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The Muslim Women Who Won't Be "Liberated" By Femen

A Femen demonstration in Paris in March 2012
A Femen demonstration in Paris in March 2012
Nadia Pantel

MUNICH -The opposite of good is well-intentioned. And the present conflict between Femen activists and Muslim feminists demonstrates how a “well-intentioned” action can fail so miserably.

Femen activists are supposed to be the good guys – the ones who stand for freedom and emancipation. To spread their message they protest topless – naked but not available was the idea when they first started demonstrating against prostitution, sexism and trafficking women at the European World Soccer Championships in 2012 in Ukraine, their home country.

But bare breasts don’t translate well in every culture, as the latest of Femen’s major campaigns, International Topless Jihad Day, has showed. On April 4, around the world, topless women bearing "Fuck your morals" signs paraded in front of mosques and Tunisian embassies. In Germany there were demonstrations in Berlin and Hamburg. The Femen website showed an image of naked breasts painted Islam green and slogans that read "Titslamism" and "Free Amina."

Mid-March, a young Tunisian woman, Amina Tyler, 19, had photographed herself topless with the words "Fuck your morals" painted on her torso in black. After she posted the photos on Facebook, Salafi cleric Adel Almi called for her to be stoned to death. Tyler later said on Tunisian TV that she had acted in the cause of women’s liberation.

In an interview last weekend with French TV channel Canal Plus, Tyler thanked Femen for its support and related how, on Facebook and by phone, she had received death threats and threats of acid attacks.

Meanwhile, 13 UK activists formed a group called Muslim Women Against Femen and penned an open-letter with a clear message: "We don't need you!"

Their concern with Tyler, the catalyst for Topless Jihad Day, was only marginal. In their open letter, the group writes that Femen portrays Muslim women as “helpless.” But Muslim women are more than able to fight back, the letter said, adding: “Take aim at male supremacy, not Islam. Your priorities are messed up."

The limits of nudity

Femen leader Inna Schevshenko penned her own open letter in response to the Muslim Women Against Femen statement, which had been widely disseminated not only via Facebook and Twitter but the subject of public demonstrations as well. In interviews she said, "through all history of humanity, all slaves deny that they are slaves" and told the Huffington Post UK: “They write on their posters that they don’t need liberation but in their eyes it’s written ‘help me.’”

A day after Topless Jihad Day, supporters of Muslim Women Against Femen started their own Muslimah Pride Day, with hundreds of supporters uploading pictures of themselves on Facebook bearing posters with messages such as "Nudity does not liberate me and I do not need saving" or "I am free."

That many of these women are wearing headscarves is seen by Femen activists as a sign that they are not free. Under #MuslimahPride one user said on Twitter: "Stockholm Syndrome" – thus using exactly the same kind of rhetoric as Schevshenko in her slavery remarks. Stockholm Syndrome refers to a phenomenon whereby hostages defend their tormentors.

But it is precisely this logic that enrages the anti-Femen movement. "We are fed-up and tired of hearing from women of privilege perpetuating the stereotype that Muslim women, women of color and women from the Global South are submissive, helpless and in need of western ‘progress,’” write the Muslim Women Against Femen. Instead of seeing where Femen was coming from – women united against their oppressors – the Muslim activists were seeing another manifestation of western Islamophobia.

From a German point of view, equating the Ukrainian women’s movement with “western colonialism” seems odd. However, the way Femen uses bare-breasts and catchy slogans to create a kind of international protest “brand” without considering cultural differences or sensitivities was also experienced in Germany, where last January the group irritated German feminists by using the infamous "Arbeit macht frei" slogan (“Labor makes you free,” a phrase that was placed over the entrance of Auschwitz concentration camp during WWII) during a protest in Hamburg.

Yet, this hasn’t slowed down the Femen movement. Last weekend, as Vladimir Putin opened the Hanover Trade Fair with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, several topless protesters approached the Russian president yelling "Fuck Dictator." Putin said later: "I liked it. I don’t see anything terrible here."

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Future

How Facebook's Metaverse Could Undermine Europe's Tech Industry

Mark Zuckerberg boasted that his U.S. tech giant will begin a hiring spree in Europe to build his massive "Metaverse." Touted as an opportunity for Europe, the plans could poach precious tech talent from European tech companies.

Carl-Johan Karlsson

PARIS — Facebook's decision to recruit 10,000 people across the European Union might be branded as a vote of confidence in the strength of Europe's tech industry. But some European companies, which are already struggling to fill highly-skilled roles such as software developers and data scientists, are worried that the tech giant might make it even harder to find the workers that power their businesses.


Facebook's new European staff will work as part of its so-called "metaverse," the company's ambitious plan to venture beyond its current core business of connected social apps.

Shortage of French developers

Since Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his more maximalist vision of Facebook in July, the concept of the metaverse has quickly become a buzzword in technology and business circles. Essentially a sci-fi inspired augmented reality world, the metaverse will allow people to interact through hardware like augmented reality (AR) glasses that Zuckerberg believes will eventually be as ubiquitous as smartphones.

The ambition to build what promoters claim will be the successor to the mobile internet comes with a significant investment, including multiplying the 10% of the company's 60,000-strong workforce currently based in Europe. The move has been welcomed by some as a potential booster for the continent's tech market.

Eight out of 10 French software companies say they can't find enough workers.

"In a number of regions in Europe there are clusters of pioneering technology companies. A stronger representation of Facebook can support this trend," German business daily Handelsblatt notes.

And yet the enthusiasm isn't shared by everyone. In France, company leaders worry that Facebook's five-year recruiting plan will dilute an already limited talent pool, with eight out of 10 French software companies already having difficulties finding staff, daily Les Echos reports.

The profile of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg displayed on a smartphone

Cris Faga / ZUMA

Teleworking changes the math

There is currently a shortage of nearly 10,000 computer engineers in France, with developers being the most sought-after, according to a recent study by Numéum, the main employers' consortium of the country's digital sector.

Facebook has said its recruiters will target nations including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands and Ireland, without mentioning specific numbers in any country. But the French software sector, which has so far managed to retain 59% of its workforce, fears that its highly skilled and relatively affordable young talent will be fertile recruiting grounds — especially since the pandemic has ushered in a new era of teleworking.

Facebook's plan to build its metaverse comes at a time when the nearly $1-trillion company faces its biggest scandal in years over damning internal documents leaked by a whistleblower, as well as mounting antitrust scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators. Still, as the sincerity of Zuckerberg's quest is underscored by news that the pivot might also come with a new company name, European software companies might want to start thinking about how to keep their talent in this universe.

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