What to do with Economic Inequalities

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Studying economic inequalities seems to be the new “fashion” in the last couple of years among academics and researchers. It is undoubtedly that “Occupy Wall Street movement” and its European counterpart “le mouvements des Indignés” have something to do with it. Those social movements, to their credit, brought to the public space, new concepts like the “90%” versus the “10%” or even the “99%” versus the “1%”. They became the slogan of these movements.

Unfortunately, rare are of those studies or books that would call for a total rethinking and reshaping of the capitalist and neoliberal system. Instead, these studies on the inequalities would most of the time justify them and portray them as “inevitable” or even defend the “1%” by claiming that they are the one pushing the economy forward.

Of course, “The Capital in the Twenty First Century” by Thomas Picketty, in an unprecedented and thorough study about the rise of the economic inequalities in Western Europe and the US, rightly pointed to the cause of these inequalities: the accumulation of wealth with a tiny proportion within the society and hence he proposed a special tax on wealth, to better distribute the incomes.The principal message of Picketty is that the wealth in western countries reached high level that surpassed the growth rate of their economies and that cannot be justified by real productivity or growth (thus, the danger of financial crises). Despite this, the critics of Picketty quickly dismissed his crucial message and instead jumped to accuse him of being a “modern Karl Marx” in reference of the “Capital” book by Karl Marx. Some of these virulent critics went even to consider the work of Picketty as ideologically motivated and not at all based on economic assumptions.

Angus Deaton, a prominent economist from Princeton who received the Nobel Prize of Economics in 2015, published a book in 2013, named “The Great Escape: Health, Wealth and the Origins of Inequalities.”

Contrary to Picketty, Deaton’s intentions are not to identify the inequalities as one of the “main culprits” behind the poverty and lack of development of some countries. Rather, he blames the spread of diseases and health issues as the main reasons behind people economic fallout. He believes that the world populations were able to achieve some level of development because of the improvement of their medical accessibility: hospitals, medications, research…He refers to this as the “Great Escape”, the escape from diseases, from poverty, and thus from inequalities. Another factor that Deaton believes has improved people’s lives around the world is “globalization”.

For this, he gives the examples of countries like Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand and Botswana, who had an economic growth rate higher than 4% per year in the period between 1960 and 2010.

However this economic growth didn’t translate automatically into economic equalities between the countries and inside the same country.

Hence, in China a country with a high growth rate, and with an economy that would soon surpass the American’s, the average income in China remains 20% of the American’s.

Despite those flagrant inequalities, Deaton, thinks that it is the ingenuity and intelligence of people that would make them advance and lead them to win over poverty. Even if this progress will be met with increasing inequalities at some point.

Contrary to the book of Picketty, Deaton’s was well received by the neoliberal reviews. Even when Deaton exposed the financial debacles of Wall Street and how the government bailed out the financial institutions using the usual refrain of “Too big to fail”, he didn’t go anywhere further to put in question, the “accepted” and “justified” institutionalized greed underlying today’s neoliberalism.

Deaton continues to believe in globalization as an engine of development and explains the inequalities between countries and within countries as “mismanaged globalization”. But he doesn’t tell us how these inequalities can be kept in control without falling in social unrest. He doesn’t provide us with any concrete actions on how the health conditions of poor countries can break out of the circle of poverty specially knowing that inside those same countries government, corruption and lack of democratic institutions are all linked together.

Picketty book’s introduced a classical tool to defy inequalities: taxes. But, this was immediately, considered as a socialist measure. Deaton candidly admits in his book that “Equality policy required by democracy is still threatened by economic inequality”. Nevertheless, he remains mum on how to achieve and implement that much need “equality policy”.




Where is Home?

Great population movements have always marked humanity. Religious traditions are full of stories of people fleeing persecution, escaping diseases, running away from natural disasters. The biblical story of “Noah’s Ark” is probably one the first stories of both human and animal migration fleeing natural disaster, something we would call today the climate change consequences. Exodus, another biblical reference, tells us about the ancient migration of Jewish people fleeing political and racial persecution by the Egyptian Pharaoh to look for freedom in the land of Canaan.

Mohamed, Prophet of Islam, established the first Islamic city in Medina, far from his beloved native city: Mecca that persecuted him and his fellowers. The date of that migration marks the “hegire” calendar or Migration calendar also called the Islamic calendar.

In Canada, we live in a land of animal migration. In and out. From here to there. From there to here. Just think of the Monarchs, those beautiful majestic butterflies flying thousands of miles from Canada to Mexico, laying their eggs along their southern routes and later returning to their homeland. But in reality where is their homeland: Canada or Mexico? The species can’t survive without both. So home is a little bit “here” and a little bit “there” and vice versa…

Think also about the annual salmon run going against the current from the Pacific Ocean to spawn and later die in the rivers of the interior lands. Their offspring take the opposite route from the rivers to the cold and open water of the Pacific Ocean where they will grow and strive.

And how about Caribou migration where every year many thousand of animals migrate from the tree-line to the calving grounds of the remote Artic Tundra and then back again to the summer and autumn. These animal migration are today strong symbols of who we are as a country but why do we forget them when it comes to human beings?

These animal migration cycles came to be seen as natural phenomenon and part of the natural balance of our ecosystem. Many animals die in the process but the general population survive and get stronger and healthier because of it.

So why, when it comes to human migration, barriers are established, walls are built and military check points are strongly defined and enforced?

In the last years, the Mediterranean Sea has become to represent a hecatomb, a multifaith and multi racial graveyard of people dreaming of a better life. People fleeing wars, persecution, and poverty. People looking for a better future for their children: decent lives, a good education and most importantly peace.

But this is not what we are hearing in the media or by some populist politicians. These refugees, are depicted as economical, cultural, and identity threats. Very few countries had the political courage to accept them and let them integrate in their societies and help them fulfill their dreams. Instead the majority of European countries for instance, refused to accept more refugees. They purposely changed their laws to stop these big numbers of people arriving from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, African countries, at their shores. Not only this, but the refugees are today tracked through drones, their biometrics data taken and shared with police and government agencies. They became to be represented as a homogenous entity; they are portrayed as looking the same, eating the same, behaving the same. As if refugees is a sub human groups with less humanity and more problematic behaviours. This narrative is dangerous; it perfectly fit the narrative of division between “us” and” them”. It makes the “us” feel better in their own bubbles and it makes the refugees and newcomers look like the “barbaric herds” that can never be trusted to be part of the “us”.

But once again, who is “us” and who is the “them”? Aren’t we both “us” and “them”? Isn’t there a fluidity and resilience in our common humanity that makes us simultaneously the same and different? It is exactly this human characteristic that is being attempted to “erase” or overlooked within the refugees and that is after all despite all odds always present and that would finally brings us together.

This essay was first published at Six Degrees Citizen Space 2016 http://www.6degreesto.com/article/where-is-home/

Reflections from Hajj

kaaba_2016Hajj or the pilgrimage to Mecca is the fifth pillar of Islam. It seems to be the least known pillar of Islam or the least talked about among Muslims. This year was my first experience to be blessed by the call of Allah to visit this sacred place and perform the rituals of Hajj. I just came to realize that Hajj is undoubtedly one of the hardest and physically enduring pillar but also I came to understood how equally important as praying, fasting or giving charity Hajj should be for the life a believer.

During Hajj, the physical hardship and the spiritual fulfilment are intimately interwoven. Both meet in a place of harmony and serenity. They go hand in hand. You go back and forth between physical demands and spiritual enjoyments. You easily skip between the present and the past. Between Prophet Ibrahim, Peace Be Upon Him, the one who named us Muslims, and Prophet Mohammed Peace Be Upon Him, the one who showed us how to live like Muslims. In Hajj, both the brain and the body are at work. Feelings and body muscles come so close to each other in a subliminal marriage.

Meditation follows actions and actions follow meditation. Hajj is an amazing pillar. I felt in love with it. By accomplishing Hajj, a Muslim feels that she is part of the whole humanity, not a progeny of your mother and father, not only related to your family, not only part of your little microcosm of friends and community, not just a citizen of a country, but rather connected to the whole humanity. A particle in the Cosmos but still a particle that exists. You literally feel that you are a small particle in the whole universe, turning around the One and the Unique, circumambulating around his House. Praying to him, the only One, adorning Him, connecting with Him. Your voice, your heart, your soul, your sight, your voice, everything in you turns around and praise the only One. Your turn and call on Him. You are with the One. You aim to blend with the One. The atoms turns around the Nucleus. The atoms get closer and closer to the One. Round after round, you don’t wish to stop. You finish one round and start another. The communion is forever. The Black Stone, that stone that symbolically marks the corner from which one starts her turns is a “magical” entity. I don’t mean it gives any magical powers but its presence is so intriguing. The Black Stone is at the same time an entry point and an exit point. The start line and the finish line. Life and death meet there. The beginning and the end. A huge symbolic point to our lives.

Looking at the Kaaba, the austere cubic structure, the Old House built Prophet Ibrahim and his son Ismael, Peace be Upon Them, is another “magical” sight. My eyes can’t get off it. They keep looking, and following the movement. Feeling as if your heart is flying in the air meeting the One, connecting with the One.

I love circumambulating around the Kaaba. It is a beautiful prayer, not any prayer. Not standing up and prostrating and standing up again like in any other prayer but something even deeper and stronger. A physical movement full of love that brings you closer to the One. You don’t want to stop the movement you don’t want to stop the prayer, you don’t want the encounter with the One to disappear. Once again the start and the finish meet together in an incredible journey.

Circumambulating around the Kabaa or turning around the Kaaba reminded me of the salmon run. A story of migration. Not any migration. The trip of life, love and death. We leave home to find home. We leave our family to find other friends and families. We leave comfortable lives to face death, but discover another sort of life, a spiritual life, the beginning of an eternal life, a true life.

The Challenge of Words

For me, words exist to tell stories. Simple stories and complex ones. Sad stories and happy ones. Beautiful stories and ugly ones.

Many times, people ask me: in which language do you think? And each time I have the same surprised reaction. Each time, I promise myself to pay more attention to the language I am thinking in and each time I forget or may be my mind plays tricks on me and makes me unconsciously forget.

Words are confusing exactly like identities. When I go out in the public, do I really think of who am I? A Canadian? A Muslim? A woman with a scarf or hijab? A mother? A wife of a torture survivor? An immigrant? How to live with all these identities at the same time? Emphasizing one, dropping another, keeping a low profile one, boasting about another or amalgamating and juggling all together and try to be at peace?

I grew up in a Tunisia. So when I tell to people around me I am African, people frown at me with dismay thinking of a bad joke… So why am I not black? And then I quickly add I am North African and that slightly makes it more credible but nevertheless confusing. But even being a North African is problematic today. Especially in France. But that is another story.

My mother tongue is Arabic but my family name is Berber. The Amazigh are one of the indigenous tribes of North Africa. So when I meet North African with Berber origins, their first question to me is: do you speak Amazigh? When I sheepishly respond no, I am immediately considered as a false indigenous. A traitor. A culture failure. An assimilated one, someone with just a name but not the strong beating heart of a Berber. Something like the Islamness or blackness of Barak Obama…

But even for Arab speaking people, I can barely pass the test. I am Tunisian and the Arabic dialect I speak is filled with French words. So for the purist Arab Middle Eastners like my in-laws, I speak French, and for the purist French people, I speak Arabic.

As you can see, I can never win. I am a linguistic bastard…

Arriving in Quebec, as an immigrant didn’t make my life easier as I didn’t have the Quebecois accent and that was considered a problem for my integration.

Not only my accent was problematic but my appearance with a hijab is considered as a sign of women oppression and alienation. Apparently, I have some para normal powers: wherever I go my hijab shatters years of women struggle. No matter how hard I worked to prove the opposite and join the “us”, I kept always considered to be the “others”.

So finally, I moved to Ontario and discovered the genius of multiculturalism as introduced by the father of our “cool” Prime Minister. I thought that my multiple identity crises would be buried forever. Unfortunately for me and for the world, 9/11 attacks happened and since I have been judged and looked upon through the deforming lenses of terrorism.

Fortunately, words saved me. They saved from oppression, they saved me from depression, they saved me from victimhood. In a world, where it became so easy to loose one’s own sanity, words are my saviours. I attack with words and I defend with words. Dictators and extremists are certainly scared of arms but no wonder they are even more scared by ideas and words.

Today, I write to better understand the world and myself. I write in English, a language I started learning in high schools while listening to Madonna. You can understand that even Shakespeare would distance himself from me. I write in French, not the one my in-laws think I am speaking, but the real French. Well, hopefully! And I keep reading a lot in Arabic and guess what: I still don’t know in what language I think of…

I wrote this text and read it in a panel at Stratford Festival, Ontario, organized by CBC Ideas program.




Banning the Burkini in Cannes: Continuing Oppressing Women Under the Name of Liberation

So recently, the mayor of Cannes in France issued a ban on burkinis. Burkinis is a made-up name for special full-body swimming garment: a hybrid between Burqa and Bikini. In reality, a burkini is a swimming suit composed of leggings and a sort of a short dress worn on top of it. Some burkinis have a hoodie attached and with some other you add a hijab that would cover the head.

I didn’t grow up knowing burkinis. I used to go to the beach and wear a bathing suit. Later, when I decided to wear hijab, I used to put a long dress and hijab. In water, this can be so uncomfortable and heavy and when you go to sit on the beach it collects tons of sand and you feel you instantly gained extra pounds of weight.

At some point I decided to stop swimming, as I felt so much annoyed by the sand and the curious looks. An experience that was supposed to be fun and joyful turned to become itchy and embarrassing. I had the impression everyone would like at me.

And then, I started hearing about some nice suits that modestly cover the body but are made of appropriate fabric that wouldn’t keep the water and would dry as soon as you are out of the water. At that time, no body called these suits burkinis. We didn’t have a specific name for them. We just called them bathing suit for hijabis.

I think they first appeared in Turkey and Malaysia ( I also read somewhere that it was originally designed by an Australian designer of Lebanese descent, Aheda Zanetti) and I remember one of my friends borrowed a suit from another friend who bought it from Turkey and took it to a seamstress and asked her to do something similar.

In Tunisia, Burkinis made their appearance in beaches in the early 2000s. Before then, many women swam either in bathing suits; some others in bikini but many women would wear long dresses or didn’t swim at all. The contact of the long dresses with water and by the effect of pressure and water, they inflate like balloons so women have to keep burst these bubbles of air each time they stand up in the water. Needless to say, that with a long dress, you can’t really swim and move fast. You just dip in the water and stay there. Moreover, once outside the water, the wet dress becomes so tight on the body revealing the shape of the woman and thus defeating the purpose of modesty that a full body suit is supposed to achieve.

Burkini came as the ideal creation. It gave women the opportunity to enjoy water, beach, swim with her friends, kids and family without necessarily looking like an alien.

I remember the first time I went to buy a burkini in Tunisia, it was like trying to buy alcohol in Canada when you are underage. It was in 2008, the dictatorship of Ben Ali was still in place and all sign of religious symbols were suspicious to say the least. Burkini, like hijab, was of course considered in Tunisia as a sign of affiliation with Islamic groups and thus selling them would mean for the regime encouraging women to join these mouvements. So I went to the souk and I asked some store about them. The seller would look at me and assess my real intentions and then once I passed the “test”, he would bring from, literally under the table, one or two packages with a burkini inside them so I can see the models.

But after, the Arab Spring, burkinis were freely sold even in large supermarkets and women who whished to buy one, could freely do so.

It is interesting to note that Tunisian beaches today are full of women wearing burkinis. Even some women, who are not wearing hijab, would go for a burkini.

(It must be mentioned here that women in bathing suits are not harassed but it is very common in these societies that men would stare at women so burkinis is a way to keep some of these unwanted stare away or limited. By no means, burkini would become a way to control to opposite sex attitudes, as this is a matter of education that has never been tackled)

Of course, for people who still consider women covering their bodies as a sign of oppression, burkinis joined the list of words and clothing that linked Muslim women to the world of darkness. For many Muslim women who didn’t want other people commenting on their bodies or showing off their skin for public consumption, burkini achieved the total opposite. It combined liberation with modesty: the best of two worlds!

The recent decision of France to ban burkini from the beaches in Nice is another example of anti-Muslim attitudes wrapped under the disguise of women liberation and combatting religious extremism. All what it will do is: to alienate French Muslim women furthermore and of course prevent them from a nice refreshing swim in the Mediterranean Sea.

What bothers me even more is the total silence of Western feminists. Their silence is disappointing for this is a perfect example of male interference with female choices.

When women are banned from driving in Saudi Arabia, all western feminists would mobilize and stand up (rightly so) to denounce the arbitrariness, abusive and patriarchal nature of such decision. When women in Iran are punished for showing more hair in public or going out with make up, the outrageous reaction of Western feminist is so intense ( and yes we should be outraged) but when Muslim women are banned from going to the beach wearing a burkini, all you hear is silence or whispers. The burkini ban perfectly fits the old equation, so why bother?

Islam= Women oppression

How can a country, considered as a beacon of rights and freedom go so low and do this to its won citizens?

In France, it isn’t a secret that women are allowed to go topless on beaches. There are even some beaches especially designated for nudists. But to prevent women to swim because of the length of their swimming suit is a silly and a simply revengeful reaction. Once again, one of the most vulnerable groups of a society have to pay for the incompetence and failures of the politicians.

At least, and for a small temporary confort, we have some powerful words from Arundhati Roy who commented about the banning of burqa in France in 2010:

“When, as happened recently in France, an attempt is made to coerce women out of the burqa rather than creating a situation in which a woman can choose what she wishes to do, it’s not about liberating her, but about unclothing her. It becomes an act of humiliation and cultural imperialism. It’s not about the burqa. It’s about the coercion. Coercing a woman out of a burqa is as bad as coercing her into one. Viewing gender in this way, shorn of social, political and economic context, makes it an issue of identity, a battle of props and costumes. It is what allowed the US government to use western feminist groups as moral cover when it invaded Afghanistan in 2001. Afghan women were (and are) in terrible trouble under the Taliban. But dropping daisy-cutters on them was not going to solve their problems.”


The evolving meanings of “hijab”

About 25 years ago, I decided to put on “hijab”. It was one of the most difficult decisions in my life. From the camp of the “modern”, I switched to the camp of the “backward”.  From  the group of “normal”, I jumped to the “abnormal” one, I became a social embarrassment, an extremist, a “khowanjia”( a member of the Muslim Brotherhood), or a “khomeynist”  ( a supporter of Imam Khomeini and by extension of the Islamic Iranian Revolution). Wearing a “hijab” became my new identity, whether I liked it or not.

I was always a spiritual person, growing up going to the mosque with my father, reading Quran, reading history books about Islam, prophets, religions. My surrounding was not particularly religious. Rather, I would say my friends were culturally Muslims, not very much observant. At school, the worst subject was “Civil and Islamic education”. The professor usually affected to teach these subjects lacked the passion, the knowledge and the pedagogical tools to do it. Everybody waited for the teacher to finish his or her rant and most of the students cheated on exams by writing little notes to memorize the verses or hadith. This is all to say that my “islamic identity” wasn’t forged in school. My family wasn’t also particularly religious. We were practicing but nothing deeply conservative. My father never asked me to cover my hair. He wasn’t very happy when I told him that I am going to start wearing hijab but he told me that it was my decision and that it is up to me.

Tunisia was in the midst of “cracking down” on the Islamists. Immediately, after deciding on wearing a hijab, I became considered by the authorities as one of them. Even though, I never belonged to any political party in Tunisia. The hijab became to be the “banner for political Islam” as they claimed. I became that banner.

Wearing a hijab was for me a deeply religious act. Before wearing a hijab, I had a double life. I explain myself: from what I was wearing and how I looked nobody have thought that I was religious or that I would go home and pray for example. Being one person at home and leaving all this behind me to become another person outside and show that I fitted in the “modern society”, that I was a liberated girl who can do whatever she wanted, didn’t make me at peace with myself. I call it Schizophrenic Identity Syndrome. Outside, I was tempted by fashion, make-up, boys… Then in my moment of privacy I would think about all of it and found myself not really interested and not really ready to embrace those things. They didn’t fit my personality and they didn’t fit my spiritual component. Nevertheless, society won’t leave you alone. Social pressure, peer pressure, culture, traditions, everything question your choices and want you to behave like the norm. Being normal. But I wasn’t normal. I questioned cultural expectations about the role of women, I questioned the cultural expectations about how we are supposed to dress and please boys and men. Why do I have to do my eyebrow, why do I have to straighten my hair, why do I have to be thin, why do I have to show my “boobs” in a nice tight dress or shirt? Islam, as I understood it, allowed me to be myself and to be accountable to God only and not to society or the surrounding culture. For some, Islam was oppression, for me it was liberation. And indeed, I felt a sense of relief after starting wearing hijab. A relief from those boxes waiting for me to be fitted in them. Boxes that are usually bigger or smaller but never fitted my questions or my opinions.

With the sense of relief, came also the sense of “defending my choice”. I was always asked, question after question about the reasons that pushed me for wearing hijab. No matter how well I answered and how sophisticated or how simple were my answers, they were rarely met with conviction or satisfaction. There must be a brother hidden behind my back forcing me to cover, or a despotic father brainwashing me, or a poor mother, trying to make me look like her or a cheikh whispering in my ears. My choice was never accepted as it was: an adult decision with strong desire to follow islamic faith and teachings.

Today, many things changed. I am older, I live in Canada and hijab went through many trials and several political battles. With time also, the meaning of hijab evolved. Yes, it is still about modesty but it is an identity symbol and a sign of resistance to all other temptations. Not necessarily sexual temptations, but consumerism temptations, hyper sexualization temptation…In other words, the new boxes prepared for me when I was 20 by an Arab, secular with Islamic inspiration society, were replaced 25 year later by other prettier boxes but still as hollow and superficial: middle aged women should die their hair, should be fit, should wear tight cloth to make sure that they are still in fashion and attractive, should be financially independent, should shop and have fun and show her friends on social media that she is happy and fulfilled…Obviously, I didn’t want these boxes and my hijab came to symbolize this resistance.

Ironically, I look around me and many of the young and older women wearing hijab are not bothered by these new boxes. Even if hijab was for years wrongly described as a sign of women oppression and is still so, some smart “businesses” are embracing hijab, not ideologically but for business reasons. “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade” that seems to be their motto. Hijab became a lucrative opportunity for many businesses. Muslim youtubers are becoming so famous teaching young hijab fashionista how to do wrap their scarves, how to make their head look bigger, how to do make up, how to be a modern hijabi. Hijab became a brand, and hijabi, another potential customers, a market to be conquered.

Gone are my naive ideals of resistance, social justice, equality, that came along a deeply religious feeling about hijab. Gone are those ideals, taken away by a globalized world, where even modesty became a traded good that can be bought and sold.

I am not trying to say that there exists only one meaning to hijab and that I hold it and have the monopoly over it. Not at all. I am just trying to convey this feeling of evolution on how we are and how some symbols can seem radical at one time became later one accepted or  emptied from their first meaning at another time. I am not also saying that hijab is today better accepted than before. It is still perceived as a sign of oppression and rejected by the main stream culture, however, there is some change in attitudes among Muslims and Non-Muslims alike and that should be taken as an opportunity for a better understanding of hijab.


What Does it Mean to be a Muslim Woman in a Secular Democracy?

This is a dangerous and ambiguous question. Why?

 It implicitly assumes that there is one definition of “Muslim’, one understanding for “woman” and one sort of “secular democracy”

 In reality, all theses words are evolving today very fast. They can have not one particular meaning but several.

 I met many people who drank wine, don’t pray, don’t fast and still consider themselves Muslims.

 On the other hand, when you hear in the news that “Muslims” commit terrorist acts, very often, the perpetrators abused their wives, drank wine, were not particularly religious. But still, they are associated with Islam. Their violent actions come to represent Islam.

 So who is Muslim and who is not? Is it a question of rituals? Is it more about actions and attitudes? Is there a typical Muslim model that all Muslim should adopt and embrace? I don’t know.

 As far as I am concerned, I consider myself a woman. But today, there is an ongoing discussion about gender. What is to be a man and what is to be a woman? Does the sex only define femininity and masculinity? Some people consider themselves “gender neutral”.

 For years, women have been calling for equality and for more rights. We still live in a society where women are still behind compared to men in terms of pay equity, job promotion, political representation…

 So how can Muslim women fit in these discussions?

 Muslim women are only “visible” when it comes to the “scarf” issue or the “veil”. As if they live to represent “oppression” that the rest of the society fought to overcome. But they are rarely included in these discussions affecting women in general.

 Our vision about Muslim women in “secular democracy” is still fixated around the hijab as a symbol of oppression.

 Meanwhile, Muslim women, at least from what I know from them, in Canada and in North America, who decide to wear the hijab, went beyond “the symbol of oppression”. A hijab is a fashion statement, a political statement, an identity statement, a feminist statement, or all of that at the same time! So why can’t we go beyond the hijab when it comes to Muslim women?

 And now, what does we mean by “secular democracy”.  Do we really live in “secular” and in “democratic” societies? It is not a secret that the mainstream culture in Canada is influenced by Christianity and Christian symbolism and references. Statuary holidays are inspired by Christianity. So are we really secular? Why is secularism is used today as the saviour of Islam?

 Take the example of France, a country that considers itself the champion of secularism or rather “laicité”. France came to ban the scarf to preserve the “laicité” of the school institution. That means restricting individuals rights to save the right of the state.

Is this democratic?  A majority imposing laws on a minority, under the name of “laicité”? Is secularism, or laicité, becoming the new “religion” of modern times? I am still wondering.

More and more cracks are appearing today in the meaning of “secular democracy”.

Movements like “Idle No More”, “Occupy Wall Street” or “Black Lives Matter” are showing today how these cracks in the system are growing and becoming fault lines, evidence of “democracy” failure.

 Muslim have been accused and constantly put on the defensive by “Orientalists” commentators and pundits to apologize about the actions of terrorists groups.

This is never done to other faiths. Buddhists in Burma who kill Muslims. Israeli who kills Palestinian. Christians in Africa who kills Muslims. No religious communities are held accountable for the actions of what violent groups associated to their faith have committed. Except for Muslims.

We often hear that there must be something inherently violent in Muslim DNA or religion that make Muslims incompatible with democracy.

But, most often these voices tend to forget that all the recent attempts by some Muslim countries to use democracy instead of dictatorship have been defeated by “western” countries. Example: Algeria (1992), Palestine (2006), Egypt (2013) and even as of yesterday Turkey (2016).

 Leaving it for most of the Muslim countries to choose either between “ terrorism” or “dictatorship” both experience filled with violence and oppression.

 So to go back to the initial question: what does it mean to be a Muslim woman in a secular society?

 This means to be constantly looking for answer to all these words. To reflect on all these definitions and not simply accept on side or the other. “Good” versus “bad”, “black” versus “white”, “us” versus “them”. Truth is somewhere in between.

Finding an answer is an act of balance that keeps changing with time, with gender, with economic and social situation, with spirituality.

 I shouldn’t be the only person asked to reply to that question. Rather, we should ask ourselves the following question:

 “What does it mean to be a secular democracy today?”