In 2022, in a college in Saint-Quentin en Yvelines, during a writing workshop on individual freedom, a student writes a text on the ban on crop tops. She explains to me that she showed up once in this outfit. The director of the establishment had established a rule: if you see more than two centimeters of the belly, the garment is prohibited, if it is less, it is allowed. Double decimetre in hand, the director measured the visible skin of this young girl. Verdict: three centimeters, the student was sent home.
The teacher who accompanies me specifies that this measure is only applied if the student already has a woman’s body. Meanwhile, other college girls are wearing the abaya. In some schools, this outfit has become “normal” clothing, in Trappes or Saint-Denis. It is one sign among others of the radicalization that is increasingly taking hold in schools.
Flag of an ideology
If the crop top is a controversial garment for sexual reasons, the abaya is a flag of Islamist ideology. It signifies an identity: we are different, neither French nor Christian, but real Muslims. The girls who wear the abaya address me as one of their “Muslim compatriots.” For them, Islam is a nationality. In their eyes, I can only be a Muslim because of my Syrian origins, whatever my beliefs. This religion expresses their belonging, their commitment. “I am Tunisian Muslim, Algerian Muslim, Moroccan Muslim.”
However, none of them speak the language of their country of origin, some have never been there. They are not welcome in the bled where they are considered as the children of the rich. These young girls are experiencing an identity crisis which is the lot of the fourth generation resulting from immigration in the 1960s and 1970s in France. They are neither from here nor from there, one of the reasons why they are radically attached to this outfit. It doesn’t matter if the abaya is banned in schools in several Muslim countries. In Syria, for example, the uniform of schoolchildren and high school students consists of trousers or a dress and a jacket. This is also the case in Jordan or Egypt.
Several students wearing the abaya are feminists. This last word is part of their identity. They are committed to the right of women to wear what they want to school. The abaya has become a fashionable outfit to say that we are free to wear what we want, because we are from “a particular minority.” This is why media feminists defended it after the announcement of its ban in French schools by Gabriel Attal. “How far will the clothing police go? Gabriel Attal’s proposal is unconstitutional, contrary to the founding principles of secularism”, indignant Clémentine Autain. These feminists have probably forgotten the story of an outfit from the Middle East. It dates back more than 4000 years. Women used it to fight the heat. With the arrival of Islam, it ceased to be traditional dress and became religious.
Protecting themselves from harassment is the second reason why these girls say they wear the abaya. In another establishment, during a writing workshop, still in Yvelines, a 14-year-old girl started crying. I approached her and we chatted on several topics. I then understood the reason for her depression: she was sexually harassed by a classmate at school. He is still there, and she is afraid of him. I inform the principal who assures me that they will react.
Several stories of aggression, fear, rape, were mentioned during these workshops. No wonder in a country where 130,000 underage girls suffer rape or attempted rape each year according to the association Traumatic memory And victimology. Senator Annik Billon confirmed in a study published in 2022 that 80% of boys under 18 have watched porn. Result: they apply what they see on their girlfriends, and if they do not succeed, they think that they are not real males. Among the boys I meet in the writing workshops, the virile side is very present. When I ask if one of them dances, they answer me: “We are not fags, sir, or girls”. The most dangerous thing is that some people think that if the girl says no it means she wants it. In these schools, no sexologist intervenes. Some classes are entitled to a few hours with gynecologists, as part of a collaboration between their college and associations. The only classes students take are biology.
The teachers assured me that it would be possible to finance the participation of a sexologist once a month, from the budget for educational or cultural activities. The problem is that the students’ families would be unhappy. “As making love before marriage is forbidden among Muslims, we avoid broaching this subject, it’s very sensitive and complicated, especially for girls, otherwise we have trouble with the parents” testifies one two.
Banning the abaya is a brave step towards a more secular future. But the most important thing is to attack the justifications for this outfit, to have sexuality education such as integration courses in these establishments invaded by fear and separatism. Above all, these students need to be taken on another path in order to divert them from the radical ideas constantly circulating in their surroundings. What they need is that we replace a separatist speech against France by a eulogy of the country of Paul Eluard, so that they are sure that the Republic belongs to them.
* Writer and poet born in Damascus, Omar Youssef Souleiman took part in the demonstrations against the regime of Bashar el-Assad, but, tracked down by the secret services, had to flee Syria in 2012. A refugee in France, he published with Flammarion The Little Terrorist, The Last Syrian And A room in exile. He publishes in the fall Being French.