Place de la Republique, Nov. 21. Despite a ban against public gatherings, mourners have continued to flock to the popular protest site to pay their respects to the victims.
Place de la Republique, Nov. 21. Despite a ban against public gatherings, mourners have continued to flock to the popular protest site to pay their respects to the victims.

PARIS (WOMENSENEWS)– For a sense of how the attacks are affecting Muslim girls and women in France, Women’s eNews turned to two Muslim leaders for comment.

The interviews took place in the context that the Paris massacres, Muslims living in Great Britain suffered more than 100 racial attacks, The Independent reported Nov. 23, citing government statistics. Most of the victims were girls or women wearing traditional Islamic dress.

Ismahane Chouder is co-president of the Paris-based Feminist Collective for Equality and author of the two collective books: "The Black Book of Women’s Condition" in 2006 and "The Veiled Girls Speak Up" in 2008.

Zakia Meziani is president of the Tourcoing-based Association for the Recognition of the Rights and Liberties of Muslim women.

They spoke in phone interviews conducted in French and we asked them five questions. Some of their answers have been edited for space.

1. What do you make of the news that most of the terrorists who carried out the attacks were French?

Ismahane Chouder: For my point of view, it is catastrophic. We should ask why something like this is happening. . . . Why are these young French-born people attacking their fellow citizens? I believe it is mainly because of factors such as academic and social failures. But that is not to say that all young French who do not do well at school are going to become terrorists. However, the common factor of these terrorists is that of social failure, of experiencing some sort of rejection.

It is only collectively and together with the civil society, the government, the institutions that we will find a solution.

We should sit together to think and come up with ideas about what to do. Otherwise, unfortunately, it is not going to stop. If we do not act on the causes of why they committed such horrors, we are not going to find the tools to stop them and to offer other alternatives.

We cannot easily reach the young girls who are in the process of becoming estranged from the mainstream because we do not have the necessary means on the ground to approach them. Our group defends diversity and fraternity and tries to overcome differences. But despite that, these girls consider us an enemy instead of potential partners.

Zakia Meziani: I am not a specialist about terrorism. We are dealing with people who are very distant from religion and in a short amount of time have claimed to be specialists in this religion. It is very clear that there is manipulation of the religion. For my part, it is young clueless people. It is very paradoxical. But be assured: It’s not people who know the religion because if they knew it, they would not act as they have.

2. Are you seeing any worsening incidents of bias against French Muslims wearing traditional Islamic attire?

Zakia Meziani: Terrorist attacks can turn discrimination into physical violence. For instance, yesterday (Nov.17), a veiled woman was attacked in Marseille. We can find a lot of acts like these today in the press. However, civil society is also drawing a distinction between terrorists and peaceful and ordinary Muslims. For instance, during a moment of silence in my little town for the victims of the attacks, the mayor warned against the risk of confusing terrorists with Muslims. But it’s only now because of the terrorists attacks. All year we saw a political one-upmanship about who could be more critical of Islam and Muslims. Politicians who stigmatize Muslims contribute in a certain manner to this violence of veiled Muslims.

The question of Islamophobia in France is crucial. Since the first case of the Islamic scarf in France in 1989, stigmatization has increased and has mainly been affecting women. The French government has largely contributed to this discrimination by creating two laws against the veil.

Since the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the kosher super market, Islamophobia acts against veiled women have increased. There is no measure against discrimination because, on the contrary, the law legitimates it. Daily discriminations still exist. Many veiled female students are not allowed to go to class; sometimes they are denied access to recreational centers, doctors or driving schools.

Ismahane Chouder: Politicians here often say that the veil is not French and women who want to wear it should stay in their countries of origin. Malek Boutih, the French socialist Member of Parliament stressed this idea this week on France Inter, a major French public radio channel. This kind of speech does worsen the stigma on veiled women.

3. Is there any kind of broad feminist response in France?

Zakia Meziani: There is no French feminist response to these attacks. Our response is not feminist in itself because it was not women who were targeted but everybody (man, women, children, believers or non-believers). The response is universalist.

Ismahane Chouder: As the president of the Feminist Collective for Equality, we published a press release to absolutely condemn these horrifying attacks. But we don’t see a strong feminist voice in the French scene.

4. Has France taken any outreach steps to its Muslim citizens that you consider particularly helpful either recently or since the Nov. 13 attacks?

Ismahane Chouder: The answer is clearly no.

But we need to differentiate when we talk about the Charlie Hebdo attacks and these on Nov. 13. These events are not the same. The Charlie Hebdo attacks and the one at the kosher supermarket were targeted attacks and they were against freedom of speech. We found then a public discussion that was careful to distinguish between Muslims and terrorists. But at the same time, those attacks led to more Islamophobia attacks on the ground.

Regarding the attacks of Nov. 13, it is different because everyone was attacked.

5. Is there any particular comment you would like to make at this time?

Ismahane Chouder: When there is terrorist attacks by Muslims, it always female Muslims who pay the price for it . . . This is why we should be included in any discussions of war. Around the world, women have always tried to stop war. So we as women, in general, should try to overcome our divisions and find a common cause. Because if not, it will never be over.

Zakia Meziani: I think that women should have a role in helping to build peace . . . We should engage in dialogue with the believers and the whole society. We need to resist the temptation of hate.

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