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France, Yemen: Vanishing Women

Disparition by Bouchra Almutawakel

“Disparition” by Yemeni photographer Bushra Almutawakel

Eloïse Lagrenée [fr] has posted on her Facebook page a picture by Yemeni photographer Bushra Almutawakel, illustrating how women could vanish into darkness and invisibility, step by step, under fundamentalist pressure and the full niqab. It has been shared over 1,500 times.

  • Wow…. I’m no expert on this issue, but as a progressive person having lived in Saudi for the last year, I can’t tell you how offensive these images could be for the women who choose to cover.

    For one, it’s completely inaccurate: babies would never wear an abaya (clothes covering) and especially not a niqab (head/face covering). Second – before puberty most girls who wear the abaya do it for fun… sort of like us western women would wear party shoes because our mothers do. They also would more than likely not cover their faces.

    While the abaya (the clothes covering) is required for all women here in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, head covering is not… and every Saudi woman I’ve spoken with about it says that it’s her choice to cover as much of her head/face or as little as she likes. Many women choose to cover out of respect for god, their families, and to keep herself modest and out of sight of prying eyes.

    When I go into town, I am required to wear an abaya over my clothes. I oblige out of respect for the culture I live in, and I’ve never once felt “invisible” for it.

    When I moved to Saudi I was really on the fence about whether or not the French law to ban face coverings was a good idea. Now, after just a year of living in Saudi, I can see just how hateful and ill-informed that law really is — just like this series of photos.

    • anonymous

      Claire, this means you have only seen the upper class, there are some women out there who DONT want to where it, however have to simply because their father/brother/husband told them to, and some dont even do it for religion however to stop people from spreading rumors about them. You cant possibly see the whole picture unless you were born into such culture, I’m an american-arab and when i lived in an arab country i felt completely and utterly suffocated simply because women seem to be looked down upon and objectified in such a repulsive way. So please dont call this artwork hateful because in all honesty its what some women have to deal with on a daily basis. At times women are imprisoned in this god awful paradox simply because they know of nothing more. Once when I asked one of the less fortunate girls whether she goes out, she simply replied saying that at times her father would allow her to go out for a walk on the same street she lived in. I can see where this photographer is coming from and respect it.

      • The AdMan

        Anonymous, so they do it “simply because their father/brother/husband told them to”. So who are you (or any other outsider), to refute / question that? If they (their their father/brother/husband) told them to go to a certain place, or do a certain thing, would you question that also? What happens in the family and who tells whom to do (or not do) what is between them and non of your business. This is between them (the women in question), their families and their creator. Keep your snout out of it.

        • Kaur Jagdeep

          no. one should not keep one’s snout out of it. this is how injustice and torture and repression spreads. cos we choose to not interfere and let what is wrong keep happening. it’s alright if women wish to do it out of choice. i am a sikh, and its followers, not just women, but even men are expected to wear a turban at all times; but it’s alright if you don’t want to. no body is going to make you do it. that is how the world should be; a woman should have the freedom to choose not to wear a black cover over her body if she doesn’t wish to, but that is not allowed. it is wrong. it is in violation of a basic human right…no father/brother/husband has any right to stop me…

          • anonymous

            By human right u mean the animal instinct within a human .. civilization is what separate humans from animals. Animals walk around naked ..

          • Kaur Jagdeep

            human right of being equal to another human being, like a man. free like a “man”. freedom to roam without a cover on the body, to drive around alone, to choose what she wants to do with her life and with herself. all the BASIC rights that a man has in that society. there’s a reason they are called HUMAN rights, and not a man rights or woman rights…animals are better than humans. they do not kill or copulate when they don’t need to; there is no greed in them to fuck virgins in paradise. apparently that is all one lives for…humans…

          • Mohamad

            you have no idea what are you saying. Please learn your facts right before commenting.

          • Kaur Jagdeep

            the only fact that needs focus here is gross violation of basic human rights. women who do not wish to dress this way, or something/anything else that goes against a particular “code” should have the freedom to do so…as of now, they do not have that freedom. whether it’s religious, political, or just a tradition…what matters is, that it’s not right…

          • Feroze Sardar

            So why does the sikh woman dress a certain way? We don’t see them running around with short dress. In Canada most of the Indian woman dress like they were still in India. with long baggy clothing with a head scarf. When it comes to controlling woman India it in the stone age. They kill their daughter to avoid paying the dowry and if you don’t have money then the girl family is in the bottom of the list. An Indian bride have to move in with her husband family, where she has to take order from the father in law and her mother in law. She had to prostrate and bow to their feet as if they were god. I guess that is okay for the Indians but but its oppression for a Muslim woman to practice her religion.

          • Kaur Jagdeep

            Feroze, I agree with you. But fortunately, for the women, it is not a state-nation-wide thing, but is contained in pockets of regions that are still remote; and yes, i agree, they are very remote and regressive. But even there women have freedom of choice if they so choose. I am an Indian woman, and a single working parent. I am living that life, of freedom, which I know would be difficult for me, say in Yemen, or Saudi. I will repeat what I mentioned earlier, it is, and should be a woman’s choice, always, or any individual’s choice of how they wish to live. I am a sikh woman, I dress as I please, and so do countless women around me. If they wish to cover their heads, as a lot of traditional sikh women do, that is their choice, but a lot of sikh women choose not to, and that is alright too. No one stops them. It is not as difficult for them. The larger society is with the individual woman…is the point I am trying to make. And it should be…

          • Dawn

            What “fact” are you disagreeing with? The only aspect of Kaur’s information which seems misinformed is to regurgitate the stereotype of doing something for virgins in paradise.

          • Annie

            I think she knows what she is saying. Instead of telling her what she should say or not, maybe you should try to respond with your own opinion, giving facts. It’s so easy to put people down with dumb words.

        • Christian Hartmeyer

          for evil men to victor, all good people have to do is nothing.

        • logical

          That’s why these countries are years behind other countries cause of stupid people with stupid mentality like yours who thinks that have power over others. Hope someone tells you to beat yourself everyday till one day you bleed out so you know what it means cause it’s easy to agree with that mentality unless you are the one suffering

        • james

          its called choice pork breath.

        • Maria Nunes

          Why must a woman be told what to do by a husband, why must she obey them, if they don’t obey her at times? This is unfair, this is why we should not keep our snout ou of it. Keeping the snout out of it enabled Hitler, you know.

        • Ana

          yes and u should keep out of the civilized countries OR obey their laws! No one asked u to come to Europe!

        • Jax

          So AdMan if you saw a man beating or raping his daughter are you saying you’d keep going rather then helping her all bcos one should mind their own business??? You must be a very small minded man to come out and say such a ludicrous statement.

    • Julien

      Claire, I don’t think the photographer’s point was discuss the reasons why women choose (or get forced) to dress like that, but rather how a person becomes interchangeable or even invisible as she opts for that kind of attire. A man would not even recognize his own wife or daughter in a crowd of burqa or niqab dressed women.

      As for the choice element you’ve mentioned, there certainly are women who willingly agree to wear that attire. The point is, how about women who don’t, in these societies? How much of an alternate choice do you have as a women in conservative muslim societies. Furthermore, this attire applies to women only, meaning that it is directly derived from men’s behaviors towards women. So instead of educating men, societies would prefer to cover up their women, that’s just pure sexism in the end.

      • perdue1111

        Yes…maybe the men should cover their eyes and mouths so they won’t look at a women with such lust and the mouth, to remain covered to catch the “drool” for their lips because they do not respect a woman for her “brains” which they also want TO LIMIT but only as a sex tool. Why should they hide their individual beauty given to them by CREATION, not those men who WILL NOT CHANGE THEIR OWN LECHEROUS WAYS?

      • Dawn

        Julien, I am neither agreeing nor disagreeing with your point. I just wish to share some information. It’s incorrect that someone would not recognise another in a crowd of abaya-covered women.

        Like Claire, I currently live in Saudi Arabia and have lived here for over a year. I teach at a university with thousands of female students and about 100 coworkers who I know. When it is time to exit the university, there is always a huge crowd in black abayas. Despite this, I can always easily spot if any of the crowd is someone I know, even from the far back. You get used to distinguishing between differences in abayas and headcoverings, different gaits, different tendencies, etc.

    • Zsuzsi

      But you can’t chose not to wear it. Men don’t have the same imposition.
      Btw can you drive a car? Go out with a male friend, not relative?
      Kudos to France for being tough in this.

      • perdue1111

        Now your bringing out more of the truth that women are thought of as “the lesser” in their society…, fashion is not just the subject here. Boy…..wouldn’t those men just LOVE AMERICA’S FEMALE MILITIA!!! Only in our dreams would that be a hoot to see with our own eyes! Try selling them that “crock”!

      • Cassandra Cato Tarfa

        well, we muslims should not go out with non relatives since we are not WHORES, do you understand? i say: kudos to saudi arabia cause they have banned the whore´s attire.

        • Ryuk

          Well , even normal(women) people go out with other people (men) in almost every other places , not just whores . Just because you go out with other men doesn’t mean that you are a whore ..

        • Shirasaya

          Cassandra, perhaps you don’t understand the definition of the word “whore” – it means a woman who trades sexual acts for money. Do you really think that every female who is in the company of a male who is not blood related is engaging in prostitution? Very sad to see that kind of complete ignorance flaunted with such pride.

        • Ana

          LOL ARE U FOR REAL CASANDRA CATO???which planet do u live on??

          • Dawn

            She’s not for real. Anyone who’s actually lived in Saudi Arabia would never make the mistake of claiming a certain attire is “banned”. Women throughout the country wear bikinis, miniskirts, etc. They might cover this up in public by wearing an abaya over those clothes, but when with friends in private, “whore’s outfits” are perfectly acceptable.

      • Dawn

        I don’t understand your objection. Because women don’t in Saudi don’t have the choice to drive, women in France shouldn’t have the choice to cover up?

        • Ana

          Dawn, when a European /American woman visits the Arab world she is required to cover up – as the lows of the land dictates it! RIGHT? Right!
          When you go to France the law of the land is different so u should respect the wishes and laws of the country! IF you are not happy and do not accept the laws of this country – you can freely go home and cover up from head to toe and be happy!
          I can not believe that someone will come into MY home and tell me what to do and what not to do in MY home! You have NO respect for anyone but expect to be respected? Who gives you this right??

          • Dawn

            I am a bit confused as to how this addresses the topic. To paraphrase my question,”How is Saudi’s refusal to allow women to drive related to France refusal to allow women to cover up?” I agree that these are both laws limiting freedom, but I don’t see how suggesting one law is wrong somehow supports the other law being right.

            I disagree with the law that forbids women to drive; I disagree with the law that requires women to cover up. Why? Because I think countries should not limit freedom more than necessary.

    • Jerônimo

      First of all, demanding accuracy here is just plain silly: as the last picture in the series clearly show, this a metaphor, not meant to show things as they really are, but to represent them in a visually effective way. Second, this may well be offensive (but not, by any means, hateful), but that´s not the photographer´s fault. Some christians may regard The Life of Brian as offensive – so what? Third, some women may choose to wear the niqab, but that does not mean the niqab is less oppressive. Let´s think for a minute, just as an hypothesis, of an individual who claims to be happy as a slave. (Think, for instance, in Samuel L. Jackson´s character in Django Unchained). Would the existance of such person make slavery alright? And last, and most important, not everything is cultural. There are some biological facts in our social lives, and they don´t change wheter you move east to west or west to east. We are a social species, and our sense of smell is poor. Therefore, our social life relies heavily on seeing each other´s faces. Covering your face out of “respect for god and family” is, quite effectively, an impediment for a full social life. I am not French, but I stand for the French law.

      • Cassandra Cato Tarfa

        well, but you communicate with people trough the phone right? you chat right? you post comments, right? just hipocrisy boy.

        • A to the G

          Your argument makes no sense.

    • Edit

      You really believe, those women are free,and happy and we should “respect”that sort of culture, where women can not even drive a car!!!

      • Dawn

        You’re confusing issues. The question is, “Should women be allowed to choose if they wish to cover up their face or not?” The question is not, “Should we support everything about Saudi law?”

        The fact that you’re afraid to give women a choice scares me.

    • In what biblical or koranic verse does it mandate that women should wear-head-to-toe masks such that you can’t even be sure they’re actually women? Even if it does, why the cherry picking of this one, given that the death penalty is likewise mandated for all kinds of other legal activities, like picking up sticks on the Sabbath?

    • So if an Islamic culture mandates female genital mutilation, bans girls’ education, bans women from driving a car, denies them the vote or the right to gainful employment, executes or flogs them for being the victims of rape, forces them into marriages from below the age of 9, you’re comfortable with all that?

      • MUSUCK

        I think u Muslim are full of it. U should leave ur crap in ur own country. U have to learn how to respect the law of the country u are currently living in now. I don’t give a rat who u r what ur religion is about bottom line shut the he’ll up n respect everyone don’t think ur better cos ur not.

    • gosia

      Claire just like in Saudi you cover up because that;s the rule in France you have to cover out. Because tha’t the rule. You may choose NOT to go to France after all.

      • Dawn

        No. In Saudi, you cover your face by choice. Covering your face is not the law.

        However, I’m not sure your analogy of works, either. If two countries force women to cover/uncover based on law (and not personal choice), how would that make it right?

        • Ana

          You are hilarious!! NO one ever forced women to cover or uncover in France! This is not how European women live! You can not grasp the fact that women do have a voice and actual life, can you??? I am not sure how many women in Saudi Arabia will choose to cover if they where not afraid to have a say…

          • Dawn

            I agree no one should force a woman to cover or uncover in France. However, the fact of the matter is France introduced a law in 2010 making it illegal for women to cover their face.

            I also do not know how many women in Saudi Arabia would choose to cover if they were not expected to. So, I support giving them that choice instead of taking it away.

          • Dawn

            On a personal note, thank you for your comments on my amusement ability. Some people do seem to find it amusing to believe a person who doesn’t agree with them can have a valid point. Personally, I believe people should consider information before forming a conclusion.

            In regards to this question, “You can not grasp the fact that women do have a voice and actual life, can you???”, I am curious what evidence you gathered before forming that conclusion. At the moment, you only have access to a few bits of information about me – my Western name, my [skydiving] profile picture showing my hair and face uncovered, and my ability to speak English at a higher level than you. It’s possible you’ve read closer and also noticed that I’m supporting a person’s right to choose something which does not infringe on the rights of others. From these bits of information, how did you conclude I am against women having a voice and an “actual” life? Is it because you are attempting to invalidate any opinion which disagrees with yours?

    • N

      Very sick the whole muslim religion is sick. But hey they all fallow a man who married a 6 year old and then raped her with 9. O sorry most muslim say thats not rape they where married. Sick sick people. I pray they repent and give there lives to Jesus. Every single person on earth.

      • Cassandra Cato Tarfa

        yes, sick sick people, also you’ll be very happy in your culture where women are dressed as prostitutes in TV , magazines and sports events……………where women are rarely seen as intellectual people, where a woman who’s attractive should be as a barbie………………..dont tell us to believe in jesus, cause your religion its not perfect also………LOL i believe in GOD, not pieces of him.

        • sara

          “where women are rarely seen as intellectual people” oh sorry show me more that 10 intellectual muslim women in worldwide history.
          the point is the posibility of CHOICE. if a women wants to dress as a prostutite cause she WANTS to nobody should stop her. the problem is to be obligated, the problem is oppression.

        • Rinne915

          Are you crazy!!! Show me some intellectual women in the Muslim world who are not from wealthy families!!! They don’t exist because they aren’t allowed to be!!! You can’t be serious!!! And if Americans are so bad why do so many of your ppl move here??? If you all hate the western civilization so much then just go back to your country where they abide by those religious standards!! I bet you won’t you know why because you know your life is 100X better here! Go sit down somewhere and cook something

        • Ana

          LOL..This my dear is called freedom of choice! NO one is forcing them to be dressed this way! They choose to or the majority of them does.DO I like it? NO! I dont!Do I agree with the policy of making stupid people like the Kardashian “famous” and rich , just because she can strip and show her ass? NO – I dont! BUT this is her personal choice..and I can look at her or not – my choice! She is not ME and I am not her! Can you imagine what will be if people like her ordered ALL of us to get naked like her – just because she thinks it is right! This is in reverse what YOU are pitching! GET covered from head to toe, and be “intellectual” in your fathers yard…I wonder do you even know that the world and the knowledge it gives is not contained between the walls of your yard..for example.I respect Muslim people, and they believes but not the extremist Muslim people who think ONLY their religion is the one that matters and are ready to kill for it! This is not a religion but a cult – dangerous one.I am sorry..I can not respect that ! OR as someone mentioned old man getting married to children – how is this different from a western pedophile?Only we have low’s that protect children from them and in your world it seems to be a normal thing….

        • Ana

          Casandra, you are very confused…PROVE TO ME THAT women are more valued in your world! Prove to me that in your world you have more educated and more intellectual women than we do have in our wolrd!
          How many of your women and headmasters of schools? How many are doctors,how many own companies or are in leading positions of such?????Compare it to the western world and then …we can talk.
          And again – if a woman wants to be just a barbie and chooses to live that barbie life and can afford it – that is her choice..I doubt she follows a religion…by doing so…and NO one is asking you to become Christian – be want you want to be – just don’t burden other people with your believe and stay at home in your country.

    • Faustina

      You “oblige” or you are “required”, because doing it because you choose to or doing it because you must of face consequences is very different. Which is it? It literally cannot be both. (Whoops. 2 years ago? I doubt Claire Sale will be back to answer.)

      • Dawn

        I questioned the same things, but I think there are two possibilities.
        1) She wears the abaya because she is required and she would wear it even if it were not required, out of respect.
        2) She wears the abaya because it is required and the headscarf out of respect.

    • Shakila

      In UK a lot of mothers are putting their toddlers in Hijab’s and as a woman from a Muslim background I object to the Hijab and refuse to de-sexuliase my body.

    • Aggin Maria James

      i agree

    • Dileep

      You are a progressive person but respects their “culture”?

    • Shirasaya

      So why is it okay for Saudi law to require a woman to wear a specific garment if it’s not equally acceptable for French law to require a woman to not wear a specific garment? Both laws are dictating to women what they must or must not wear. Why is one acceptable and one not? Doesn’t that strike you as a bit hypocritical?

      • Dawn

        I do not intend to argue that Saudi should keep its law, but I would like to give you something to consider.

        First, there is a difference between a law requiring you to wear MORE than you typically would and a law requiring you to wear LESS that you typically would. I am completely comfortable going to a country where I am required or expected to cover up. I would be less comfortable going to a country where I am required to bare something that I would not otherwise bare in public.

        Second, all countries have laws on minimum standards of decent dress. No country has a law forbidding dress.

        Third, you seem to be arguing for the French law by stating two wrongs make a right.

        Also, Saudi law doesn’t require women to wear a niqab. That’s a choice.

        • Ana

          Dawn, how is wearing a decent dress – long or mid-length , long sleeve for example – offensive to you?? or undressing you????
          The french do not want to see people living permanently in France wearing burka’s and religious clothing – simple! You agree and obey their law or you leave! NO one is forcing you to get naked!FRANCE IS FRANCE and is NOT a Muslim country! They have all right to demand respect in their own hose from the residents of this house! NOT visitors – residents!!!

          • Dawn

            >Dawn, how is wearing a decent dress – long or mid-length , long sleeve for example – offensive to you??
            It’s not. I support a person wearing as much or as little as he/she desires, as long as the outfit is in accordance with the country’s minimum standards of decency.

            Regulating the minimum one needs to wear is standard in countries around the world; stating a maximum is unique only to France as far as I’m aware. Regulating a minimum does not offend me; a maximum does. It takes away a person’s freedom when that freedom is not infringing on the rights of others. That is against Western ideals.

            I agree France is not a Muslim country. As far as I’m aware, it’s a secular country. As such, it should not make laws promoting or opposing a person’s choice when that choice does not infringe upon the rights of others.

            Your statements imply Muslims are not citizens or residents of France. Please consider if this is factual before making such an implication.

    • judy e

      They have no CHOICE but to say they “chose it” THAT is what you are missing.

    • Zdravko Minchev

      Claire Sale, you said you were required to wear an abaya, did you? Do you still believe these women are given the choice to cover as much as they like? Something more – the Saudi culture might adopt and even see these as a norm but when they come to Europe do the respect our god and our families (as you did there)?

    • Jeff Kantor

      I have MANY Omani friends and the TREND there is to cover more and more and to be less and less tolerant of those who don’t.

      A generation ago, it was common for women to wear no head covering at all…now you risk ostracization if you don’t.

      A half a generation ago, full niqab was unHEARD of. Now it is common in the south and many families force their women to wear it. And it appears more and more commonly in Muscat and other more cosmopolitan places.

      In that sense, the picture is spot on.

    • Katrine Iversen

      Boushra Y. Almutawakel is a Yemeni photographer. Her work concerns perceptions of Arabs and Muslims internationally and focuses in particular on issues of gender and representations of Muslim/Arab women and their clothing.

      I’m going to take her word for it, since she is the one living it.

  • majid

    what will happen if a person Continued this from left? woman wiil be Nude and vanished again. Be moderate. like the first pic

    • JP

      The underlying issue is still women’s freedom and its relationship to culture. Cultural relativism or the idea that a given practice is OK because it’s their culture, has been an excuse for the subjugation of women for centuries. All customs are not equal simply because they exist. Foot binding in China for, example, was acceptable in China until they understood as a society, that it was a negative practice.
      We all have a long way to go before there is true gender and racial equality, but the thought that some societies are not further along the road is patently ridiculous.

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  • Mo

    No, I think you missed the point. This woman and this child did not want to cover this much, they are being forced, and thus their happiness is stolen from them. That is point of this collage – but I would never call this art work.

    • Ana

      Agree Mo.This photo’s where taken with the idea of making a point..And that it did…

  • Pingback: What’s up in Yemen today 2014-09-02 |

  • disqus_0ci0DrquAK

    Most women do not have a real “choice” as to whether to cover up, or not. If their culture mandates it and the men in their family / village expect it, then she really has little choice.

    The key issue here is not about modesty and dressing moderately – it’s about allowing women to be their own free agents to make their own choices, and not make WOMEN responsible for managing the fact that muslim men are apparently blameless and not expected to control their impulsive sexual urges (this is the whole justification for niqab/burqa/purdah in the first place) – if a man is lustfully attracted to a woman, muslim culture apparently believes that it’s HER fault and therefore HER job to do something about it. This is the injustice of niqab/burqa/purdah.

  • Pingback: U.N. to send investigators to Iraq to investigate Islamic State crimes | News-Press-Liberty With Responsibility!()

  • Michael Murphy

    My god, the kind of specious garbage being represented below would be awful coming from a man, but coming from a woman it’s unforgivable. Why on earth would the first thing that Claire Sale says be that *some* women choose to wear this? I won’t get into the relative merits of accuracy or whatever as this is nonsense. It’s not intended to be an accurate representation, it’s a metaphor. A clumsy one but a sincere one from a woman directly affected. Good enough for me.
    The real question is why do these garments exist at all??! Why on earth would anyone support a human being covering themselves up like this? Unless they had some kind of mental illness. Related as it is to male dominated theocracies makes a lie of the ‘reasoning’ that it’s a choice for ‘some women’. Fine, when we get to a point where there are a very few women (and men I suppose as equality should be taken into account) who want for whatever reason to do this very uncomfortable, socially exclusive, divisive and ugly thing (the human face and body being a beautiful thing) then I say ‘fine, let them’. As we stand now most of the women who do this are directly or indirectly threatened into wearing varieties of this and no amount of Western women bleating about ‘choice’ is going to change that. Wake up and support our sisters!

  • Rosita

    Does anyone care about what a man wears?

    • Dean McInerney

      Yes, if they were forced to hide their faces or become invisible I would respond negatively. It’s creepy.

    • Dawn

      Muslim faith does. There are standards for modest dress for both sexes.

      Side note: The abaya isn’t a Muslim standard in and of itself, but one interpretation of the religion which is disagreed with by other people in the faith.

  • The AdMan

    This is not completely accurate. Please watch the clip: a point of view from an actual ‘Niqabi’, who chooses and insists on wearing the Niqab.

    • Shlomo Amar

      Free choice? Not at all ,it is a peer pressure situations. Whats happen when a women choose not to wearing ‘Niqabi’?

    • Unavaran

      The net is full of such such debates. Want to lose a debate? Get a not so intelligent or vocal person to take on a smart person. NDTV, TIMES NOW, HL TODAY etc. have all been doing this for years!

      The premise on which this debate gets going itself is faulty. To save muslim women in France from a debasing slavish tradition. Who the hell cares! If the Muslim women want to be slaves, they are welcome to be, IN THEIR OWN MUSLIM LAND. The French should say, this is our land, our country, our nation. Fall in heel or GET OUT. Including those french who have converted to Islam. All this “secular” stuff is toxic garbage. Once inside the system, impossible to take out.

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