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France: New Anti-Capitalist Party defends democratic right to wear hijab

NPA candidate Ilham Moussaïd.

By Olivier Besancenot, translation by Yoshie Furuhashi (MRZine)

February 3, 2010 -- Le Figaro caricatured my words regarding the candidacy of Ilham Moussaïd, who is on our list in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur regional elections. After a serious and complex debate, the Vaucluse chapter of the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) made a choice to include on its feminist, anti-capitalist and internationalist lists an NPA member who believes in wearing a headscarf on account of her religious convictions.

[See French capitalist press report below.]

Our party welcomes youth, the unemployed, the precarious, workers of all backgrounds who find their values reflected in the party. Faith is a matter of personal choice that does not create any obstacle to participation in our struggle so long as members sincerely share the secular, feminist and anti-capitalist fundamental principles of our party.

I therefore simply said to Le Figaro: "Ilham is evidence that one can be a member of the NPA and wear a headscarf."

The NPA is a party that fights against any form of oppression and exclusion. A debate on liberation and the place of religion -- and all its forms of expression -- exists within the NPA, in view of its next congress.

[The original article "Déclaration d'Olivier Besancenot. Rectificatif à propos d'un article du Figaro" was published on the web site of the New Anti-Capitalist Party on February 3, 2010. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi. See, also Françoise David and Amir Khadir, "Secularism: For a Broad, Open, and Democratic Debate" (MRZine, January 18, 2010); Danièle Obono, "The Left and Racial Domination in France: An Interview with Sadri Khiari (MIR)" (MRZine, January 6, 2010); and Saïd Mekki, "The Decolonizing Struggle in France: An Interview with Houria Bouteldja" (MRZine, October 28, 2009).]

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Far-left party reveals ‘veiled’ female candidate

By Tony Todd

February 3, 2010 -- French 24 -- The veil issue has shown its face in French politics once again, after radical anti-capitalist fringe party the NPA revealed that one of its candidates in forthcoming regional elections wears an Islamic headscarf.

A candidate for a radical French anti-capitalist party in the forthcoming regional elections wears a headscarf as a token of her Islamic faith, something that has raised eyebrows in this rigidly secular society.

All the more so because the NPA (New Anti-capitalist Party), led by Trotskyist postman Olivier Besancenot, is a party that generates headlines for its extreme left-wing position on issues including militant secularism.

“A woman can be a feminist, can uphold secular values and wear a [Islamic] headscarf at the same time,” he told the newspaper.

The veiled meanings of a very French issue

Wearing a headscarf – as well as the wearing of other religious symbols such as crucifixes – is strictly prohibited in French public institutions such as schools.

And a cross-party parliamentary commission last month came up with a list of recommendations for a law to ban wearing the full face veil (niqab) in public places such as hospitals and on public transport.

It is a very French issue. Islamic headscarfs in France are all referred to as “voile” – meaning veil – whether or not they cover the face.

The French public dislikes veils because they are seen as the embodiment of male domination over women, as well as symbols of religious attachment in a country that clings fiercely to the principle of the separation of church and state.

But veils and headscarves are also an overt reminder that France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim population, something that makes the (often Christian) right wing uncomfortable.

Radical pragmatism of a fringe party

Making headway in the country’s deprived suburbs, notable for their large Muslim immigrant populations, could pay political dividends for the NPA, which is very much a fringe party.

The “banlieues”, Besancenot told Le Figaro, are “deserts where social associations, unions and political activity barely flourish”.

They are also places where women, some of whom wear Islamic veils, are starting to carry the torch for the NPA’s brand of militant anti-capitalist Trotskyism.

In a statement, the party said the choice to put Moussaid forward as a candidate had come after “a serious and complex debate”.

“[Moussaid] is a militant feminist, anti-capitalist and internationalist who happens to wear a headscarf for religious reasons”, the statement continues. “The NPA welcomes young people, the unemployed and wage-earners of all walks of life who hold our ideals dear. Religious faith is a private matter that should in no way be an obstacle to the NPA’s fight for its fundamental principles of secularism, feminism and anti-capitalism.”

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