The Power of Mothers
For a new revolutionary subject
As a reader, I don't approach political, research or history books in the same way - which I absorb slowly, highlighting sentences, studiously taking notes in my notebook - as I do novels, stories - which I devour greedily, frantically turning the pages, until some of them corner.
Fatima Ouassak is not a novelist, she is a political scientist and lecturer. Her book is a manifesto, political and committed. And yet, I found myself reading it as I would have read the most exciting of stories. No doubt because she takes us into her own story, that of an Arab mother from Bagnolet, who undergoes and observes multiple discriminations, before drawing her strength and her fight from it, and uniting with others to gain power and become "Dragon".
The first part of the book is emotionally unbearable - so much so that it reflects a harsh reality - and yet terribly necessary. We experience with her her quotient as a working-class Arab woman, as a pregnant woman and then as a mother, which can be summed up in one sentence: "we are discriminated against from our mothers' wombs to the grave". Motherhood imposes on her a deeply rooted paradox: on the one hand, the strength she feels in becoming a mother, the visceral need to protect her child, to change the world for him, and on the other hand, the social injunctions of a system that expects her to be discreet, to fold up, to keep quiet, and to silently suffer gynaecological violence during childbirth, or even the numerous discriminations of the teaching staff towards her children. Through various reported dialogues between Arab parents and teachers, she testifies to a school that has a problem with "hair when it is frizzy, the mother tongue when it is Arabic, with the religion that it is Islam". These are simple situations, almost banal in their context, ordinary racism against the backdrop of playgrounds and children's games, and yet when you read them they grab you by the throat and make you revolt.
She tells the story of her struggle, that of a mother who is a convinced environmentalist and who wants her children to eat food that respects the living world. She goes to the Parents' Federation to propose the introduction of a vegetarian menu in the canteen, which is immediately interpreted as a religious stand for hallal meat. She will be excluded, isolated and called a radical. Because where a white woman with the same speech would simply be qualified as an ecologist concerned about the health of her children, she, an Arab Muslim mother, is perceived as a threat to secularism.
When I read these lines I was agitated, revolted, I wanted to stand up and fight with her, I said to myself "if I had been one of these parents I would have defended her, I would have stood by her side! Well, I like to think that I would have done so... because at the same time I was filled with a sense of shame. Although I was a committed feminist, I never really thought actively about the difficulties of these suburban mothers, which differed in many ways from my problems as a white woman from a middle-class background. Beyond the indignation it provokes, I see in this text an educational usefulness, to raise awareness of the reality of these women.
The text takes a more optimistic turn and is transformed into a political project, in which she tells how, by organising herself, joining forces with other mothers and creating the Bagnolet mothers' front, she managed to win some great victories, to be recognised and open doors, to break down barriers: 'with 7 people, if we are determined, we can change a city'. While the system expects mothers to buffer and teach their children to deny their origins, their differences and their values in order to integrate into the mass within a racist and inegalitarian system, they decide to take the opposite approach and put the transmission of their heritage at the heart of their project.
The Mothers' Front is not only composed of mothers, but its particularity is to make them exist as a central political subject, who leads a just struggle because it is based on love for their child.
She launches a cry of hope: "There is no fatality"! There are mothers everywhere and she proposes that they unite in a social (against racism, exclusion) and ecological struggle around a common interest: that of the children.
And although I am not a mother, I recognise myself in this political project, which places care, tolerance and respect for living beings at its centre and thus makes a radical change from the usual programmes that accept the current system as inevitable and make only minor improvements to it. And even if this path is complex and full of pitfalls, I am deeply aware of the necessity of this radical change. Her optimism and the strength she finds in the collective are, in the darkness of this struggle, glimmers of hope and inspiration.