Ask the Women

Yes. I wondered about this a great deal at the time.

Girls do not figure in this “youth uprising”. Stones were thrown in Paris in 1968, too. But the barricades were occupied by men and women, even if the leaders were all men…It is all the more surprising that alongside the justified focus in the French and international press on the issue of racism, the sexism or machismo of these riots has barely been touched on.

Exactly. The riots were discussed as if they were – in however noisy or violent or overenthusiastic a way – representative of Muslim feeling in general. But why assume that? Why not think a little harder and realize that the rioters are all young males, and that not all Muslims are young males, and that violent young males don’t necessarily represent anyone but themselves? And especially, they don’t represent women.

The girls and women in these areas have long been living in fear. As well as being victims of violence within their own families more frequently than the average French woman, they are also at greater risk on the street. The Islamist-influenced boys and men divide women into two categories: saints and whores. The saints stay at home, the whores go out into the world. And they are made to pay. The price ranges from brutal street robberies, that affect women with striking frequency, through to what is called the ‘rotonde’: the form of gang rape to which Kahina‚Äôs sister Sohane was also subjected…[W]hen it gets dark and the rioting begins, there is not a single woman left on the streets. For on fiery nights like these, the “whores” are in just as much danger as the “sons of whores”.

Why did that go so unmentioned last autumn? Because it would or could have been seen as defending the discrimination and deprivation of the banlieus? Maybe. But that doesn’t do the girls and women much good, and they are after all half the people in question.

I did hear something about it on the BBC quite recently – well after the riots – a month or so ago, on the World Service, which irritates me so often. A reporter did an in-depth story on the subject, and talked to a group of girls at a community center. Why was it only young men in the riots? the reporter asked them. Because they don’t think, the girls said, they don’t think about what they’re doing, they just react, they don’t care if they hurt people or destroy things. There wasn’t a trace of sympathy or solidarity or admiration in their voices; they didn’t see the rioters as activists working for their betterment; they saw them as a lot of silly violent jerks. And then the reporter asked about male dominance in general, and those girls cut loose. They are angry, and it’s the men around them they’re angry at. ‘Our honour is in our bodies,’ one girl said indignantly. ‘Our bodies are our honour – they don’t belong to us.’

It’s extremely odd that commentary by outsiders so often – so nearly always – assumes that ‘Muslims’ all have the same basic interests and all think and feel as one. This kind of gulf isn’t small or trivial, yet it gets ignored. Very, very odd. Also stupid. Women may be the only hope.

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