On the Map: Judging An Emcee By Her Cover

Since her 2007 album Dans ma Bulle (Inside My Bubble) debuted at the top of the charts by selling 50K copies in its first week, Diam’s has become the hottest emcee in France. Not the hottest female emcee, but the hottest emcee in general. Diam’s is known as a feminist rebel who spits rhymes about war, racism, poverty, and injustice–something that has placed the rapper in the line of French media fire. Unable to handle the constant public scrutiny she faced as a controversial celebrity, Diam’s retreated from the limelight in 2008 to go on a personal introspective journey. That journey led her to Islam, a faith to which she has now converted saying, “Modern medicine was not able to heal my soul, so I turned to religion.”

Given France’s current hostility to observant Muslims (particularly Muslim women), it probably should come as no surprise that French feminists have been quite vocally intolerant of Diam’s decision. Safia Labdi, president of Ni Putes Ni Soumises (Neither Whores nor Submissives), told Le Parisien, “With this new image, Diam’s represents submission, tradition and isolation. She was lost, and found herself by wearing the veil. This is something that we unfortunately see with a lot of young girls.”

Aside from being ultra-patronizing (at 29-years-old Diam’s is hardly a “young girl”), Labdi’s comment makes the oft-heard yet erroneous assumption that veiled Muslim woman = submissive and traditional. The still-subversive lyrics on her newly released album, SOS, makes Ladbi’s description of Diam laughable, and the rapper is hardly being kept in isolation as she kicks off her four-month countrywide tour. In fact, Diam’s decision to wear the veil springs, in part, from her desire to confront prejudice, not unlike the kind Labdi espouses.

Diam’s is not betraying her political sensibilities by converting to Islam and wearing hijab, but French feminists in the vein of Ni Putes Ni Soumises (I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the bias against sex workers in the organization’s name) are certainly betraying Diam’s, and other Muslim women, by holding such Islamophobic views.

by Mandy Van Deven
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7 Comments Have Been Posted

Politics of Piety

Saba Mahmood wrote Politics of Piety, which addresses this imposition of Western modes of resistance onto women who actively choose to practice their religion. Women should be allowed the agency to resist oppression in their own way, as long as it doesn't harm others. Bravo, Diam.

I applaud your objectivity

I'm glad to see you call Labdi's attitude what it really is: Islamophobia. And I respect Diam for wearing the veil against what must have been great pressure not to. I wish more feminists would see that Islam and feminism are definitely not mutually exclusive. Great reporting.

You'd think they would

You'd think they would realize forcing people to be non-religious is just as bad as forcing them to be religious. Feminists like that are (partly) the reason we feminists still have a bad name. We should be applauding Diam for finding something she needed in her life regardless of whether or not we also want it. I doubt being a female rapper is anything close to submission, tradition or isolation.

thanks for the head's up on

thanks for the head's up on Diam, Mandy! I'll be following up on both her music and her politics.

For those interested, the lyrics of Enfants du Desert are in both English and French at <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xf3R7VojuWc">this YouTube vid.</a>


I'm always really torn on news like this.
On the one hand, I don't think any religion can ever be the way forward for any progressive movement, be it feminism, anti-racism or whatever cause you're getting behind.
On the other hand, with the way the world is divided right now, it's really important to have vocal, self confident people in the media who folow a modern Islam which distances itself from most of the oppression mechanisms all major religions have built in.
For the record, I do think everyone absolutely has the right to find happiness and peace of mind in the way they choose. I just think that organized religions bring such a long screwy history with them, I keep thinking there should be a better way.

religion and social justice

As an atheist-leaning agnostic, I think it's important to recognize the part organized religion has played in social justice movements. The US Civil Rights Movements, which was largely run from Black churches. Abolitionism in America was jumpstarted by Quakers. Activists like Oscar Romero and MLK used liberation theology as a basis for their arguments against oppression.

Religion is a social institution just like any other, which means the oppression mechanisms built into it were put there by people and can, therefore, be removed by people. We can trace how religions have changed over time and geography. There are plenty of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Jews, etc. throughout the world who are working within their own ranks to address these structural inequities in their own faiths, which are (fractured, multiplicitious) communities like any other.

Different things work in different ways for different people. In my mind, the solution isn't to take things off the table, but learning to value all of what is on the table whether we choose to use those things or not.

I'm so excited to see some

I'm so excited to see some love for Diam! I lived in France for a semester during 2004 and she was already some really hot shit by then. :D I LOVE her and am so thrilled to see her continued success!

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