Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Algerian Women at the Edge of Time: New Social Movements Stand against Fundamentalisms

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Algerian Women at the Edge of Time: New Social Movements Stand against Fundamentalisms

Article excerpt

It was only recently that European media started reporting on fundamentalists' attacks on women in Algeria and describing their heroic resistance. However, the sensationalism that surrounds these reports prevents most European (and North American) readers from understanding the genesis and historical development of the present situation, and from seeing the political links between what is happening in Algeria and their own situation and the implications of those links.

Addressing this readership, now, on the question of Muslim fundamentalism, forces us to confront two difficulties: On the one hand, the rise of very vocal Right and extreme Right in Europe -- and the subsequent Islam-bashing we are witnessing -- makes it hard for us to negotiate for ourselves how to denounce fundamentalism outside our countries without giving fuel to those who demonize "Muslims." Like the Communists for the past 50 years, Muslims have become the threatening external enemy to be eradicated, and they are blamed for many of the present internal problems, especially economic ones, of the European countries. Consequently, while inside our countries, the struggles against fundamentalists are waged with great clarity of judgment, once outside our countries emigrants and even political refugees promptly experience a schizophrenic sense of betrayal of their own people and start defending some of the values and politics that they were fighting when they were within their countries.

On the other hand, the cowardly European Left, for fear of being accused of racism, fails to fully acknowledge and recognize in Muslim fundamentalism the seeds of new fascisms.(f.1) Their apolitical form of "tolerance," new philosophies of the right to difference, fragmentation of the people in communities which are more and more exclusive of one another, narrow interpretations of human rights and cultural relativism, all contribute to the Left's willingness to tolerate elsewhere, in the name of "Identity" of the "Other," what they would consider criminal for themselves.(f.2)

In this process, they unwittingly work hand in hand with fundamentalists in the construction of "the Muslim."(f.3) Fundamentalists promote not only their version of Muslimness, but also impose on us all a single forced identity, at a time in history when we would rather stand for our multiple and concomitant identities (constructed simultaneously around gender, class, race, nationality, beliefs, political or sexual choices, etc.). Similarly in the European Left, many are willing to deny us this basic human right, by failing to acknowledge that a significant percentage of people born in Muslim countries and Muslim communities may not accept religion as an essential marker of their identity, or may not be religious at all. In the former Yugoslavia, "Muslim" has even become a nationality and no-one seems to question the linguistic and epistemological value of this categorization.

In this context, denouncing Muslim fundamentalism becomes terribly ambiguous -- much more so than denouncing any other fundamentalism. As a matter of principle, one should not even attempt to understand Muslim fundamentalism outside the frame of the world wide growth of rightist political forces. Muslim fundamentalism is not a religious movement but a political one. And religion is only one of the means fundamentalists use to gain power. The end of this century is also witnessing the fragmentation of people by fundamentalist movements based on culture and on ethnicity.

All these political movements have in common that they have little to offer as political and economic programs. Their focus is on identity and subsequently on women who are seen as the guardians of identity, of cultural and religious values, and of the purity of the blood. The control of women is therefore essential to fundamentalist politics. Muslim fundamentalism's credo is separate development for men and women -- a policy which, when applied to blacks in South Africa under the name apartheid, was loudly condemned by the international community. …

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