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memri
April 28, 2006 No.
271

‘Manifesto of Liberties’- A Muslim Association for Freedom in the Arab World

The Manifeste des Libertés (Manifesto of Liberties) is a Paris-based association dedicated to promoting freedom in the Arab world. Its website, www.manifeste.org, features a great number of articles by reformist and secular Muslims, among them Salman Rushdie and prominent French-speaking Arab intellectuals. The association also organizes conferences and meetings, posts petitions, and addresses open letters to French governmental agencies.

The association's founding document is a "manifesto" signed by over 1800 "women and men of Muslim culture," "believers, agnostics, or atheists" who "firmly condemn misogyny, homophobia, and antisemitism" perpetuated in the name of Islam.(The signatures can be viewed at http://www.manifeste.org/signatures.php3?id_article=1.) The manifesto was published by France's leading leftist daily Liberation on February 16, 2004.

The following is an overview of the Manifeste des Libertés website. It is followed by the association's English translation of the manifesto, at http://www.manifeste.org/article.php3?id_article=18 , and by a summary of some of the association's activities.

The Manifeste Des Libertés Website

The site www.manifeste.org contains a large number of opinion articles and interviews, a special section dedicated to "Censorship in the Name of Islam," and information on political and cultural activities.

The "Censorship in the Name of Islam" section features the following comment about the Danish cartoons: "The modern history of censorship in the name of Islam is marked by murders, attacks, and a ban on free thinking. This is the result of both the [policy of the Arab] states and the Islamist movements…"

On February 24, 2006, the association organized a public discussion on the theme of "Censorship in the Name of Islam"; the event was attended by 600 people. Questions raised were: "What makes fanaticism possible?" "What enabled the birth of political Islam?" and "How can one avoid a 'victimization' approach to the situation?" Commenting on the Danish cartoons scandal, Raja Ben Slama, [1] a reformist academic and author from Tunisia, declared: "Far from putting the unbelieving West in opposition to Islam... the Danish cartoons affair put Muslims in opposition to themselves." Publisher Tewfik Allal declared that it was urgent to set up a Muslim political secular community "to counter the Umma - the community of believers." [2]

Among the website's many articles by Arab reformists are "Manifesto for a European Islam," by French Muslim philosopher and reformist Abdennour Bidar; "Islamism is Against Women All Over the World," by Mimouna Hadjam, president of the AFRICA association against racism; and many articles dealing with the November-December 2005 civil unrest in France.

Also on the site are the following articles by Salman Rushdie: "Modernizing Islam - a Challenge for the Diaspora," "The Right Time for an Islamic Reformation," and "The Europeans Must Ask for the Lifting of Charges against Turkish Author Orhan Pamuk." [3]

The site also features an article by renowned Syrian poet Adonis, titled "The Islamic Veil is a Veil on Life," and a long piece titled "The Second Independence: Towards an Initiative for Political Reform in the Arab World" that sets out the recommendations of the First Civil Forum, which took place at the same time as the Beirut Arab summit, in March 2004. [4]

The Manifesto

"We are women and men of Muslim culture. Some of us are believers, others are agnostics or atheists. We all condemn firmly the declarations and acts of misogyny, homophobia, and Antisemitism that we have heard and witnessed for a while now here in France and that are carried out in the name of Islam. These three characteristics typify the political Islamism that has been forceful for so long in several of our countries of origin. We fought against them there, and we are committed to fighting against them again - here.

"Gender Equality: A Prerequisite for Democracy. We are firmly committed to equal rights for both sexes. We fight the oppression of women who are subjected to Personal Status Laws, like those in Algeria (recent progress in Morocco highlights how far Algeria lags behind), and sometimes even in France via bilateral agreements. [see document footnote] We believe that democracy cannot exist without these equal rights. Accordingly, we unambiguously offer our support for the '20 ans, barakat!' (20 years is enough!) campaign of the Algerian women’s associations, demanding the definitive abolition of the two-decades-old family code.

"It is also for this reason that we oppose wearing the Islamic head scarf, even if among us there are differing opinions about the law banning it from schools in France. In various countries, we have seen violence or even death inflicted on female friends or family members because they refused to wear the scarf. Even if the current enthusiasm for the head scarf [among some Muslims] in France was stimulated by discrimination suffered by immigrant children, this cannot be considered the real cause of the desire to wear it; nor can memories of a North African lifestyle explain it. Behind this so-called 'choice' demanded by a certain number of girls is the promotion of a political Islamic society based on a militant ideology which aims to promote actively values to which we do not subscribe.

"Stopping Homophobia: For Islamic fundamentalists (as for all machos and fundamentalists), 'being a man' means having power over women, including sexual power. In their eyes, any man who favors equality of the sexes is potentially subhuman, or 'queer.' This way of thinking has proliferated since the rise of political Islamism. Its ferocity is equaled only by its hypocrisy. One of the organizers of the demonstration on Saturday, January 17, 2004, in favor of the head scarf declared that 'it is scandalous that those who claim to be shocked by the head scarf are not shocked by homosexuality.' Undoubtedly he thinks that a virtuous society hides women behind head scarves or puts homosexuals behind bars, something we have already seen happen in Egypt. We shudder at what the triumph of these attitudes implies for 'shameless' persons in society-like women who fail to wear the head scarf or homosexuals or non-believers.

"In contrast, we believe that recognition of the existence of homosexuality, and the freedom for homosexuals to live their own lives as they wish, represent undeniable progress. As long as an individual-heterosexual or homosexual-does not break the laws protecting minors, each person’s sexual choices are his or her own business and do not concern the state in any way.

"Fighting Antisemitism: Finally, we condemn firmly the Antisemitic statements made recently in speeches in the name of Islam. Just like 'shameless' women and homosexuals, Jews have become the target: 'They have everything and we have nothing,' was something that we heard in the demonstration on January 17. We see the use of the Israel-Palestine conflict by fundamentalist movements as a means of promoting the most disturbing forms of Antisemitism. Despite our opposition to the current policies of the Israeli government, we refuse to feed primitive images of the 'Jew.' A real, historical conflict between two peoples should not be exploited. We recognize Israel’s right to exist, a right recognized by the PLO congress in Algiers in 1988 and the Arab League summit meeting in Beirut in 2002. At the same time, we are committed to the Palestinian people and in support of their right to found a state and to be liberated from occupation.

"Living Secularism: Islam has not received sufficient recognition in France. There is a lack of places to pray. There are not enough chaplaincies or enough cemeteries. We are aware that young French people, the sons and daughters of Muslim immigrants, are still held back socially and suffer discrimination. All monitoring bodies recognize this. Consequently, 'French-style' secularism has lost a great deal of value in the eyes of these young people. Two possibilities lie before them. They can rediscover the strength of a real, living secularism; that is, political action on behalf of their rights and to demand the social gains fought for by their fathers and mothers-who belonged to social classes, cultures, peoples, and nations before they belonged to Islam. Or they can see themselves in an imaginary, virtual 'umma' [Islamic community - Eds.] that no longer corresponds to reality, and then masquerade in republican or 'tiers-mondistes' (third-worldist) rags. This only ends up securing unequal, repressive, and intolerant societies. This latter path cannot be ours.

[Footnote] France has bilateral agreements with Algeria, which allow the application of Algeria’s "Family Code" to emigrants in France. It particularly affects issues of divorce and discriminates against women. -Eds.

"To sign the manifesto, and for contact details and information: [email protected].

"1849 people have signed the manifesto."

Manifeste des Libertés Reacts to Attack on Rushdie on France 2 TV

On October 22, 2005, on Thierry Ardisson's very popular program "Tout le Monde en Parle" (France 2 TV), Salman Rushdie was attacked by prominent French actor Sami Naceri. Naceri, a self-professed Islamist, accused Rushdie of debasing Islam. He added that if an imam were to ask him to kill Rushdie, he would put a bullet in his head. He then pointed an imaginary gun at Rushdie's head. Rushdie took off his microphone and left, saying that this was the last time that he would appear on a French program. [5] None of this was aired; Ardisson edited out the disturbing scene.

The Manifesto of Liberties association was the only organization to act following these events. The association penned an open letter to French Supreme Audio-Visual Council (CSA) head Dominique Baudis asking him to take action. [6]

Petitions Endorsed by Manifeste des Libertés

Manifeste des Libertés has endorsed two major petitions: one promoting women's rights in Algeria, and the other protesting racism in the Moroccan media.

"20 Years, Barakat" - Campaign for Women's Rights in Algeria

The association supported the "20 years, Barakat!" campaign [7] that was launched in 2004 by Algerian women's associations, which demands the repealing of Algeria's civil status laws, and posted a petition, at http://20ansbarakat.free.fr/petition.htm, that can be signed by sending an email to [email protected].

Petition Protesting Racism against Sub-Saharan African Foreigners in the Moroccan Media

A "Migrations" sub-section on www.manifeste.org features a petition by Moroccan activists and intellectuals protesting racism in the Moroccan press and television against "sub-Saharan African foreigners." The petition demands regulations to outlaw all kinds of racism based on color and culture.

*Nathalie Szerman is Director of MEMRI's Research for the North African Reformist Thinkers Project.


[1] For more on Raja Ben Slama, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 890, "Arab Feminists on Women's Rights: Cats and Dogs in the Developed World Have More Rights than Women in the Arab and Muslim World," April 12, 2005, Arab Feminists on Women's Rights: Cats and Dogs in the Developed World Have More Rights than Women in the Arab and Muslim World.

[2] The left-leaning French weekly Charlie-Hebdo reported on this event in its March 1, 2006 issue. Charlie-Hebdo was the paper that published all of the Muhammad cartoons published by the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten - after the editor of France-Soir was fired for publishing them. Following the scandal that ensued, Charlie-Hebdo launched a manifesto "against Islamic totalitarianism" (also in the March 1 issue), signed by 12 renowned intellectuals: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Chahla Chafiq, Caroline Fourest, Bernard-Henri Levy, Irshad Manji, Mehdi Mozaffari, Maryam Namazie, Taslima Nasreen, Salman Rushdie, Antoine Sfeir, Philippe Val, and Ibn Warraq.

[3] For more on Orhan Pamuk, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1066, "Controversial Trials Divide Turkish Society; World Media and E.U. Question AKP Government's Commitment to Freedom of Speech and the Rule of Law," January 6, 2006, Controversial Trials Divide Turkish Society; World Media and E.U. Question AKP Government's Commitment to Freedom of Speech and the Rule of Law.

[4] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 724, "Arab NGOs: Arab League Summit Declarations are Not for Reform, But for Deceiving Arab Public Opinion and the International Community," June 2, 2004, Arab NGOs: Arab League Summit Declarations are Not for Reform, But for Deceiving Arab Public Opinion and the International Community. The Second Independence Initiative was drawn up by 50 NGOs from 13 Arab countries during the First Civil Forum Parallel to the Arab Summit, Beirut, March 19-22, 2004. The initiative that was presented to the Arab ambassadors and to Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa included a demand to abolish the state of emergency, release political prisoners, establish independent courts, take steps towards administrative and economic reform, fight corruption, strengthen transparency mechanisms, defend human rights, etc.

[5] On November 2, 2005, Philippe Val published an article about the incident in the French weekly Charlie Hebdo. Other reports included a one-sentence comment published in the French newspaper Le Parisien, a quotation in the French magazine Marianne, and a one-paragraph article in the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur.

[6] The open letter is posted at http://www.manifeste.org/article.php3?id_article=262.

[7] http://20ansbarakat.free.fr.

This is the third report of the recently launched North African Reformist Thinkers Project, for other reports in this series see:

"French Moroccan Progressive Author on 'The New Islamic Thinkers,'" French Moroccan Progressive Author on ‘The New Islamic Thinkers’.

"Tunisian Reformist Researcher on Discrimination Against Christians in Egypt," Tunisian Reformist Researcher on Discrimination Against Christians in Egypt.