Imagine a group of black niqab-clad women going in front of Notre Dame de Paris and burning flags that have pictures of Jesus or the French flag. What would people say? What would they think? What would these women be called? Terrorists? But do not feel disturbed, for such an action, can only be imagined; forget performing a sensationalist show of hatred or a truthful protest, niqab-clad women cannot even walk in the streets of Paris. [They are not allowed to. The French government dictates what these women can do or cannot do with their bodies; what they can wear or cannot wear.]


But these women – the women part of Femen – can do it; they can perform such a show. By baring their breasts and targeting the “right” flag to burn, the “right” place of religion to attack, the “right” group of people to slander – they get to have the right of showing their hatred, flaunting their intolerance, parading their bigotry without any shame. As long as your hate is directed at the “right” things and people – the things and people that those in power regard and situate as “the Other” – and as long as you conform to their ideas of “beauty”, “progress”, “good”, you are good to go.

Bear in mind, if old, obese, white men did this, colouring French flags on their bare chests, surely they would still get to do it without much public shaming in France, but at least some people would be displeased openly, some would even have the courage to say: “they are racists”, “they are orientalists”, “they are hateful”, “they are islamophobic”… But no such demeaning labels can be attached to the bare chested women of Femen, in our world of hypersexualisation where the best currency of exchange is what society deems a “sexy body”.


I want to add a note about the flag they burnt here: the Black Standard (a blank black flag) was often the standard flag during the time of the Prophet and in the state under his leadership. According to some traditions, the first-ever Black Standard was actually from a dress of Aisha, wife of the Prophet. Several different flag types and motifs became popular afterwards; one common motif is a calligraphy of Shahadah – the declaration of faith, the creed of Islam. This motif is used on black, white, and green flags quite often by different countries, institutions, or groups. The particular flag they used Black-White Shahadah, is a generic one used by many Muslims, it is not necessarily a flag of any Islamist organisation


So some women bared their breasts in a country where it is completely alright to bare your breasts, then they burned the symbolic flag of a religious minority, in front of the mosque of that religious minority. And then some lauded this as “revolutionary”. I laud this as a show of privilege – the worst kind of privilege: the privilege to openly hate and dictate hate.