a fervent defender of freedom

Today, a freezing cold but sunny day. Sitting at my desk at the office, working and furtively reading Le Monde online, I came across an article similar in its intelligence and free-thinking to the writer Kamel Daoud (see previous post.) 33-year old Fatym Layachi is a Moroccan actress and theater director. When progressive, open-minded, cosmopolitan Muslims speak (so eloquently), here in Europe we listen.  Layachi is also a columnist for Le Monde Africa desk.  She lives in Casablanca.


This article would be banned in Morocco. The link is below, I’ve translated a few paragraphs.


Returning to Casablanca after a trip to Rome, our columnist, actress and director gives thought to the wearing of the Islamic full-face veil.

Flight AT 941, Rome-Casablanca. I rarely felt so light on a plane. My suitcase is full of fresh pasta, parmesan, dried tomatoes and Gammarelli socks. I return to Casablanca, my eyes still amazed by the Eternal City. Such a staggering city! Even the paving stones seem to have been touched by grace. There is everything I love about this city. The pomp of the churches, real pasta with carbonara, huge museums, sumptuous statues and good white wine. Rome moved me even more this time.

One thing struck me: in Rome, religion is everywhere. From the virgins to the windows, from the crucified Jesus in bas-relief to the intersection of certain streets, from the crucifixes that overlook the city to the sound of the bells that resonate. And then the Vatican, the highest instance of Catholicism in the middle of the Eternal City. Religion is everywhere, but its weight is not felt anywhere. And that’s what moves me. That’s what I miss in the southern Mediterranean. The presence of religion that does not prevent one from living an absolutely secular lifestyle.

As the popular saying goes, the Italians have “the Pope at home,” but that does not stop them from living without his weight. 

As a result, I still cannot bring myself to understand why freedom of expression in the land of Islam collides with this leaden cloak fabricated by men. My God has 99 immense qualities. It is inevitably greater than the smallness, the pettiness, to which men want to reduce it. And yet, the 256th verse of Surah Al-Baqarah is clear: “No constraint in religion”. But here, at the slightest discrepancy in conduct, the self-proclaimed guardians of morality raise the same argument: “It shakes faith.” I cannot understand how one can say such absurdities. My faith in God, precisely because it is sincere and intimate, can not be shaken by anything external to me. It is my faith in humanity that the Salafist bearded men are likely to taint.

The Phantom Women

This morning, the Moroccan Ministry of the Interior published a rather surprising circular: “The manufacture and marketing of the niqab are prohibited in all the cities and towns of the kingdom.” My first reaction was to rejoice. I admit that the phantom women trouble me. But my convictions catch up with me. I am viscerally attached to individual freedoms. The State has no right to legislate on how we dress. Everyone has the right to dress as he and she pleases. Imposing a uniform, whether a veil, miniskirt or Chanel suit is the prerogative of dictatorships. Yet, I would be lying if I were to consider the wearing of the niqab as an individual liberty like any other. No, the niqab is not a garment like any other.

I am a fervent defender of freedom. However, I am also convinced by the merits of the adage “One person’s freedom ends where another’s begins“. This garment insults and harms me. Yes, I feel insulted when I see a woman in niqab. I feel insulted because this person is telling me that I am unworthy to see her face. By what right does she have to judge me in this way?

I feel insulted because, through this piece of cloth, this woman refuses to show herself to me and refuses, a priori, all contact with me. Levinas asserted that “the dimension of the divine opens from the human face.” It is the singularity of each face that inspires respect. It is by seeing the other that the social bond can be created. Living together begins with a smile.

To be honest, I do not know whether I am for or against a law that would prohibit the wearing of the niqab. But I am absolutely sure of being against the niqab, against what it is saying, against the model of society it defends. The niqab rejects the other and thereby rejects society. It is definitely not a garment like any other.

And why do men want to hide women? Are we that dangerous? I look at myself in the mirror: my hair a mess, my bare arms and my Adidas…are they indecent? I do not believe so. Anyone who thinks otherwise should take a shower. I do not feel indecent.

“A restriction imposed”

Of course, for their part, the Salafists did not wait long to react. Hassan Kettani, a preacher with a broad beard and very narrow ideas, brought out the easy argument of “double standards”. He denounced the fact that “allowing women to dress according to the latest European fashion and preventing them from dressing in Eastern fashion is a restriction imposed on an important part of Moroccan society”. I find this reasoning simplistic and in bad faith. No, the niqab is not a garment like any other. And to say that this is a fashion is an aberrant confession. The hiding of one’s face is not a harmless act.

Why should one feel insulted by the niqab and consider it harmful?

Because it is the symbol of sexist discrimination and the submission of women, because it is more often imposed than chosen, because it is the standard bearer of a political ideology with a hegemonic and liberticidal vocation. (liberticidal = the destruction of liberty).

Juliet in Paris says – It’s important that more free-thinking Muslims speak up, speak out and openly denounce the poisonous ideology, not to mention the tyranny, of Islamist extremism and radical fundamentalism. (On the other hand, this is not easy because they can easily be thrown in jail or become the recipient of a fatwa.)

Personally, I see the veil as a tool and symbol of oppression and subservience. It represents patriarchal oppression in a backward society. As I’ve said before, the full face veil has no place in modern society because it is a medieval relic, somewhat like a chastity belt. That’s my opinion. I’ve heard the argument that some Muslim women put forward – “I feel free when wearing the full veil.” Other than thinking this is a political slogan, I don’t know how to respond to this.




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