Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Muslim Manifesto from France

by Tewfik Allal

“We are of Muslim culture. We oppose misogyny, homophobia,
anti-Semitism, and the political use of Islam. We reassert a living
secularism.”

Ed. Note: Dissent does not usually publish manifestos, but when we
learned of the remarkable one below, we decided to make an exception.
It was written by Tewfik Allal, an unemployed French proofreader and
union activist who was born in Morocco of Algerian parents. Allal
attended one of the demonstrations last winter protesting the recent
law banning the Muslim head scarf in French schools and was shocked at
the political slogans being chanted by Muslim fundamentalists and
their sympathizers. He went home and wrote this Manifesto in
collaboration with his wife, Brigitte Bardet, a teacher and feminist
activist. This Manifesto seems to have inaugurated a small movement,
with several hundred signatories and a list of “Les Amis du Manifeste”
(Friends of the Manifesto) composed of non-Muslim intellectuals
expressing their solidarity. Readers can find the original French
version of the Manifesto and the list of signatories at
www.manifeste.org.

We are women and men of Muslim culture. Some of us are believers,
others are agnostics or atheists. We all condemn firmly the
declarations and acts of misogyny, homophobia, and anti-Semitism that
we have heard and witnessed for a while now here in France and that
are carried out in the name of Islam. These three characteristics
typify the political Islamism that has been forceful for so long in
several of our countries of origin. We fought against them there, and
we are committed to fighting against them again-here.

Sexual Equality: A Prerequisite for Democracy


We are firmly committed to equal rights for both sexes. We fight the
oppression of women who are subjected to Personal Status Laws, like
those in Algeria (recent progress in Morocco highlights how far
Algeria lags behind), and sometimes even in France via bilateral
agreements.* We believe that democracy cannot exist without these
equal rights. Accordingly, we unambiguously offer our support for the
“20 ans, barakat!” (20 years is enough!) campaign of the Algerian
women’s associations, demanding the definitive abolition of the
two-decades-old family code.

It is also for this reason that we oppose wearing the Islamic head
scarf, even if among us there are differing opinions about the law
banning it from schools in France. In various countries, we have seen
violence or even death inflicted on female friends or family members
because they refused to wear the scarf. Even if the current enthusiasm
for the head scarf [among some Muslims] in France was stimulated by
discrimination suffered by immigrant children, this cannot be
considered the real cause of the desire to wear it; nor can memories
of a North African lifestyle explain it. Behind this so-called
“choice” demanded by a certain number of girls is the promotion of a
political Islamic society based on a militant ideology which aims to
promote actively values to which we do not subscribe.

Stopping Homophobia
For Islamic fundamentalists (as for all machos and fundamentalists),
“being a man” means having power over women, including sexual power.
In their eyes, any man who favors equality of the sexes is potentially
subhuman, or “queer.” This way of thinking has proliferated since the
rise of political Islamism. Its ferocity is equaled only by its
hypocrisy. One of the organizers of the demonstration on Saturday,
January 17, 2004, in favor of the head scarf declared that “It is
scandalous that those who claim to be shocked by the head scarf are
not shocked by homosexuality.” Undoubtedly he thinks that a virtuous
society hides women behind head scarves or puts homosexuals behind
bars, something we have already seen happen in Egypt.

We shudder at what the triumph of these attitudes implies for
“shameless” persons in society-like women who fail to wear the head
scarf or homosexuals or non-believers.

In contrast, we believe that recognition of the existence of
homosexuality and the freedom for homosexuals to live their own lives
as they wish represent undeniable progress. As long as an
individual-heterosexual or homosexual-does not break the laws
protecting minors, each person’s sexual choices are his or her own
business and do not concern the state in any way.

Fighting Anti-Semitism

Finally, we condemn firmly the anti-Semitic statements made recently
in speeches in the name of Islam. Just like “shameless” women and
homosexuals, Jews have become the target: “They have everything and we
have nothing,” was something that we heard in the demonstration on
January 17. We see the use of the Israel-Palestine conflict by
fundamentalist movements as a means of promoting the most disturbing
forms of anti-Semitism.

Despite our opposition to the current policies of the Israeli
government, we refuse to feed primitive images of the “Jew.” A real,
historical conflict between two peoples should not be exploited. We
recognize Israel’s right to exist, a right recognized by the PLO
congress in Algiers in 1988 and the Arab League summit meeting in
Beirut in 2002. At the same time, we are committed to the Palestinian
people and in support of their right to found a state and to be
liberated from occupation.

Living Secularism

Islam has not received sufficient recognition in France. There is a
lack of places to pray. There are not enough chaplaincies nor enough
cemeteries. We are aware that young French people, the sons and
daughters of Muslim immigrants, are still held back socially and
suffer discrimination. All monitoring bodies recognize this.
Consequently, “French-style” secularism has lost a great deal of value
in the eyes of these young people. Two possibilities lie before them.
They can rediscover the strength of a real, living secularism; that
is, political action on behalf of their rights and to demand the
social gains fought for by their fathers and mothers-who belonged to
social classes, cultures, peoples, and nations before they belonged to
Islam. Or they can see themselves in an imaginary, virtual “umma”
[Islamic community - Eds.] that no longer corresponds to reality, and
then masquerade in republican or tiers-mondistes (third-worldist)
rags. This only ends up securing unequal, repressive, and intolerant
societies. This latter path cannot be ours.

Hat tip: David Zarnett's blog.

2 Comments:

At 9:26 AM, Blogger Phu said...

Thanks Gert - a very interesting read. Unsure of one thing - are the 'Friends of the Manifesto' made up entirely of non-Muslims?

 
At 2:15 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Phu:

No, I don't think so.

 

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