By Tewfik Allal and Brigitte Bardet
We are of Muslim culture; we oppose misogyny, homophobia, anti-Semitism and the political use of Islam. We reassert a living secularism.
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 two decades old family code.
It is also for this reason that we oppose wearing the Islamic headscarf, evenif 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 headscarf [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.
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 17th 2004 in favor of the headscarf declared that "It is scandalous that those who claim to be shocked by the headscarf are not shocked by homosexuality." Undoubtedly he thinks that a virtuous society hides women behind headscarves 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 headscarf, or homosexuals or nonbelievers.
In contrast, we believe that recognition of the existence of homosexuality and the freedom for homosexuals to live their own lives as they wish represents 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.
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 17th. 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 support of their right to found a state and to be liberated from occupation.
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 – ed.] 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.
*France has bilateral agreements with Algeria, which allow the application of Algeria’s "Family Code" to emigrants in France. It particularly affects issues of divorce and discriminates against women.
Tewfik Allal, a French union activist, who was born in Morocco of Algerian parents, and his wife Brigitte Bardet, a teacher and feminist activist are the authors of this Manifesto. The Manifesto attracted several hundred signatories and a list of "Les Amis du Manifeste" (Friends of the Manifesto) composed of non-Muslim intellectuals expressing their solidarity. www.manifeste.org