[NOTE: This is a guest post and translation by author and translator Suzanne Ruta, who has contributed translations to TMND in the past. The piece was written in the context of the Amina trial in Tunisia and discussion around women’s dress in Algeria.]
Kamel Daoud, Algerian novelist and journalist, (Quotidien d’Oran, Algerie-Focus) wrote this rant the day eighteen year old Amina Sboui was found guilty in Tunisian court, of carrying pepper spray at a Salafist demonstration in the Tunisian holy city of Kairouan in late May. She was still in jail as of June 5th, when she appeared in court, in handcuffs and a full body covering, to answer charges of public indecency and desecration of public property. (She had written the word FEMEN on a cemetery wall.)
The whole flap began when Amina wrote in Arabic on her bare torso, and published the photo on facebook in March ” My body belongs to me. It is not the source of anyone’s honor.” Daoud backtracks that hopeful assertion. “To whom does a woman’s body belong? To her country, her family, her husband, her older brother, her neighborhood, the boys on her street, her father, and the State, her ancestors, her national culture and its taboos.”
This is another of Daoud’s highly original riffs, where he jumps from close up social observation, to millennial grief you could call it, but somehow with a heartening result. It’s best understood against the background of fog, obfuscation and vast lies by omission that permeate Algerian TV (the lone state run channel) and political discourse. It continues his lament, over the last year, about creeping salafism in Algeria, as its spokesmen are emboldened by recent successes in Tunisia. In Blida, Daoud noted lately with some bitterness an imam proposes that young women adopt the hijab at the age of ten! Daoud has a big following in Algeria and in France for his witty passionate succinct commentary on current events.
Daoud has been writing a column several times a week in the Quotidien d’Oran, raina raikoum – meaning your opinion, my opinion, for the last ten years. He is also a prize winning novelist and short story writer. His facebook link is https://www.facebook.com/kamel.daoud.7
Kamel Daoud, published in Le Quotidien d’Oran, May 2013
To whom does a woman’s body belong? To her country, her family, her husband, her older brother, her neighborhood, the boys on her street, her father, and the State, her ancestors, her national culture and its taboos. To everyone and everything except to herself. The body of a woman is the place where she loses self-possession and identity. A woman wanders within her body, a mere visitor subject to laws that possess her and dispossess her of herself, guardian of other peoples morals, the morals other people do not want to respect with or by their own bodies. A woman’s body is a burden she carries on her back. With her body she defends everyones borders but her own. In her body everyones honor is at stake, except her own; it doesn’t belong to her. Her body is like a garment that belongs to everyone. She is forbidden to go bare because that would bare the truth about others, and their way of looking at her. A woman is a woman for everyone except herself. Her body is a piece of property anyone can claim; her misery belongs to her alone. She just happens to be present in something that belongs to another; in herself she’s just a source of harm. She can’t touch her body without unveiling herself or love it, without permission from everyone around her, or share it without tearing it to pieces in compliance with ten thousand laws. When she bares herself, she exposes the rest of the world and finds herself under attack because it’s the world she’s stripped naked, and not her own breast. She’s the stakes in the game but she’s not allowed to play the game. She represents the sacred but commands no respect . She represents honor for everyone, except herself. She incarnates desire, but her own desires don’t matter. She’s the place where everyone meets, but she’s left out. The origin of life, but forbidden to lead her own life. She’s called a Femen, or stoned, or raped, she’s the booty in a bloody war. On everyone’s lips but without a name of her own choosing. The locus of others’ violence, directed against her gift of maternity. She gives birth to the world; the world gives her death. Ancient gods and modern neuroses direct their jealousies at her. Two naked breasts are thus a crime against veiled humanity, while war, with its thousands of images of naked cruelty is just today’s news. Everything seems to be changing in our world except eyes on women, women under scrutiny. Strange encounter between humanity and its opposite; women’s bodies are what djihadis reproach the rest of the world and a source of guilty memories for the world’s other fundamentalists. The woman within women must be destroyed. That will leave us a world without breasts and without bodies. Disincarnate and pure as the memory of a widower staring out an empty window.