What’s so Scary About Muslim Women?

New Orleans       For months ACORN’s affiliate in France, the Alliance Citoyenne, has been campaigning first in Grenoble and then in Lyon and other cities around the ban on the Muslim women from public spaces if they were wearing a hijab or other face, head or body-covering garments.  Direct actions where our members entered public swimming pools wearing burkinis, as they are known, attracted huge attention and international news.

Within the organization, the actions were divisive.  The board in Grenoble debated extensively whether to support the Muslim women among their membership that had brought the issue forward and asked for support.  Finally, the majority ruled to undertake the campaign.  Actively pursing the issue has meant a loss of 8% in our Grenoble membership, but the leadership and organization expresses no regret.

The ban is deeper than swimming, regardless of the record heat waves this summer in France.  In many pools young children could not enter without a parent, and if the woman was wearing covering, they were also banned.  And, that’s not the half of it.  They are also barred from public employment and other services of the state based on this mandatory acculturation and mono-cultural French obsession.

France is not alone.  Austria and the Netherlands passed similar rules, although last reports indicated that the Amsterdam police were not enforcing the public spaces ban.  Talking to our organizer from Montreal ACORN, I was disappointed to hear that Law 21 passed in July, contrary to what I had thought earlier, and is in full force with similar restrictions in Quebec, including restricting public sector employment for veiled Muslim women.  As reported in the Los Angeles Times, the…

“…controversial bill that bans many public employees in the province from wearing religious symbols at work. Teachers, judges and police officers, among other civil servants, can no longer wear Muslim headscarves (hijabs), Jewish skullcaps, Sikh turbans and other symbols of their faith in the workplace.  Even more alarming, the law also prohibits anyone wearing face coverings — Muslim women wearing niqabs (face veils) are the primary target — from receiving government services that include healthcare and using public transit.”

Unbelievable!  Of course, human rights, the United Nations, the ACLU, and other groups are responding, but in the Age of Trump, all of this is going down a very bad road.

All of which makes a recent move, reported by the New York Times, by the NBA world champion Raptors in Toronto, Ontario, Quebec’s neighboring province, even more remarkable.  Working with the Hijabi Ballers, a local organization that promotes Muslim women in sports in the city, the Raptors partnered with Nike to produce a Raptors branded hijab, claiming to be the first NBA team to be so inclusive.  Of course, 400,000 Muslims live in the greater Toronto area, but civil rights groups including the Council on American-Islamic Relations have trumpeted the move.

ACORN leaders and members are still scratching their heads in trying to understand what is so frightening about Muslim women in so many countries, but, regardless, we know where we stand.  With our members.  All of them!

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Giving France’s Yellow Vest Their Due

Gulf Shores     The Yellow Vests or Gilets Jaunes protest in France began in the middle of November of 2018.  In July in rural France in the Rhone/Alps region when ACORN International organizers met at an old farm house fifteen kilometers from St. Etienne, less than ten minutes from our meeting place, we could still see the signs of the Yellow Vests as we passed through our last traffic circle before hitting the farm.  Nearby, just outside of the circle, a tent and plywood headquarters for area Yellow Vests and their protest was still standing and active, even if not fully manned and at the top of their lungs as they had been months before.  Though they might be the scourge of Paris, they seemed accepted and supported here in the countryside.

What is the real story on the Yellow Vests?  Was this a rightwing, Le Pen movement of the angry and anti-Semites protesting modest steps towards climate change or something different?

Yoan Pinaud, head organizer of the Alliance Citoyenne’s local group in Aubervilliers, the lower income, working class suburb of Paris, affiliated with ACORN International, had argued in Social Policy  that the Yellow Vests were a movement erupting to oppose the government for the right reason, mainly its support of the rich and the increasing burden placed on the rest of the population.  Was our organizer just a lonely, hopeful voice in the spring speaking more from hope than reality or was he onto to something?

An article in Harper’s Magazine for August by Christopher Ketcham entitled “A Play With No End:  What the Gilets Jaunes really want,” puts the finger of Yoan’s scale and weighs heavily in the direction that we were making the correct call.  Ketcham found no indication in his discussions with many, both in Paris and outside, that indicated anything other than direct anger at the neoliberal program of current President Macron and his predecessors, even from the Socialist Party.  He finds, with us, that this was a movement based in righteous anger at policies that were excluding the masses and benefiting the rich, where the last straw was the unequal fuel tax on rural and depopulating villages in France.   He cites an Oxfam study from 2015 that found that “the wealthiest 10 percent of French citizens emit some seventeen metric tons of carbon per capita…while the poorest 50 percent emit less than five,” noting in the US that the ratio is 50 metric tons for the same rich percentage versus eight for the poorest 50 percent.

In fact, Ketcham argues that the French establishment “slandered” the Yellow Vests “in service of class interests.”  And, then the established Western media ate it up like candy and repeated the false analysis raw.  The French bourgeoisie reacting to the disruption was as afraid of the Vests as they were in the 1800s of the sans-culottes in the French Revolution and the subsequent terror.  He finds them to be progressives looking for a party and politicians to oppose neoliberalism that has hurt them terribly, especially outside Paris.

They have also won results from their actions that we should all applaud.  Macron made $5 billion euros worth of concessions.  Lower-income families received a tax cut. Pensions were indexed to inflation.  Public service cuts were forestalled, including shelving Macon’s plan to cashier 120,000 public service jobs.  The privatization of Paris Airports has now been stymied and may be defeated.  Of course, Macron also rescinded the fuel tax which had ignited the protests.

Furthermore, and this is perhaps most telling, just as our observation of the Yellow Vest still active outpost outside of St. Etienne, Ketcham writes, it’s not over and still goes on,

“They have refused to be mollified by what they perceive as crumbs tossed from the throne of power.  Their war against the rich, in the age of climate change, is one driven by an understanding unique among protests movements in France:  that the privilege to lord and privilege to pollute are one and the same, and that confronting the climate crisis means a confrontation with unregulated capitalism.  It is a call to arms that should resound across the world.”

They hear it clearly in France, and I swear, I can hear it in the United States and everywhere I go these days.

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Please enjoy “I Only Cry When I’m Alone” by Beth Bombara.

Thanks to KABF.

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