cafebabel.com: How did you decide to become 'Niqabitch'?
N*: We did it for the French. Actually it was more spontaneous, we didn’t think about it too much, but we didn’t know it’d get so big.
cafebabel.com: Actually your activities haven’t caused a mass outcry in France as it did elsewhere.
B*: It’s true that it was either the media didn’t find it interesting on the one hand or it was just being massively criticised on the other. We bumped into a regional journalist whilst we were shooting the video and he advised us to contact the anglo-saxon press, whod’ be more into the subject.
cafebabel.com: So why the anglo-saxon press?
N*: The difference between religion and state is different in those countries, it’s just more tolerant. In France people generally accused us of trying to create a buzz. It’s a good way to talk about the theme, probably because we’re too younh and in France young people are generally not listened to – we’re not credible. Yet I find it a shame that only the politicians have spoken out on the burqa because in contrast to our generation, they didn’t grow up with muslims.But if we can’t be heard, we can take a different direction, like via the internet and make more noise amongst them. That’s democracy! If people don’t speak up it’s not because the law doesn’t let them – it’s because they auto-censor themselves! We don’t care! We’re not going to go begging for an audition. If our video helps encourage young people to do the same thing then that’s great !
cafebabel.com : What is your message?
B*: We don’t care much for the niqab but many women have chosen it in any case. One woman who wears a niqab contacted us after her husband saw us in the street. She found us online and explained why she decided to wear the niqab and how hard it is because the anti-niqab law forces women to stay inside, and they’re normal citizens too. It’s not a constitutional law, and it’s a shame.
N*: It’s like the domestic violence law which protects women – we’re not going to start fining them, are we?
B*: It’s true that it can be shocking to see a woman wearing a niqab. But the only thing that the government has managed to do is hide behind the idea of ‘protecting’ a woman. There needs to be a more long-term piece of work on this sector where women are supposedly forced to wear the niqab.
cafebabel.com : In one article in the French press you claim that the government shouldn’t try to dictate the clothes we wear, but the niqab isn’t an item of clothing, it has a symbolic dimension. I was in a mosque in Turkey and we found a section which was reserved for women only – it made me think of what it was like to look through the grill of a niqab.
N*: Yes but the idea of separating men and women exists everywhere. It’s not that long since women have been able to wear trousers in France. Then we try to make out as if the muslims are the only ‘macho’ ones. There might well be a message behind the niqab but it shouldn’t inspire people to hate.
cafebabel.com: Were the reactions to your performance different in different countries ?
N*: Every country has their own context, so yes. Some say ‘don’t forget that women in Saudi Arabia are forced to wear the niqab.’ Yes but we have a different context in France! We’re not pro-niqab, we just want to get the debate going. Germans, Belgians, the Dutch and the English get it though.
B*: Lots of Asian people reacted well. The extremist muslims obviously took it badly – some even accused us of pornography.
N : That’s what our video reminds them of, porn films with women wearing veils. Our video has a message at least. It’s true that there’s so much inter-communitary tension in France that people think in terms of provocation directly, of the lack of respect. But associating mini shorts to pornography is a connection which I certainly never made in my head.
cafebabel.com: Are you feminists ?
N*: Yes, we have our own way of seeing things. We’re the feminists of 2010. Well, one feminist told us that a real revolution would have been to not shave our legs and to not offer a western man this vision of a desirable eastern woman who has her legs bared. We disagree with that feminist model and defend a differen liberty for women, which allows them to treat their bodies as they like.B : If they want to show their bodies they have the right to do so, and vice versa if they want to hide it. What we don’t understand is that feminists accept neither of the above. Both factors annoy them, so what are we supposed to do? Should we go back to being the bra-less women of the sixties?
N*: By wearing a niqab and mini shorts we are stating that a woman wearing a niqab and a woman wearing mini shorts can co-exist in the same society.
* The Niqabitch requested anonymity for this interview
Images: main screenshot Niqabitch walks in Paris