In Paris, the “affaire de la jupe” (Affair of the Skirt), reported on in French here is one of those seemingly small contretemps, involving Muslims in the West, that circumstances turn into something much bigger.
It begins with two women, North African in origin, who were waiting, at 11 p.m. for city bus #60, at the Botzargis bus stop. When the bus pulled up to the stop, the bearded driver looked them over, refused to open the doors, and took off. One of the women ran after the bus, and when it stopped at a red light, she asked the driver, through his window, why he hadn’t picked them up.. He told her that she was dressed incorrectly, in a skirt. He looked disapprovingly at her legs. By her appearance he knew she was ethnically Arab, and therefore believed she ought to have been islamically modest in her dress. No skirts. And that is why, he explained unapologetically,, he had refused to pick her up. A city bus, but a Muslim driver, enforcing an Islamic dress code.
Things might have ended there, for all concerned, but for the fact that the woman in question is 29 years old, and the daughter of a famous Algerian poet, Kamel Bencheikh, an apostate who lives in France and is, he proudly says, an ‘islamophobe.” (by which he means not someone with an “irrational fear” of Islam but, rather, with a deep knowledge of and dislike of the faith). When Bencheikh heard the story from his daughter Elise he posted a piece about it, and also wrote about the incident on his Facebook page, demanding that the driver be punished.
But what happened then was even more disturbing than the original incident of the bearded driver of a city bus enforcing an Islamic dress code. Facebook took down Kamel Bensheikh’s account on his Facebook page because, it said, his post tended to “incite hatred.” Thus does the world’s main social media platform decide to censor a perfectly reasonable expression of outrage by a father at the treatment of his daughter. She had, after all, been refused service at 11 o’clock at night, and left with another woman to fend for themselves in a dangerous area of Paris (Buttes-Chaumont). There was nothing in Bencheikh’s posting that “incited hatred”’; he was angry with the driver, and expressed that anger. But anger is not hate; he nowhere “incited hatred” as Facebook, in removing his account, falsely claimed. He asked himself: why does the social network accuse him of inciting hatred with this post?
Indeed, as soon as the facts of the incident were revealed, the French political class reacted on Twitter, asking RATP (the public transportation company) to provide the necessary sanctions against the driver.. Here are just a few of their responses. Valérie Pécresse: “If the facts are proven they are scandalous.”Jean Messiha:”The woman’s father posts her story on Facebook, which immediately deletes it. Are we still in France? “And Lydia Guirous, spokesperson for the Republicans, was even more radical: “There is an EMERGENCY need to eradicate political Islam in France.” Valérie Boyer affirms that “religious extremism has no place in our Republic. Our freedoms, our rights must be preserved!”
“This guy who drives a bus paid for by my taxes prevented my daughter, who holds a valid Navigo pass and therefore in good standing, who has never had anything to blame for getting on… Just because she wore a skirt,” her father the poet said.. He described the driver as a “Maghrebin” and “Islamist.” . And he demanded a public apology from RATP, which, for its part, said that the driver does not acknowledge “the facts as presented in the press.” However, the Régie (the administration of the bus service) has, however, opened “disciplinary proceedings” against him for “lack of service”. Francilians [people of the Ile-de-France region] can see, every day, that they are very often driven by bearded people,… How many drivers refuse to drive a bus [for some religious reason]? And with the arrival of Ramadan, some people are openly asking themselves the question of passenger safety, because can a driver who does not drink, does not eat all day long, be sure of all his means? Can’t he lose his attention, even for a second?”
The bus driver may well face disciplinary action, as the French are in no mood to allow Muslims on the public payroll to enforce their own notions of Islamic morality on those they assume are Muslims, and whose outfits were therefore to be judged according to Muslim standards. In fact, neither of the women involved was Muslim.
There are three outrages here. One has to do with this particular driver, who will be judged by the Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP), the company that runs the transport services in the Ile-de-France. He is likely to lose his job; his behavior was clearly unacceptable. A second outrage is that there have been similar cases of Muslim bus and taxi drivers imposing their own notions of morality on would-be passengers, but who have gotten away with it because the people they interfered with were not well-connected, unlike the daughter of the famous poet Kamel Bensheikh, someone who instantly commands a wide audience. And the third outrage has to do with Facebook itself. How does Facebook explain its decision to remove the page of Kamel Bencheikh because it supposedly “incited hate,” though nothing in his post remotely resembled such incitement? The French government needs to look at what Facebook and other social media platforms censor, so far without oversight by anyone.
This “affaire de la jupe” may seem small, but in France it has loomed large, for it is one of those seemingly trivial events, whereby Muslims, little by little, attempt to impose their own rules on the larger society. In this case, thanks to the articulate apostate Kamel Bencheikh, such an attempt did not succeed. He’s in the driver seat, and the bus driver is not, and if the French political class and public have their way, that driver won’t ever be again.