Mennel Ibtissem: “Our collective silence won’t save us”
French-Muslim singer Mennel Ibtissem won’t sing anymore in “The Voice” after alt-right groups began calling for her dismissal over remarks she wrote on Facebook in 2016.
I do not usually watch television especially when it comes to all these reality talent shows. This could be explained by the fact that it’s a secret to no one that television has turned our brains into spaces to fill with commercials of all kinds on behalf of companies from across the globe.
That is the main reason why I was not in front of my screen to watch the first auditioning of Mennel Ibtissam, a young french female Muslim on the very popular French version of The Voice. Nevertheless, it was impossible to miss the ensuing war on social media and the cyber lynching she went through.
I won’t comment on the quality of her performance. That is not my point. It could have just been a random but great audition from a regular young French woman from a regular French city. I could not care less. However, what happens goes beyond what usually happens after such a show. During her performance and for hours afterwards, Mennel Ibtissam, who was unknown to the rest of the country just a few days ago found herself in the mids of an ideological battlefield.
To sum things up, the convergence between left and right wing bigots has been fulfilled. Right wing pressure groups who define being French as being first and foremost white skinned and whose dogma is the great replacement of whites by non whites have in the name of islamophobia found solid allies in the left wing secular fundamentalists whom have hijacked laïcité and believe is should be infinitely broadened. To both camps, a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf is nothing but a ‘Trojan Horse’ spreading political Islam and a visible sign of oppression and submission of women.
Because of her performance on live television, Mennel has become the symbol of the witch hunt Muslim women have fallen victims of. Her pas publications on social media were brought back to light within hours and she was even described as the new ‘Tariq Ramadan’. Nothing more.
“We all remember how fast and easily Rokhaya Diallo, the French activist was dismissed and fired from the National Digital Council board for her strong criticism of state racism and its expression by the police”
I won’t waste your time and mine by mentioning the 2.0 Muftis’ reactions who from their Twitter account delivered fatwas, mostly insults against the integrity of this woman because she dared to sing and dresse as she wants. #Metoo has still a long lasting future.
I won’t waste your time and mine by the reactions of some who for no rational reasons manage to find antisemitism everywhere because this woman, a Muslim woman, decided to sing Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’. A Muslim singing a song written by a Jew. No doubt it is antisemitism. I am still trying to see the logic behind it.
It could all have ended on Saturday night. I wish we could have let audiences at home enjoy some moments of joy and music sitting in front of this popular TV show. We could have let Ibtissam sing freely like any other candidate, but no.
It couldn’t be this way because of the very unique and long lasting process now taking place in France which is focussed on evicting, making invisible, systematically disqualifying any person whose identity is deemed “suspicious”.
It could be because of the color of your skin, your name, your religious or national background, whatever. You will be guilty before while awaiting your trial by the mobs. Every word, every Tweet, every post, every picture you have shared will be scanned and scrutinized to prove your guilt. We all remember how fast and easily Rokhaya Diallo, the French activist was dismissed and fired from the National Digital Council board for her strong criticism of state racism and its expression by the police. As religious and/or ethnici minorities in France, we are all awaiting to be found guilty.
“But why are we condemning this young girl? Because of her two year old tweets?”
I doubt any other candidate since the launching of the show many years ago has ever had to go through what Mennel is going through. But if we are to end up being found guilty, what are we guilty about?
Guilty because we call out structural discrimination by the French state itself, whether it is voluntary or not is another debate, but the fact is that racism cannot be implemented without state agents.
Guilty to call out the shrinking of our individual freedoms and because such shrinking first and foremost shapes the idea that one community needs to be under surveillance.
Guilty and labeled the new potential antisemites because being seen as Muslims makes it natural to be labeled so. Some others are labeled antisemites because they dare to call out Israel and its brutal policies.
Yes, many are guilty because of being too critical, too loud, for refusing to accept the status quo and for being reluctant to stay silent.
But why are we condemning this young girl? Because of her two year old tweets? Tweets that unfortunately so many of French citizens share with her? Or is it because she shared some Tariq Ramadan post years ago?
“For all the past Mennels, present and future we have the duty to speak the truth to the dominant and to #RaiseOurVoices and stand united”
I would love to understand why this young woman became in less than a week the center of public outcry and storm even as she apologised publicly and expressed regrets for her Tweets when she did not have in a country that stands for “freedom of thought” and “freedom of expression”. How can I explain to my former students and members of my family that we became suddenly so inflexible towards Mennel while we have been so tolerant and understanding towards other French artists who expressed exactly the same feelings on international plots? How could I explain to the many anonymous Mennels out there the double standards and witch hunts that apply to minorities? How could I ?
For all the past Mennels, present and future we have the duty to speak the truth to the dominant and to #RaiseOurVoices and stand united. Our silence will not save us.