From AFP, with thanks to David Russell, who comments: “This issue of ‘ni putes ni soumises’ in France is very interesting, and is probably incomprehensible to most Americans. You can see it in the tone that this article takes, presenting it as a ‘feminist’ issue. Even in France, as you can see, many on the left do not know how to approach the issue…it is a ‘clash of two political correctnesses’: feminism and multiculturalism. Fundamentally it is about the presence of Islamic culture in France, and Islamic ‘behavior’ on the part of Muslim men here…but as you can see…it is often presented in Marxist ‘economic’ terms…the men who perpetrate these acts are poor and down and out etc…although the dreadful acts described occur only in the ‘northern Paris suburbs’ which are populated virtually exclusively by Muslims…”
A year after it launched a campaign to denounce violence against women in France’s high-immigration, high-rise city suburbs, called banlieues, the group “Ni Putes Ni Soumises” has become a nationwide force – but still finds itself held at arm’s length by the mainstream feminist movement.
The organisation – whose name means “Neither Whores Nor Slaves” – was born out of the appalling tragedy that befell a 19-year-old girl, Sohane Benziane, who was set on fire and killed by a boy she knew in a run-down apartment estate in the Paris outskirts in October 2002.
Led by 38 year-old activist FadÃ©la Amara, “Ni Putes Ni Soumises” conducted a much-publicised series of demonstrations around France in early 2003, culminating this year in a Women’s Day march through Paris after which a petition signed by 15,000 people was handed to President Jacques Chirac.
The movement directs its anger at the violence and stigmatisation suffered by young women of North African origin who it says are increasingly the victims of a culture of abuse justified in the name of Islamic tradition in the neglected French banlieues.
“When I was growing up it was perfectly normal for girls to wear short skirts, or tight jeans, or low tops. No man would have dared make a remark.”
“Today – and for the last ten years – femininity is seen by boys as a provocation, as something to be condemned,” Amara said in a recent book.
The group’s message is a frightening one: that social breakdown in the country’s high-immigration neighbourhoods has led to a generation of young Arab men crippled by self-loathing and alienation, who take out their frustrations in aggression against their increasingly assertive female counterparts.
The most symbolic illustration of the phenomenon is the practice of “tournantes” – the gang-rape of young women handed over by their boyfriends for group enjoyment – though of more general significance is the day-to-day abuse and humiliation encountered among the tenements, the group says.
What has exacerbated tensions has been the debate over the Islamic headscarf in schools, which will be banned from September under a highly-contentious law that has just passed through the French parliament.
“Ni Putes Ni Soumises”, which sees resurgent Islamic traditionalism as the major threat to young women, has come out unequivocally in favour of the law and believes the focus of feminist pressure should be “the defence of secularism, the Republic and the fight against fundamentalism.”…
From the start “Ni Putes Ni Soumises” put France’s feminist movement in a quandary, because it explicitly accused mainstream activists of abandoning the “banlieues” in their pursuit of elusive political goals. It also made clear it made no distinction between left and right in apportioning blame for the crisis.