Islamism: News from Djemila Benhabib

In Molenbeek that morning you could count on one hand the number of women not wearing an Islamic veil. On that first real summer day, the others flooded the Chaussée de Gand, the main shopping street of this commune, a stone’s throw from the historic center of Brussels, with their dark profiles.

In this environment, worthy of a street in Rabat or Algiers, Djemila Benhabib finds herself regularly since living in Brussels. How ironic for someone who fled Islamism by leaving Oran in the 1990s to seek refuge first in France and then in Quebec.

“I think it haunts me,” she admits, laughing. Is it Islamism that is haunting Djemila Benhabib, or this fight for secularism that is haunting him? The man who left Quebec almost three years ago gave an interview that day on the occasion of the release of a new book called Maghreb TV, a Belgian-Moroccan television channel Islamophobia, my eye ! (ed. Kennes). We don’t repeat each other. Even away from Quebec, Djemila Benhabib remained the secular activist she became here in the 2000s.

In the heart of the animal

And for a good reason. Brussels is home to the Québec Passionaria of secularism in what many consider to be no less than the European capital of communitarianism. Where jihadists killed 131 people and wounded 350 others on November 13, 2015 in Paris.

We are here in the heart of the beast, she said. “Belgium is a country increasingly divided by religious communitarianism. You don’t have to be a fortune teller to feel it. You just have to walk through the neighborhoods. As a journalist from the newspaper put it By MorganMolenbeek has “become synonymous with everything that can go wrong in a big, mixed city”.

The Salafist groups did not wait for Djemila Benhabib to launch an attack on the European capital. In 2010, Europe’s first veiled MEP was elected here. “Here we feel a desire to exploit the Muslim electorate,” says Mme Benhabib. In the late 1970s, the Belgian state offered Saudi Arabia the keys to Belgian Islam by entrusting it with management of the Grand Mosque of Brussels. Today, Muslims in Brussels vote overwhelmingly for the Socialist Party. »

Who could believe that Greeks, Italians, Poles and Arabs lived together peacefully here in the 1970s? But that’s exactly what Malika Akhdim experienced, a woman in her fifties who grew up near the city and is a member of the Collectif laïcité yallah with Djemila. “It happened gradually. There was no shock. One day my brother went to Afghanistan. He came back from the mullahs fully enlightened. Today I have Salafist nephews who no longer address me and call me a whore because I don’t wear a veil. Do you understand why we need Djemila? »

As a teenager in Oran in the 1980s, she still thought of Islamism as a purely Algerian or Arab problem. “We never thought that one day we would cut the throat of a teacher in France, as we did in Algeria. We have not understood that Islamism is being exported from Algeria to Africa and Europe. To date, Algeria has not made any inventory of this period. We just wanted to heal by forgetting. »

A “low-noise” progression

In her latest book, Djemila Benhabib paints a picture of this Islamism, which is progressing “quietly” in Belgium, but also in France and Quebec. All thanks to what she calls “no vagueness”, that fear of hurt, of stigma, that obsession with consensus that silences even the most enlightened minds.

In particular, she tells how her boyfriend, the comedian Sam Touzani, was unable to perform in Molenbeek for almost 10 years. The city was then run by the late Mayor Philippe Moureaux, a Brussels Socialist Party tenor who is now accused of clientelism. Because he spoke about Morocco and Islam, Touzani was threatened with beatings when he left the shows.

“When I came to France with my family in 1994, we expected left-wing intellectuals to show solidarity with us. We were surprised to find the opposite. Since Islam is the religion of the oppressed, nothing can be said. I found myself at odds with my political family. We not only had to mourn for our country, but also for our political family. I didn’t hesitate to do this. »

Djemila Benhabib, who is often accused of “Islamophobia,” rejects this term, which “was invented to keep the blind blind,” as Salman Rushdie writes in his novel Joseph Anton. One way to stifle the debate, she stresses.

However, not a day goes by when Islam does not make headlines in Belgium. Fearing losing their Muslim voters, the Socialists one day refused to pass a law outlawing the ritual slaughter of animals (without stunning) according to Muslim tradition. Another day, the wearing of religious symbols by the staff of a court in the Liège region was the subject of debate. Since arriving in Brussels, Djemila Benhabib and her companions have had to defend two Tunisians who were expelled from a refugee camp because they were atheists. In another center it was necessary to protect a Moroccan transsexual who was being abused by her co-religionists. This will even force the state to open centers reserved for LGBTQ+.

An open wound

Without her aging parents, it is not certain that Djemila Benhabib would have left Quebec. Were it not for this offer as project manager for the Center d’action laïque (CAL), a very influential organization in Belgium in the late 1960s, instead of “recognizing no religion” as required by the 1905 law In France, on the other hand, Belgium decided to recognize several of them. So that atheists and agnostics are not left out, the Belgian state finances the Central Secular Council, of which the CAL is a member, which is responsible in particular for secular moral courses in the public school network.

From Quebec, Mr.me Benhabib misses her friends she had to leave. This Quebec of which, before she arrived there in 1997, she only knew the song Helen by Roch Voisine. “Who isn’t even Québecois, as I later learned,” she says.

But a memory haunts her. On this day, February 12, 2017, after the attack on the Quebec Mosque, she was banned from speaking at the Maison de la Literature in Quebec “so as not to offend the Muslim community,” writes Radio-Canada. Long before SLAV, Kanata and Mélissa Lavergne, who was recently sacked as spokeswoman for the Nuits d’Afrique festival for being “white”, Djemila Benhabib was one of the first victims of the ” cancel culture “. This gesture of “purification of public speech”, she says, she never digested. In his case, the censorship may have been “softer” since the meeting was finally postponed three months later, “I was convicted even before I have spoken. Well, I didn’t expect that. Something broke inside me that day.

The kind of wound that won’t heal.

To see in the video

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