The heartless in power: Targeting head scarfed women downgrades selected citizens

The first story takes place in France in the regional council of Bourgogne Franche-Comté, a region in the east of France. School children are invited to witness how democracy works. They embark on a fieldtrip. In need of chaperone for the field trip, the school teacher solicits the help of the mother of one of her students. She probably explained that it will be an interesting experience to attend a parliamentary session for the children and for the chaperones as well.

Once seated in the public gallery, she hears a representative from the extreme right wing Rassemblement National, National Rally (RN) Julien Odoul address the speaker of the council demanding the chaperone to remove her “Islamic veil.” She does not need to look around to know that she is being targeted since she is the only one who is wearing a headscarf. He erupts that it is the law of the republic and it is in defense of secularism or even in respect for the women who are fighting for their rights in Islamic nations. His rowdy fellow FN representatives shout at the speaker that it is the law. It is not the law, and, further, his party has never defended secularism and has no track record of defending women’s rights. Blinded by his own fundamentalism and drunk on his own power and authority he creates an environment of humiliation. Humiliation of a woman who is fully part of French society, humiliation for her young son who starts crying and humiliation for the entire school and community.   

The speaker of the parliament, Marie Guite Dufay shocked, retorts: “Are you done yet? cool off now.”

The Preamble of the Constitution states, “The French Republic is secular, (…) it protects all beliefs.” This means the Republic does not favor any religion but relegates all beliefs to the private sector. This also means that under the French law, no one must be discriminated based on their religion or their atheism. This guarantees freedom of conscience and freedom to manifest one’s religious affiliation. Religious freedom presupposes the freedom of everyone to express their religion, to practice it and to abandon it, while respecting public order. This requires for the Republic, and the representatives of the Republic, neutrality in the face of all religions and beliefs. This does not apply to citizens who are free to express their beliefs in the public space in the respect of the public. 

Women facing constant inequality in the west like elsewhere have to be saved by the men of that same society that based its colonial enterprise on a patriarchal view of domination and of redistribution of territories. This event made headlines, and rightwing politicians went on to demand restrictive laws for women who are involved in public life, directly targeting Muslim women. Julien Odoul’s comments were able to put in public space hatred of women’s right to be full citizens and hatred of Muslims, two of their favorite targets!

The second story occurred in the south west of France in the city of Bayonne. An 84-year-old man, a former National Rally member, attacked the city’s mosque, injuring two men who happened to be there. He felt that he had the mission of avenging the destruction of Notre Dame. A high-ranking member of the National Rally (RN), Jean Messiha, disseminated his poisonous question “Notre Dame didn’t burn by chance, the Islamic involvement hasn’t been explored enough.” His allegations are completely false and are part of the war path that has been developed against one group identified racially and attacked. Have we already seen this before? How many more déjà vu before the Global North learns its lesson from history? The city of Bayonne known for being an inclusive municipality immediately expressed its support of its Muslim community. 

The third story takes place in the United States. On October 19, 2019, high school cross country runner Noor Alexandria Abukaram, found out that she was not on the list after she had finished her fastest 5K at the Division 1 Northwest District meet. Abukaram was disqualified on account of her hijab. As Abukaram told Sports Illustrated, “My race is supposed to be under my control, but that control was taken away from me because of my hijab, something I hold so close to my heart. I felt so let down by the sport that I had trained so hard to run in. It was humiliating and embarrassing and upsetting.” Rules have been changed by major sports organizations, including the Olympics, to include the diversity of participants. Why then does the Ohio High School Athletic Association enforce an outdated rule about headgear? Abukaram is asking precisely that, “I’m running just like everyone else. Why should you have to sacrifice your religion and a part of who you are to run, to do another thing that you’re very passionate about?”

Are the United States government’s current policies, such as the travel ban for Muslims and surveillance of Muslim families, now reaching their long arm into the arena of sports by attempting to exclude Muslim athletes who wear the hijab? This is not paranoia, but policy that is destructive of democracy.

These rightwing attacks on Muslim women are part of a war machine to impede a targeted community from living as full citizens in their countries. Targeting women in order to rally for some nationalist ideal has become the de facto line among right wing groups. If the chaperone had been a man wearing a beard, would the RN representative have articulated insulting comments? Imagine the result if an RN representative shouted, “Man with beard, shave it at once! It is against the law!”Destabilizing civil society is always a way to keep neoliberalist doctrine controlling the world. According to theorists Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, “Fascism is when a war machine is hidden in every niche, when in every nook and in every cranny of daily life a war machine is hidden. This is fascism.”

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(Photo Credit: Luis Galvez)