Enlever le voile

Après l’hystérie sur les femmes qui se mettent à porter le voile (les RG français, fondus depuis 2008 au sein de la DCRI, utilisaient très sérieusement ce critère pour identifier les quartiers dits chauds), certains relèvent un mouvement inverse de femmes qui l’enlèvent. Ca n’a rien de surprenant: outre que les gens changent au cours d’une vie, et que des croyants deviennent donc athées et inversement, cela vaut avec plus de force encore pour l’accoutrement – peu de gens s’habillent à 30 ans comme à 20 ans ou à 40 comme à 30. Les femmes voilées n’étant pas exemptées des lois de la pesanteur sociologique, rien ne s’oppose à ce qu’elles l’enlèvent – tout comme rien n’empêche d’autres femmes de troquer la mini-jupe contre le hijab. J’ai moi-même connu deux Egyptiennes ayant arrêté de porter le voile, pour des raisons diverses que je n’ai pas vraiment chercher à discuter, n’ayant guère l’habitude, de par mon éducation, de discuter les choix vestimentaires de mes interlocuteurs. En Suède, deux universitaires suédoises célèbres, Anne-Sofie Roald et Pernilla Ouis, converties et voilées, ont cessé de porter le voile (cf. « They removed the veil« ) et pris leurs distances avec l’Islam, se déclarant ouvertement contre le multiculturalisme. On connaît également l’inénarrable Mona El Tahawy, voilée avant de devenir une chroniqueuse orientalisante fréquentant Caroline Fourest.

Anne Sofie Roald voilée

Anne Sofie Roald voilée

Anne Sofie Roald dévoilée

Anne Sofie Roald dévoilée

Un article récent relève ce phénomène, en le présentant comme étant en augmentation. En fait, on n’en sait rien, en l’absence de statistiques sur le port du voile. Chacun a bien une impression sur le nombre de femmes voilées autour de lui, mais ça reste impressionniste et n’a rien de bien solide pour fonder des considérations qui se voudraient générales, à défaut d’être scientifiques. Chacun qui a posé le pied au Caire se rend bien compte qu’il y a une bien plus grande proportion de femmes voilées qu’à Casablanca ou Tunis, mais on ne dispose guère de chiffres sur l’évolution récente – on sait qu’un plus grand pourcentage de femmes porte le voile aujourd’hui qu’il y a 40 ans, mais au-delà on sait bien peu de choses sur les variations par catégorie sociale, niveau d’éducation ou statut marital, ni sur les variations à travers le temps – celles qui arrêtent de le porter ou qui se mettent de le porter. Quelque part, c’est une bonne chose: la comptabilité du voile a quelque chose d’à la fois obsessionnel et trop facile. Obsessionnel, car tant ceux qui dénoncent l’islam que ceux qui s’en réclament attachent une importance probablement démesurée à un choix vestimentaire. trop facile, car n’importe quel crétin se croit en mesure de pontifier sans fin sur l’islamisation dangereuse ou sur l’islam victorieux à partir du nombre de femmes se voilant. Ce n’est plus de l’observation sociologique à deux balles, mais un décompte des pertes ou victoires de l’ennemi en temps de guerre. Les détracteurs du voile en font des écervelées lancées à l’assaut de l’Occident et des Lumières comme des kamikazes japonais à Okinawa en 1945, tandis que certains Musulmans en font des anges à forme humaine, dépourvues de défauts ou de sexualité. Des Etats se mêlent de la partie (voir « Le vêtement féminin, lieu de pouvoir de l’Etat« ), l’Iran et l’Arabie séoudite imposant le port du voile même aux non-musulmanes, la France, la Belgique et l’Allemagne l’interdisant aux élèves et fonctionnaires musulmanes, partageant ainsi la même conception idéologique du choix vestimentaire de la femme ainsi qu’un paternalisme plus ou moins bienveillant, s’estimant en meilleure position qu’elle-même pour imposer ou interdire le port d’un couvre-chef. La barbe, la jellaba ou le kamis des hommes n’a pas fait l’objet des mêmes attentions…

L’article « More And More Egyptian Women Are Casting Aside Their Veils » est donc plausible, même s’il ne contient en fait aucune confirmation objective de son titre racoleur. Néanmoins, eu égard à la conjoncture politique en Egypte, avec le violent backlash contre les Frères musulmans au sein de la population, il est effectivement probable que des femmes portant le voile par conformisme social l’enlèvent par l’effet du nouveau conformisme social, hostile à l’islamisme ou du moins à celui incarné par les Frères musulmans:

Jehad Meshref avant...

Jehad Meshref avant…

....et Jehad Meshref après.

….et Jehad Meshref après.

Across Egypt, women are increasingly challenging the tradition of veiling their hair. For some, it means switching from the niqab — or a nearly full face covering — to a hijab, or veil that only covers the hair and usually most of the neck. For others, it means going bare-headed for the first time in their lives.

“It is a trend, there is a wave of my friends doing it now,” said Layla Khalil, a 26-year-old student in Alexandria, who switched her niqab for a hijab just this month. “It is about freedom to veil how you want without people judging you as a good or a bad Egyptian girl.”

The new trend comes four months after the Egyptian military ousted the elected government of Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. (…)

“During the revolution women were very vocal and they were at the forefront. Suddenly they lost their rights, were not represented in the Muslim Brotherhood constitution and were being pressured to adopt, not just a physical hijab, but in many ways a social hijab, an economic hijab, an enforcement of traditional limitations on them in every way,” said Hibaaq Osman, founder of El Karama, an Egyptian organization for women’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa.

“My problem is not the hijab or niqab, it is the right of a woman to do whatever she wants. If she wants to do it she should, and if she doesn’t she shouldn’t be forced to,” said Hibaaq. “The bottom line is that it is a woman’s choice.”

For Meshref, it never was. “I starting wearing a hijab when I was 7 years old, the niqab from 14 to 20 and then switched back to the hijab until just two months ago,” she said, just a few days shy of her 24th birthday. “My family thought I was too liberal; they thought I talked to boys and was too outspoken.”

“My parents forced me to veil, and I was so angry at them for taking my freedom to choose away,” she said. Now she has new worries: “Suddenly I have to think about my hair all the time. I have to brush it, and tie and it and use products. It’s so much new to think about.”

The implications have been dire. Meshref was forced to leave home and no longer sees her father. She has to maintain two Facebook accounts — one for her family and childhood friends which shows her veiled, and the other for new, or “understanding,” friends, which shows her new life.

“For me, not wearing the veil, I feel like myself for the first time in my life. It should be every women’s right to make this decision for herself. And once every woman has that right, and the men respect her for it, then we will really be in a new Egypt ready for new revolutions and change,” she said.

Meshref said that over the past six months, she had met over a dozen other women who have recently removed their veils. Of the more than dozen women contacted by BuzzFeed for this story, each spoke of “countless” friends who removed the hijab or niqab in recent months. (Buzzfeed, 7/11/2013)

Encore plus loin dans le changement, un quotidien égyptien a interviewé une ancienne salafiste devenue athéée – « Salafi woman turned atheist recounts her journey« :

Off Egypt’s North Coast, I spoke to Noha Mahmoud Salem, a physician who made this bold transition from a religious lifestyle to skepticism in the existence of God.
Having worn a veil since the age of 15, and later donning a niqab, she decided to take it off nine years ago and release herself from what she says are the confines of her religion, which she now considers a mere myth.
Coming out as an atheist did not make her very popular. Going public with her beliefs cost her a marriage that had lasted for 29 years, as her husband adhered to strict verses from the Koran forbidding men from marrying atheist women.
Noha was also alienated from all her friends and family. Her mother, who was against her wearing a veil at the age of 15, was also against her taking it off, telling her to leave home because she no longer prayed or fast. Noha now lives in a compound on the beach. (Egypt Independent, 4/11/2013)

Goûtez l’ironie: la mère de Noha était opposée au port du voile de sa fille de 15 ans, et s’opposa ensuite à ce qu’elle l’enlève à l’âge adulte…

Espérons que c’est le début d’une période où nous nous intéresserons – musulmans et non-musulmans – moins à ce que les femmes portent sur leur tête et plus à ce qu’elles pensent, disent, veulent et font…

Mona El Tahawy or native neo-orientalism

It’s probably a particularly sterile waste of time, but here are a few lines on the polemical « Why do they hate us? » article written for Foreign Policy magazine by Egyptian-born US debater Mona El Tahawy. The cover chosen for that issue of Foreign Policy – a black niqab painted on a woman’s naked body – caused even more furore than the article, a disparity which probably makes to justice to the intellectual substance of El Tahawy’s article.

Let me cite the gist of her argument:

In a crisp three-and-a-half pages, Rifaat lays out a trifecta of sex, death, and religion, a bulldozer that crushes denial and defensiveness to get at the pulsating heart of misogyny in the Middle East. There is no sugarcoating it. They don’t hate us because of our freedoms, as the tired, post-9/11 American cliché had it. We have no freedoms because they hate us, as this Arab woman so powerfully says.

Yes: They hate us. It must be said. (…) An entire political and economic system — one that treats half of humanity like animals — must be destroyed along with the other more obvious tyrannies choking off the region from its future. Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors on our streets and in our homes, our revolution has not even begun. (…)

SO WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

First we stop pretending. Call out the hate for what it is. Resist cultural relativism and know that even in countries undergoing revolutions and uprisings, women will remain the cheapest bargaining chips. You — the outside world — will be told that it’s our « culture » and « religion » to do X, Y, or Z to women. Understand that whoever deemed it as such was never a woman. The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man — Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation — but they will be finished by Arab women.

It’s of course not the need to dramatically improve the condition of women in the Arab world in order to achieve a long overdue parity  that is at fault – on the contrary, witness the recent statement by Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz al Sheikh according to which girls are ripe for marriage at 12. It’s rather the tone and lexical and discursive resources which El Tahawy taps into: essentialism, reduction of social and political phenomena to simple psychological factors (fear, hate), and even more so the lumping together of all men into a vague and threatening « they » – the kind of manicheism she resented when it came to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, but I suppose one has to distinguish between good manicheism and bad manicheism. That piece could have been written by David Pryce-Jones, Fouad Ajami or the staggeringly inane Lee Smith, a US journalist who wrote a 2010 book called « The strong horse » aiming to show that Arabs only understood and bowed to force and violence – unfortunately for him, 2011 came after 2010.

An American journalist writing exclusively for European, US and Israeli media outlets, Mona El Tahawy is not interested in helping Middle Eastern activists to bring about the legislative and social changes required, or to identify the practical ways this might be achieved. No easy clues here: there’s only hate to confront. How does one confront hate – by drone attacks, invasion or forced conversion? She does not say. More importantly still, Arab men and women are not really her main target – her piece is written in the tone of a native informer bringing the White (Wo)Man her exclusive insights about the twisted minds of her fellow natives. That article is more a career move, à la Irshad Manji or Ayaan Hirsi Ali (but without the latter’s islamophobia), than a sincere contribution to a fight for equality that is both morally necessary and socially unavoidable, as Youssef Courbage and Emmanuel Todd have shown.

As often with these polemical mainstream media pieces, the response to them has been both massive and impressive – even by Mona El Tahawy’s own standards – remember, she had the gall to write, during the 2009 war on Gaza, that she preferred « sitting on the fence » when asked about her reactions to Israel’s onslaught on Gaza’s Palestinian population (her reaction then? « Israel is the opium of the people« ). The negative reaction against Mona El Tahawy has been massive – especially from those same Arab women on whose behalf El Tahawy writes. Here’s a short list – a full run-down is available here – but the following ones are those that caught my attention.

First, Us and Them: On Helpless Women and Orientalist Imagery by Roqayah Chamseddine. She correctly asks:

There are also unanswered questions:

1. Why not publish the article in Arabic, therein engaging with the intended audience more directly?
2. Why choose Foreign Policy as the platform and not a media outlet which would direct her piece at those she addresses?
3. Why is there so much orientalist imagery present? If she was not aware that these photographs would be used, did she take it up with Foreign Policy after realizing this?

Then Nahed El Tantawy’s « I don’t really think they hate us!« :

And before I go any further, I realize of course that I will be accused by some (which already happened on the FP comments sections) that I am in denial and that I refuse to air my dirty linen in public. Well, I’m NOT in denial; I am well aware that Arab women have their fair share of problems. But I refuse to be lumped into this monolithic group of oppressed, abused and hated victims. Arab women’s problems are not the same across the board. Even within one country like Egypt, what I see as a problem, might not be the most pressing issue for the woman next door. So, I refuse to have Eltahawy talk on my behalf as if she is the expert who can accurately identify my plight.

Foreign Policy (FP), anticipating  the response to El Tahawy’s piece, published « Debating the war on women » (you have to admire this American tendency to transform all social problems – poverty,drugs, terrorism – into a war to be embarked upon) – Egyptian academic Leila Ahmed takes El Tahawy to task for misinterpreting the Alifa Rifaat novel that she cites in her article, and urges on FP to invite Egyptian activist Asma Mahfouz and Yemeni Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkol Karman to express their views on the the gender issue – it is indeed quite stunning that FP couldn’t get Tawakkol Karman’s to share her views. Female Muslim Brotherhood activist Sondos Asem’s critical views should also be mentioned.

Tom Dale wrote the following piece – « Hatred and misogyny in the Middle East, a response to Mona el Tahawy » – in Open Democracy:

Firstly, Mona identifies hatred – pure, transhistorical, misogynistic hatred – as the cause of women’s oppression in the Arab world. This hatred itself, el Tahawy explains in terms of men’s desire to control women’s sexuality. Even if this explanation wasn’t largely circular, which it arguably is, hatred is a woefully insufficient lens through which to understand the problem. Why is sexism stronger in some places and times than others? Why does it take specific forms? And aren’t there some things about women’s oppression which can’t be explained by hatred, even as there are things that can?

Secondly, because the article lacks a coherent explanation for the misogynistic practices it identifies, it also lacks the capacity to suggest effective solutions. Instead we get the slogan “call out the hate for what it is.” As if repeatedly pointing out the psychological form of the worst misogyny could bring down the walls of the patriarchal Jericho.

Thirdly, the article singles out ‘Arab societies’ for criticism. Whilst, relative to Sub-Saharan, Asian, or Latin American societies, Arab nations are disproportionately grouped at the bottom of the 2011 Global Gender Gap Report ↑ (based on a list of nations which is far from comprehensive, leaving out Afghanistan and Somalia for instance), this is no excuse for not building an analysis which integrates other offenders: half of the bottom six are not Arab. As an Arab woman herself, el Tahawy undoubtedly does not intend to essentialise Arab societies, but by treating the problems she describes as specifically Arab ones, and lacking in historical origins or non-Arab equivalents, she will unavoidably be perceived to have done so.

Dale has well-informed comments to make on Female Genital Mutilation, one of the main arguments in El Tahawy’s article:

Let’s take a look at one of the issues which el Tahawy identifies, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Egypt. The practice has its roots in Africa, and is not practiced in the Levant or Gulf, except in isolated pockets. It is not mandated by Islam, although it is widely believed ↑ to be. The re is strong evidence ↑ that local women’s economic and social empowerment is the best strategy for fighting FGM, and that denunciations on a national level are relatively ineffective. Better educated parents are less likely to endorse FGM, and women ↑ are typically the main organisers of FGM. So there it is. It isn’t ‘hate’, but a cocktail of economic factors, poor education, and social disempowerment against a particular – but not particularly Arab – background, which causes FGM. The women who take their daughters to the excisors do not hate their daughters, and telling them that they do is not going to change anything for the better.

Then we have Kuwaiti Beidoon activist Mona Kareem and her « ‘Why Do They Hate Us?’ A Blogger’s Response« :

Eltahawy argues against Arab claims that Jews or Israelis hate us, but she uses the same logic when she puts Arab men under an umbrella of a single emotion: hate.

What should be considered is that we live in patriarchal societies, and the foundations of Middle East-based monotheistic religious texts are established on this patriarchy. Eltahawy’s claim not only degrades Arab culture in general but also patronizes Arab men and women by making the whole struggle for gender equality a conflict between the two sexes based on personal emotions.

Another problem I have with the general speech of “Arab feminism” is the term in itself. I really dislike seeing more than 20 different cultures put under one roof. Eltahawy is not a Pan-Arabist, I am assuming, yet she falls for this very common oriental division imposed by the media and others. Anyone knows how radically divergent the “Arab World” is: the North-African Arab culture is a far different culture from that of the Arabian Gulf.

Her concluding remarks are a strong refutation of El Tahawy’s arguments:

Last point: I think that Eltahawy has had many chances to present her thoughts on women’s rights. If western publications, including Foreign Policy, are interested in focusing a spotlight on so-called “Arab feminism,” then similar chances should be given to other Arab women. A variety of media outlets have included the stories of different women from the Arab world after the uprising, yet they rarely give them chances to speak about their experiences and to express their opinions.
Women like Manal Al-Sharif, Rasha Azab and Samira Ibrahim are not less “feminist” than other prominent female figures in the world. The veiled Bahraini protester Zainab Alkhawaja, for example, can speak well of the women’s struggle as she protests alone in the street and gets arrested for the sake of her detained father. He is Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, the prominent Bahraini-Danish human rights activists who has been on a hunger strike in prison for 76 days. He, I am sure, does not hate her.

Moroccan blogger Samia Errazzouki is as dismissive in « Dear Mona Eltahawy, You Do Not Represent “Us”« :

Foreign Policy’s decision to choose this photograph of a naked woman with a body-painted niqab embodies this problematic narrative in more ways than one:

  1. This inherent sexualization of the niqab through the pose and exposure of the female form revives the classic “harem” literature and art, presenting the Arab and/or Muslim woman as “exotic” and “mysterious,” but still an object: An object lacking the agency to define herself, thus defined by others.
  2. All of the women close to me who wear the niqab do so for different reasons. One friend only wears the niqab when she attends protests because she feels comfortable in it. Another friend has chosen to wear the niqab, against the will of her family since she was 14. The representation of the niqab as splattered body paint on a naked woman degrades the decision of women who wear the niqab as a choice.
  3. The feature of an Arab woman’s article on the front cover does not justify the editorial choice to use the image. Mona Eltahawy was notoriously owned during a debate over the niqab ban in France, where she took the position in favor of the ban. Her stance on the niqab is convenient to the narrative being perpetuated by the problematic image.

Zeinobia (« US , them and breaking the stereotype !!« ) invokes the Arab heroines of 2011 as witnesses for the prosecution:

I am fed up as Egyptian Arab Muslim African woman of that stereotype Westerners and orientalists put me in that I am being oppressed and needed to be saved as soon as possible by the Western values , you know the White man complex !! I am fed up of that stereotype at the time the Egyptian and Arab women like Samira Ibrahim , Zeinab El Khawja , Tawakel Karman, Bothiana Kamel , Noha El Zeiny made history for real in 2011 and 2012 !!?

The women who wear Niqab in Bahrain and Yemen made the dream of freedom possible , these are the same women insulted in the disgusting photos of FP.

Al Jazeera’s journalist Dima Khatib sided with El Tahawy’s critics (« Love, Not Hatred, Dear Mona !« ):

I was attracted to the opening of your article. Your style is interesting and you do poke the issues, and our issues are one, Mona. There’s no doubt that the facts in your article are accurate, that the problems highlighted are real, and that the suffering you write of is experienced by Arab women, even if they are not always aware of it. My anger faded as I read, slowly…until I reached the section where you explain “The Arab men’s hatred toward women”. Hatred?

Let’s see. In our Arab society, does the son hate his mother? The brother his sister? The father his daughter? And the husband hates his wife, and the lover his beloved? And the male colleague hates his female colleague, and the male friend his female friend, and the male neighbor his female neighbor? I don’t think our culture teaches us to hate women. In fact, mothers are sacred, grandmothers are sacred, aunts are treasured, and so are female cousins.

Jadaliyya has a comprehensive critique of El Tahawy in « Let’s talk about sex« :

We would suggest, as many have, that oppression is about men and women. The fate of women in the Arab world cannot be extracted from the fate of men in the Arab world, and vice versa. El Tahawy’s article conjures an elaborate battle of the sexes where men and women are on opposing teams, rather than understanding that together men and women must fight patriarchal systems in addition to exploitative practices of capitalism, authoritarianism, colonialism, liberalism, religion, and/or secularism. (…)

One would have to also critically and historically engage how women’s movements have been implicated in the policies and longevity of authoritarianism. After all, the two countries where women enjoyed the broadest scope of personal status law were Tunisia and Egypt, before the recent revolutions. Indeed, of all the countries of the Arab world, it was only in Tunisia and Egypt that a woman could pass her citizenship on to her children if she was married to a foreigner. (In Egypt there was a small qualification for women married to that other other, the Palestinian; post-revolutionary Egypt has, at least in law if not in practice, done away with this exception).

How can we account for these legal achievements under authoritarian regimes?

Not to forget Egyptian Palestine activist Sarah Hawas on Ikhras « Mona el Tahawy and the Transnational Fulul al Nidham« :

In recent exchanges on Twitter, Mona el Tahawy refused to respond to myriad demands for a statement of her position on the Palestinian-led global BDS movement against Israel. She resorted, instead, to making pre-emptive defensive accusations of libel and defamation, name-calling, and multiple other condescending insinuations of superiority. She went as far as to play the authenticity card and question the relevance of a non-Egyptian, Lebanese activist – namely, @LeilZahra – who has been at the heart of the uprising throughout the seven months – by dismissing his input as “conformist” to “make up for the fact that he wasn’t Egyptian”. This kind of discourse dangerously echoes General Hassan al-Roueiny of the ruling SCAF and his denigration of Egyptian-Palestinian poet Tamim al Barghouthi’s criticism of Egyptian foreign policy, on account of Tamim’s having a “weird accent” and “features that are not very Egyptian”.

And lastly, the only ironic response to Mona el Tahawy – Colonial Feminist‘s « Dear Mona Eltahawy« :

Mona, may you continue in your fight for media slots and nods of acceptance from mainstream media outlets, despite a slew of Arab women from all walks of life refuting your oversimplification of our plight. We pray that you continue to close your ears and eyes to logical rebuttals of your articles, as you pursue complete dominion over our voices, a pursuit done only out of the kindness of your own heart and on our behalf.

Thank you dearest Mona. We remain forever silently yours, awaiting your call for us to advance in the war against the barbaric men of the Middle East. We raise our chains in thanks and pray that one day we will meet in a free Middle East, where you will be hailed as our deliverer.

Some further reading, unrelated to Mone El Tahawy’s piece:

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