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.