Letter to Natacha Polony: the “Muslim youth” of her fantasies doesn’t exist

On July 28, 2014, journalist Natacha Polony wrote a letter in the Figaro addressed to a “young Muslim compatriot.” The letter was “vague and abstract, and feeds without doubt a traditional fantasy, that of a homogenous and reified Muslim community, stuck between ‘the balance of rights and responsibilities for the old country.””

The article’s writers-Nadia Hemmi-Moulai, Hanane Karimi, and Fatima Khemilat- argue that the figure that Natacha addresses does not exist. “To invent a person is not to have dialogue, to exchange or to interact, it’s to fantasize, to speculate and to make remarks to which the figure can neither respond to nor refute.” There are over five million people in France with Muslim origins, “that would be a lot of people to talk to!”

The writers contend that Polony’s article implies that the Muslim youth should be responsible, under the pretext of a communal Islam, for every atrocity committed by those “on the other side of the planet.” The remarks Polony makes on the Christians persecuted in Iraq, Tariq Ramadan or the Syrian “jihadists,” demonstrates a growing tendency to express “a negative solidarity and a collective responsibility of ‘Arab-Muslims.’”

The three authors point to the similarities between Polony’s description of an “Arab-Muslim” society that is “full of freedom, intelligence and sensuality” and Edward Said’s chronicles, of the East’s “romanticism.” The three authors argue that within this context, French Muslims will then be asked to choose between two beliefs that are presented as contradictory: that of a citizen in the public sphere and a religious believer in the private sphere.

Natacha Polony refers to the “young Muslim compatriot” in the less formal verbal address, “tu” rather than “vous.” “This skewed relaxation is reminiscent of the ‘little negro’ of paternalistic language” the article argues. The authors state that Polony speaks from a position of privilege: college professor and essayist, which promotes the problematic figure of the “Muslim youth.”

“The never-ending episode of the three students refusing to read the text of Genesis, the amalgamation and infantilization of the devotees of Islam…is who she claims to educate. How can she reproach adolescents for a lack of understanding of secularism when a large number of journalists and politicians use it as a tool of discrimination?” they ask.

The article concludes: “If ignorance was a threat to secularism, certain members of the journalistic body would unfortunately be the flag bearers.”