I’m not free, my friend, I’m French …

(Why do I not feel free to wear Hijab in France …
Open letter to a Non-Muslim Scandinavian friend from a Non-Muslim French woman, Paris, 27th August 2013)

Hello my friend,

Did I tell you last day how pretty you were on the photo you posted wearing  your hijab?
No, I’m sure I didn’t tell you how happy, free, “decomplexed” you looked like …Just enjoying wearing what you want, where you want, for no other purpose than pleasure …Just for the joy to look pretty, just to express the right you have to be happy in this perfect world … I could even read in your eyes  “let me do whatever I’m pleased with , no matter what people will think about me …let me be freely myself, whatever this myself is ” … You looked so amazingly truly free on this photo … playing with the hijab on your head as you would with a silk veil brought back from Katmandu … You looked so amazingly Scandinavian under your improbable dressing … No constraints, no shame with your appearance, with your body …

Did I tell you all this? No, I’m sure I didn’t …  In a sense, I envy you, my Scandinavian friend, I’m French …I don’t feel free to wear what I want, where I want…
I can’t forget the burden of my birth, the burden of being born and educated in France …

No, I’m not free, I’m French … with all burdens of the old past…  the one of the French Revolution, having brought the 1st declaration of human rights to the world, the one that claimed that above individual liberty, there are human rights …It simply starts with “we are all born free and equal in rights”… I would feel ashamed to wear or to ask somebody else to wear the hijab, exactly like I would have felt ashamed to wear or to ask somebody to wear the yellow star during last world war if I would have been Jewish. Hijab is for me the pure symbol of being born unequal in rights … the symbol of being born woman in a Muslim community. The symbol of being born submitted, to the law of God, to the law of your father, to the law of your brothers, and finally to the law of your husband… The external sign you will never ever be free to walk in the street the wind blowing in your hair if you feel like it …the sign that equality is denied to you at the very first second you came to this world as a woman …

No, I’m not free, I’m French … with the other burden of the old past … the worst of the same French Revolution… the one of claiming you’re a victim and to accuse the first person or organization to be responsible for that, whatever it is the right person or not …the one which is guilty for your individual liberty restrictions. This other burden is the burden I feel I should not allow to be reproduced…
Let’s be clear on this point, my friend, Yes, I think that victims can be guilty …

Yes, they are in France some free Muslim women who should be free to where it where they want. And Yes, they are restricted in their very legitimate personal rights.

Yes,  they pay the price for the majority of the other non-free Muslim women which didn’t “choose” to wear the hijab. I don’t mean they are forced violently …they are forced by the increasing social pressure in their own community, especially in our most disadvantaged « Banlieues » (suburbs), even by their own young brothers, who make a distinction between the decent women (wearing the hijab, and staying at home with their mother) and the others, the indecent “sales putes” (dirty bitches) as they use to say, the one they’re free to date (or to rape as it happens more and more) until they marry with a decent one …

Nobody enjoys to play the role of the bad cop … But Yes, today, the role of France (all public powers working hand in hand) has to be  the « role of the bad cop» …the one of saying in certain circumstances, you are not allowed to wear want you, where you want.

It’s not my point, getting in the debate we have currently in France of voting if hijab should be allowed in university… but if considered as the emerged part of the iceberg, it’s quite an  interesting question.

We have a constitutional principle which is, in order to ensure liberty of citizen in front of the « State », that Public authority and Religious power are strictly separated. Therefore, nobody is allowed to wear any ostentatious sign of religious belonging during his public functions. This principle has been extended in schools, to guarantee that all children benefit from the same laic and republican education. The question of enlarging this interdiction to university student is mostly unclear.
It was said for years, that hijab is not allowed in school to ensure a later on free choice for children, and in contrary allowed in university as women are then judged old enough to affirm a self-responsible, free choice.
Now, this question raises again in university and should raise exactly with the same question: Is the choice of wearing hijab for a Muslim woman in France really free ?

The problem is that it does not raise this way. If I would say it so anywhere else than it this letter to you, my Scandinavian friend, it would be considered as highly politically uncorrect, if not highly provocative. Saying that Muslim women in France are not free, is taboo …
It’s considered as having a judgment on the Muslim community in France, on their refusal of integration  …It’s so much easier to say « It’s law . That’s it. It you’re not happy with it, go back « home ». Yes, Muslim women are not free in France , but the responsibility lies mainly in their community.

And in the other hand, it is also a  judgment of failure for our democratic state, the failure of integration …Despite all educational efforts, it has not lead to a fundamental change in Muslim community, and we even assist to a degradation of Muslim women conditions in France in last decades. Yes, the integration of Muslim population in France is mostly a failure … and seems to have no issue … Non-Muslims feel that Muslims refuse the French democratic system, by claiming with middle-ages symbols their right to be different …and Muslims  claim that are not treated as other minorities.

Both are right …Is it to say that there is no issue ? …

What makes the difference, in wearing a hijab or wearing a golden cross around the neck or a Kippa in French university today ? … The perception is in fact highly different …in all other religious practice in France, wearing symbols is perceived as individual expression of their convictions … For most of french Muslims, it’s perceived as a collective community expression … “we have our laws, let us be free with them” … they simply not appear ready to accept the law of the country they live in, not either to seat around a table, trying to find pragmatically compromises as other religious communities do currently … In Muslim communities, too many times, there is no possible compromise … “You take us as we are with our laws, or you don’t take us at all” …

Yes, I’m not  free, I’m French … And in France, we are not ready to integrate that …and hopefully we will never be.  A question of burden and rights …We don’t have the same culture of liberty than you have in Scandinavia or than they would have in the United States …And yes, we would consider that Mormons with their polygamy have no place in our country …

Yes, you can think it’s not respectful regarding individual choices, but Yes, we believe that equality and liberty are birth gifts and are much more important than any later on formal sign or practices assigned by a community …

We try to balance as well as possible between both rights, the individual one and the collective one, and think that the best, but imperfect laws, are the laws of a laic republic.

Yes, I’m not  free, I’m French … Living in France means you have the rights and the duties to understand the fundamental laws and principles of your country, to submit to them when freely and fairly accepted, to transmit them when you can and to fight for them when needed…
Yes, I’m a dreamer, my friend …I dream that the most well educated and free Muslim women would take a part of this french burden …the burden of sacrificing a part of their individual liberty (wearing the hijab) to ensure that the other less free women have a chance to become more free in their choice, to ensure that their daughters will always have the choice they had…the price to pay to live in a free, respectful country.

Yes, I’m a dreamer, my friend …I dream that the most well educated, influent and faithful Muslim women would refuse to wear the hijab and would explain to their community why they do so … because in our unperfect world, it has been and it is too much marred with “violence” against Women, with a big W.

Yes, I’m a dreamer, my friend …I dream that the most well educated Muslim women would give a sense to our French “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” … a true sense for them ,  “Liberty, Equality, Sisterity” … until they will freely be able to consider that gender does not give more or less right or duty in a perfect world …

Yes, I’m also pragmatic …And I know that free and well educated Muslim women are so few  and that without our help they will hardly manage it by themselves …And Yes, I know they don’t feel needing help from unfaithful outsiders,

No, I will never ever wear a Hijab, even as a fancy fashion accessory… until it becomes a ordinary symbol of a free individual choice, all around the world …And, Yes ,meanwhile,  It’s the only little thing I can do … Never ever wear a hijab, , that’s my right  and my duty…I’m French.

Let me end this letter by saying, my friend, how sad I am to trouble the smile you had wearing the hijab, but understand me, I can’t do it another way,
I’m French …I’m not free of closing my eyes and feel the wind blowing in my hairs despite the hijab.

Despite and because of that, I hope to hear from you soon,

Sincerely yours

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Comments
2 Responses to “I’m not free, my friend, I’m French …”
  1. Robert Bedard says:

    Reading your letter is a real enlightenment!
    I feel that is refreshing while we, in Quebec are getting into these water. No, I don’t mind women wearing a hidjab as a result of their own personal free choice. Yes, I am againt women who wear hidjab under fallacious religious community pressure, as I perceive it nowadays more as a sign of submission to all muslim male kind than a free will choice. I believe than Women and men are made equal and neither should carry on their shoulder such burdens as zealous interpretation of any kind of dogma. Am I wrong? Am I a dreamer? Am I xenophob? The answers lie into the glasses we all wear and the influence medias will have on all of us…
    I’m not sure that we will make the right choices for the better of everyone living here… but I’m going to do my best, not out of hatred or ignorance, but out of respect for others and myself.
    Though I have a dream…

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