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Fundamentalism is rising in Senegal

Monday 11 December 2017, by siawi3

Source:, 10.12.17

Fundamentalism is rising in Senegal.

Interview with Fatou Sow*

by Andy Heintz**


Andy Heintz: Religious fundamentalism in Senegal

Fatou Sow: Fundamentalism is rising in Senegal. More and more Muslim leaders and organizations want to enter politics. Senegal has been a secular state from pre-colonial, through colonization until today. Since independence, secularism is inscribed in the Constitution. That simply means separation between religion and politics, separation between the state and the church and the state and the mosque. People are elected as an individual citizen, but not as a religious leader.

On the influence of colonialism in Senegal

I think that colonization represented a recognizable shift in what Africa was supposed to be if it was not colonized. I tell my friends because of French colonization and the French schooling, some part of us has been “Westernized”. Some aspects of the French culture were absorbed by people in Senegal because of colonialism, but people are deeply rooted in African cultures because they live on the continent. While we have been independent since 1960, we are not yet that economically independent, because of neocolonialism, liberalization, globalization and unequal international trade. I think for the younger generation in Africa, the issue of colonialism isn’t whether I am African or I am not African, it’s about the weight of the West in politics, economics and African trade.

On U.S. farm subsidies effect on African farmers

Many people in America, in large firms, State Organizations, such as USAID, have advised African States not to subsidize their crops (peanut, cotton) for trade in Africa. At the same time, farmers in the United States are subsidized at a rate we could never imagine and that would never exist in Senegal. This policy doesn’t make African agriculture competitive in markets driven by the subsidy policies carried out in rich countries like the European Union countries and the U.S. This is a major challenge for developing countries.

Is there a feeling that African leaders and society should play more of a role in solving local conflicts than outside forces?

We would like to have political issues in Africa solved internally. During the Libyan revolution of February 2011, the opposition forces to Muammar Gaddafi and his government started mass protests that turned into an armed rebellion. A very complex situation led to the attack and killing of Gaddafi by NATO forces with France and Great Britain. Although Gaddafi was an undemocratic dictator for four decades and a hateful person, the African Union was against the process, as most of the African presidents were reluctant to the intervention of Western forces. They promised to negotiate with him and have peacekeeping forces to keep him from his killing his own people. None of European states that took this fatal initiative listened to the African Union. I can’t imagine any African state and the African Union going to bomb somewhere in America, South America or somewhere in Europe. They would be stopped. But the more powerful countries like the United States, Great Britain and Germany (although they rarely do) can be involved in a war the United Nations has disapproved of while no African country can do that.

Is there resentment in Africa about Western triumphalism because of the history of colonialism and its dominant role in physically shaping the world? There seems to be this idea that the West has human rights while people in non-Western countries have culture.

We should add politically and intellectually shaping the world. Western colonization is resented everywhere. We resent the power of West that is oppressing us on issues such as colonialism and neocolonialism, unfair world trade, world politics and globalization. Former colonizers have no more to colonize in other countries because globalization does it with Western firms tapping into oil, water, minerals and whatever resources we have here. We have resentment about the cultural, technical domination by the West over the rest of the world, while we also think that the former colonizers build their wealth on the exploitation of our resources. Today, we have more and more African migrants traveling by foot and floats to the West, at any cost including risking their lives because the West is where there are jobs, educational opportunities and modernity. Europe is complaining that there are hundreds of thousands coming from North and Sub-Saharan Africa, just to cite the continent. Germany itself hosted about one million migrants from countries in crisis. Whatever resentments we have toward the West, we know the West is a place that might have more opportunities than somewhere else.
Africa is one of the richest continents in the world, endowed with enormous natural and mineral wealth. It is a continent with promising premises. When will its people benefit from its resources?

In America, there is a lot of talk about discerning Muslims from Muslim extremists. Is this strategy playing into the hands of Muslim fundamentalists because it’s knowingly or unknowingly surmising that all Muslims have one religious identity when Muslims like all other human beings have multiple identities that serve as a bulwark against the ascension of one single bellicose identity that often views other groups with suspicion or hostility?

Exactly. That was exactly what I was going to say. In America you have several faces of what Christianity means. You have the same thing in African and Muslim majority countries, or countries hosting Muslim minorities. For instance, in France, most of the Muslim people are coming from North African countries like Algeria, Tunisia or Morocco. Many of them are just average believers. They might not drink alcohol and eat pork. Women might not wear the veil. Although they could have been subjected to racism, and restrictions on their religious practices, and needed to claim their personal identity, they were living quite peacefully in France. But in many cases, during the seventies, in order to protest oppression, radical Muslims proposed Islam as an identity marker, as if the only way to show identity was to become more Muslim and more radical. They [the radical Muslims] were the ones who covered women and girls. Many Muslim networkers I work with or people I meet with at the conferences are quite reluctant to wear the veil.
I have disagreements with my male and female colleagues at the French university. They always claim that “Muslim societies have a right to follow Islam patterns and practices.” My response to that claim is clear: “You belong to a Christian society. You fought and overthrew the king of France in 1792 who was the sacred King of France by the Church, in order to get rid of the church. And you want to still keep the mosque and its leadership as the center of government in Muslim countries?” I want to be able to question my culture without being accused of being negative to my culture.

Do you think some human rights organizations in the West have misunderstood the argument put forth by those who want to ban the wearing of the veil in Western countries?

The argument has been terribly misunderstood. Many Muslim women in the West hate the veil. In France, wearing the veil in public functions, in primary and secondary schools, is forbidden by the state. Of course, Muslim organizations said the veil is part of their women’s identity and they were pushed by radicalism to say “Muslim women should have the right to wear the veil.” So here I am fighting feminists in England, the United States and in French universities because they are saying governments shouldn’t ban the veil; and that Muslim women should have the right to choose to wear it. And I tell them “what is the right to choose something oppressive?” Could you imagine having the church in France preventing you to enter the church unless your head is covered?

* Dr. Fatou Sow is director of the International Solidarity Network of Women Living Under Muslim Laws. Former Social Sciences Professor at the University Cheikh Anta Diop of Dakar (Senegal) and the University of Paris-Diderot (France), she also is a member of The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa and the African Feminist Forum, as well as some other international women’s organizations and academic institutions. Her work has appeared on the progressive not-for-profit digital commons Open Democracy.

**This interview is excerpted from “”Dissidents of the International Left“”, by Andy Heintz, to be published in 2018.

Andy Heintz has been conducting interviews for more than two years with progressives from around 15 countries.

published by Siawi with author’s permission