What’s the Matter with France?

What’s the Matter with France?
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What’s the Matter with France?

What is wrong with the white xenophobes and France in general toward their fellow Muslims and Arabs?

By Abdennour Toumi

The question of the headscarf (al-Khemar in Arabic) in France is more than just a partisan selling point and an electoral agenda. The aim of the matter is to ban it in universities as it is banned in public servant offices. For instance, Muslim women who have an appointment with their local Mayor in his office or who work in the City hall building should take off their headscarf at the gate, and many Muslim women are suffering from this dress discrimination. On the other hand, it is authorized to be worn by Muslim women employed as cleaners in public train and metro stations.

In the French version of the blind audition of the popular reality show “The Voice” on February 4th, Mennel Ibtissem, a young French Muslim of Arab immigrant descent, an elegant young woman with a velvet voice and an angelic face, sang Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in English and in Arabic. The four judges, including Lebanese-born singer Mika, turned shortly after the first verse to see the face of this tender and hopeful voice.

Muslim women wearing a Hijab. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Muslim women wearing a Hijab. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Hours later, French white xenophobes launched a bashing campaign on social media and on national TV plateaus after peeling off her activities like an onion on social media (Tweeter and FB). Mennel, a 22-year-old French-Arab/Muslim with a Syrian father and an Algerian-Moroccan mother, appeared well integrated to some point inserted like the Interior Minister Gerard Collomb wants them. In the past she had made a statement about the Nice attack and the cowardly assassination of Father Hamel at Saint-Etienne in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray.

The white xenophobes portrayed Mennel as a “radical” Muslim and pro-Palestinian because of her colorful, seemingly disguised scarf, a confirmation of her leaning toward radical Islam ideology, according to her foes. Mennel decided to quit the competition; she couldn’t handle the pressure nor the prejudgement, though she stunned the jury and the audience of the show with her performance.

What is wrong with the white xenophobes and France in general toward their fellow Muslims and Arabs?

Women in Berqas protesting about ISO at a recent rally in France. Photo courtesy of Abdennour Toumi

Women in Berqas protesting about ISO at a recent rally in France. Photo courtesy of Abdennour Toumi

A secular country like France has a large number of supporters from diverse sectors, such as the liberals, the feminists and the anti-Arab/Muslim immigrants politicians and intellectuals. This political noise that turned into a serious societal topic gives a counter argument to the puritan/Islamists called “Salafists” by the French Parisian elite and media — yet to them any devoted Muslim of either gender are Salafists, a generic adjective and a pejorative connotation to denigrate any eloquent Muslim voice.

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I heard a political “analyst” on C-News’ “les Voix de l’info” presented by Sonia Mabrouk who described Tariq Ramadan as a Salafist. This is like calling a Black Panther, the MLK Civil Rights Movement member! Actually, he is e-Khouanist (Brotherist), Frèriste in French), but not Salafist.

First, Mennel’s headscarf is anything, but Islamic, according to the Islamic cloth’s (al-Hejab) Sharia conditions. The fact that she appears on camera on a public broadcast before millions is considered a sin (haram) and her voice is a’aoura (exciting), according to the Islamic doctrine. Second, her scarf could be a French turban as it was described by her detractors. So Mennel tried to be an artist and not a polemist; as a result she found herself between artistic assassination by the tongues of the xenophobes and  character assassination by the knives of Muslim radicals.

Third, to some extent, the French elite and the xenophobes ignore the Muslims and the Arabs who have been living in France for a century, seeing them as lazy and Republic profiteers, hence an easy target, and Islam and the Arab/Muslim community in France become the origin of the French “malaise.”

Nevertheless, the question of the al-Khemar (full hair cover) in the eyes of the elite and the xenophobe is an identity marker like a-Neqab (full head cover), which puts women’s freedom of expression and submission in doubt. This would clash with the secularists’ and the feminists’ arguments who don’t want a puritanical ideology taking advantage of Marianne’s generosity and liberty.

Then-Premier Valls wanted to reform Islam of France, which in his eyes is not secularist enough. Hence his statement sparked controversy in the Muslim community by suggesting the Muslim headscarf should be banned in universities. Since a majority of French people think Islam is incompatible with the values of the Republic, recently Mr. Valls a lawmaker vehemently supported the bill to ban religious ostensoria in the French Parliament.

The FN militants and the right-wing partisans of the LR party are already jubilant, and they have every reason to be so. According to CEVIOF (Center for Political Research at Sciences Po) as of January, 2018, 60% of the French consider Islam a threat to the Republic, 37% think that the immigrants’ children born in France are not really French, and 63% think that there are too many immigrants in France.

As a matter of fact, French Muslim and Arab anti-sentiment goes back to then-President Chirac’s administration, when a fiery tactician was appointed for political goals to be France’ Cop-in-Chief to marginalize the score of Jean Marie Le Pen in April, 2002, to clean up the neighborhoods (les banlieues), and stop illegal immigration: his name, Nicolas Sarkozy.

These ingredients were a tasty treat on the tongues of the frontists. Sarkozy’s “tactic” worked in 2007, and he was elected with 10% of the frontists’ vote. But the media and the politicians “buried” the frontists, believing them losing ground. Consequently, the FN came out as a wounded beast and imposed its presence as a popular winner in the finale in every local and national election in French politics, thanks to the French electoral system; otherwise, Marine would be living in 55, rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, Paris in the 8th arrondissement.

Subsequently, Mennel’s senseless polemic has come in post-“Charlie,” Paris and Nice attacks that increase France’s elite, politicians and media to panic or “panade” to the implicit Le-Penization of France and Marineland. This has expanded in a decade of French presidents Sarkozy, Hollande and recently Macron’s administrations who have not only echoed far-right rhetoric, but also applied far-right measures vis-à-vis the “Other,” the boggy man of French politicians’ failure and French evil (le mal français).

In this stance, consider the inhumane Roma expulsion to Romania and the Guéant circular, urging graduating foreigners to stay and work in France during the Sarkozy administration and currently with the African, Syrian and Afghan migrants in Calais and across the country.

Restructuring the mindset of the white xenophobes and anti-establishment radical right-elite to view Arab/Muslims as uneducated, mean people, not eloquent and lazy, poses a huge challenge. Like Mounia, a private cardiologist in Seine-Saint-Denis department 93 in a phone conversation put it, “…they want these young women vulgar and half-naked like Nabila…” Ms. Nabila Ben Attia, A French-Swiss model and reality TV persona.

Nabila appeared in l’Amour est aveugle (Love is Blind) and other reality shows, including Touche Pas à Mon Poste (TPMP), a humorist entertainment show as a chronicle on Prime-Time.

To the Arab women I spoke with, Nabila is a product of the tabloid media and paints a portrait of the young Arab woman, pejoratively called “Beurettes,” as “exotic” to appeal to the young girls of the banlieues, though in the eyes of these young women she is a joke, as Linda, an accountant, put it.

The parallel between Mennel’s story and Nabila’s history reflects a country in multi-dimensional malaise, a suffering driven from diverse directions by the rejectionist politicians, arrogant journalists’ opportunism, some of the lefty media and politician leaders’ reality detachment. Now, more than ever, France needs a reality show like “The Voice”, whose jury is not without vision, but whose vision allows soft voices like Mennel’s to sing about inclusion.

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Abdennour Toumi
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Abdennour Toumi

Abdennour Toumi:
- France correspondent for The Arab Daily News.
- www.bareed-areej.com Editor-in-Chief
رئيس تحرير مجلة بريد الأريج
- Political consultant at IMPR a Think-Tank based in Ankara, Turkey.
- Member at the European Observatory for Arabic Language Teaching based in Paris, France.
- Affiliated with Sociology of Islam Journal and contributor at Middle East Studies / International Studies, Sociology of Islam and Muslim Societies Center, Portland State University in Portland, OR.

EDUCATION: Diplôme des Études Approfondies (DEA) in Political Science from Toulouse University I, France. Master’s degree in Law from Algiers University, Algeria.

Email im at: nourhty@gmail.com
Abdennour Toumi
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