www.ladepeche.fr/article/2018/02/20/2746078-fatiha-boudjahlat-feminisme-est-universel-est.html
- Fatiha Agag-Boudjahlat, une promesse française http://www.boudulemag.com/2018/04/fatiha-agag-boudjahlat-une-promesse-francaise/