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.”

Misery memoirs: why is it different for Muslim women?

Samira Ahmed writes in this post why women writing about suffering in Islamic states are slated for supporting a patronising attitude towards those societies. The success of harrowing true stories of abuse and poverty led to a special label for books such as Dave Pelzer’s A Child Called It or Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. But while we can disagree about the literary merits of such “misery memoirs”, neither was accused of being a slur on Irish or American nationhood or the Catholic faith. When it comes to women and women who happen to be Muslim, though, there seems to be a different attitude the author contends. The emerging genre of memoirs about the suffering of women in Islamic states or cultures – which, in western publishing terms, may be described as “misery memoirs” – have been variously criticised for reinforcing “Orientalism”; that is to say, they support the west’s archaic and patronising attitude towards Middle Eastern, Asian and North African societies, rather than actually saying something important about the women in these societies themselves. The author suggests that according to the British publishing world Muslim women can’t write a credible memoir of suffering without it being wrapped up in the struggles of a nation. Yet even if as she suggests we ignore such attitudes, the uncomfortable reality is that the western publishing world is fascinated by such tales of female suffering and misery.

Muslims criticize ‘Lego’ Islamic terrorist toys

A range of Lego-style fighting figurines – including an Islamic terrorist militant – has sparked outrage among Muslims. The toy mini-figures, made by American Will Chapman, includes a masked terrorist bandit with an assault rifle, grenade launcher and belt of explosives. Shocked by the playthings, British Muslim organisation the Ramadhan Foundation has branded the figurines “absolutely disgusting”. Chief executive Mohammed Shafiq said the figures were “glorifying terrorism”. He said: “I don’t think there’s any difference between someone that shouts hatred through a megaphone and someone that creates a doll that glorifies terrorists.”

Full-text article continues here. (Some news sites may require registration)

Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy

In the spirit of Edward Said’s Orientalism, this book graphically shows how political cartoons-the print medium with the most immediate impact-dramatically reveal Americans demonizing and demeaning Muslims and Islam. It also reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the Muslim world in general and issues a wake-up call to the American people.

Full-text New York Times Book Review (January 6, 2008) available here. (Some news site may require registration)