Soumaya — pedagogical file

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pedagogical file

“A beautiful film and a poignant story.” Alain Gresh

Former editor-in-chief of Le Monde diplomatique, Director of online publication Orient XXI

“A beautiful film that contrasts starkly with the usual representations of this type of issues within French cinema (and gosh, it feels good).” Mona Chollet

Journalist for Le Monde diplomatique

“A film that stands out in French cinema. Soumaya has got a lot of things to say. Now more than ever, it is necessary to hear them.” Fatima Ouassak

For website “Le Genre et l’Écran”

“An eye-opener. A visual percussion. It will probably go down as a ‘small’ movie or an ‘indie’ film. However, it is most importantly the kind of movie that will live outside theaters, leave a mark on people and resonate for a long time ahead.” Amanda Jacquel et Jean Segura Fumigène magazine

© 2019 Yaraa & CCIF

Synopsis France, 2015. The state of emergency is declared following the 13 November Paris attacks. Within a month, 2,700 police raids were staged on mostly Muslim homes. Soumaya and her daughter’s apartment was raided at 4:30 a.m. in early December. Some days later, she was dismissed from her job without further explanation and found out that some media outlet was speculating about her and linking her to jihadist circles. Soumaya is determined to defend herself and starts going down a long, hard road to assert her rights. She seeks to restore her dignity and reaffirm her love for her daughter.

Technical information Full-length feature film Language: French Running time: 103 minutes Directed by: Waheed Khan and Ubaydah Abu-Usayd Produced by: Cerceau, Ankii Yaraa, with the support of the CCIF Executive produced by: Ubaydah Abu-Usayd Production manager: Charlotte Corchète Cinematography: Ubaydah Abu-Usayd Montage: Martin Lecointre, Waheed Khan, Ubaydah Aby-Usayd Sound design: Pauline Anglada, Camille Gaté Cast: Soraya Hachoumi, Sarah Perriez, Khalid Berkouz, Karine Dogliani, Sonya Mellah, Islem Sehili, Majida Ghomari, Assia Ait Abdelmalek, Benjamin De Amaral, Julien Lheureux, Atika Taoualit, Farouk Benalleg, Hicham Ismaïl

How could I explain that to a seven-year-old child? Soumaya

Table of contents p. 1 Based on true events: Account by the “real Soumaya� p. 2 From reality to fiction: Interview with directors p. 4 The state of emergency

p. 8 Back to reality: a film about current times

p. 10 Are we heading for a society of denunciation?

p. 12 Representation of Muslims (in films and in the media)

p. 14 About freedom of speech: was Soumaya censored in France? p. 16 Un-look at the veil: for an esthetic approach

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Based on true events Account by the “real Soumaya” At the beginning of December 2015, I don’t know for which reason, they came to ring our house’s doorbell at 4:30 in the morning. I got dressed and opened the door: great surprise. Police officers stood there, some of whom were showing hooded faces, clubs, helmets and visors. They were about ten of them and they burst into the apartment. I was quite shocked, but they were correct. They came inside the apartment, they pushed me around a little bit; they put me aside to step in. Then they asked me to follow them. “Where should I follow you? I won’t go anywhere with you,” I told them. Then they said, “let us explain to you ma’am.” Therefore, one of them read me the search warrant. I then asked them to do one sole thing: not to make too much noise so that they wouldn’t wake up my daughter. She was indeed sleeping and if she were to see them, she’d be terrified. They informed me that my daughter was already awake. I said that I wanted to see her, I stepped into her room and she was sitting on the floor. I told her – even though you might wonder how to explain that sort of situation to a 7-year-old child – that they were just police officers who are good people, they just came here to search the apartment, they won’t hurt us and they’ll leave soon. Therefore, I moved her from her room to mine, which allowed her to see those hooded people; poor her, she thought they were burglars, so she hid in the covers, deep into the bed. Then, we tried to get over it. We convinced ourselves it was over. However, some days later, I was at work and

the human resources manager came to the office and asked to see me. I went to his office and sat down; I had always been on good terms with all of my colleagues (HR, management, etc.), but he notified me right there that he had to hand me a dismissal letter in order to dismiss me for gross misconduct. I was speechless. HR seemed to not know what was going on, they told me that it came from higher authorities. At that moment, I was in a real state of shock, I broke down in tears at my place of work. Some days later, we were listening to the radio and they were talking about an employee who had been dismissed by my firm and who was being radicalized. They were actually talking about me but the description didn’t fit me… We then bought the newspaper and it was in fact all over the press. This is what really brought me down. I contacted my lawyer because I was determined to assert my rights.

Soumaya, Septembre 2016

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From reality to fiction Interview with directors Why did you choose to tackle the issue of the state of emergency for this movie? Ubaydah : it all goes back to the woman that inspired this story. As part of an audiovisual performance, I was asked to film an interview with this woman. I knew that her home had been raided while in the presence of her 7-year-old daughter at the time, yet, the atmosphere in the room was particularly relaxed, which greatly surprised me. She sat down and told me about what had happened to her. I was constantly looking at the young girl, and I was really astonished at the serene way that they were telling their story, they were even smiling. Consequently, the idea for a movie was already emerging in my mind and it was inevitably related to the tacit relationship that formed between the mother and her daughter following their ordeal. I shared the idea with my friend Waheed and we decided to carry out the project together. Waheed : yes, I was personally affected by the account of this woman whose dignity was harmed. I think that only art can tackle this theme in a just and deep manner. If we can also relate this story to a legal case, then, we’ve really got substantial material to tell a poignant story. I was really interested in that aspect.

How did you research and investigate the topic? Ubaydah : the CCIF took over this woman’s case. They proposed her a lawyer whose work consisted, on the one hand, in obtaining compensation for her unfair dismissal, and on the other one, in invalidating the search warrant in court. Consequently, we asked that woman and the CCIF to allow us to access the whole file, and to let us contact the lawyer so that he could explain to us how things go about concretely. We then interviewed Lila Charef, who was managing the legal service. We realized that the number of cases was too big and that the number of issues to deal with was outstanding. Waheed : even in the media, some cases were causing quite a stir, notably the mass dismissal of baggage handlers at the airport of Roissy and the violent police raids in numerous mosques. All of this contributed to the film’s screenplay. Soumaya’s story was based on real-life events, the CCIF dealt with that case. Why did you choose this particular woman and case? Ubaydah : once we were granted access to the file, two elements appeared to be essential. First, this woman was clearly not informed about the reasons of her dismissal, however, the case was disclosed in the media, they

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supposedly linked her to jihadist circles and said that she “was being radicalized”. This is already heavy material for a screenplay. Secondly, this woman addressed a letter to the authorities of the time, notably to Manuel Valls and Bernard Cazeneuve. The letter was touching and, beyond the facts, expressed a real vision, a real piece of advice for those authorities, and a tangible request: respect people’s honor and dignity before anything else. Waheed : this woman’s story seemed central to us although we did deal with other cases in the film. Regarding the procedure, we were faithful to the facts and we arranged them in order for the story to be apprehended as a legal and social thriller.

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Everyone knows about the state of emergency and how it was declared and extended on multiple occasions, until it was made into a law, which was passed on October 30th, 2017 and reinforced national security and the fight against terrorism. However, most French citizens were only affected in some aspects of their daily life (e.g. the “Vigipirate” system, increased control at the entrance of certain buildings, etc.) In the media, it was displayed as a large campaign consisting in a show of force deployed across the country, which was intended to demonstrate that the French government was able to react firmly to terrorism. It probably reassured a significant number of French citizens, but a great number of them also rose against what they believed was jeopardizing fundamental rights. Indeed, more than 4,000 families, mostly Muslim families, endured the state of emergency in a very violent way: raids, dismissals and house arrests. This caused several human rights organizations to become worried. The CCIF was one of them and quickly alerted (in its 2015 report) on the dangerous flagging of Muslims because this logic confuses Islam, radical Islam and jihadism. This all builds up a domestic enemy, which supports exactly the terrorists’ project, which is to divide France into two sides.

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The state of emergency E XC E R P T F RO M T H E C C I F ’ S R E P O RT

Yes, it is urgent that police raids be called off In 2015, the CCIF found that 152 searches, 56 house arrests and 7 bans from leaving the country had occurred between November 13th and December 31st, 2015, but those numbers do not account for all the discrimination experienced under the state of emergency. This restriction on personal freedoms massively targets Muslims in an utterly arbitrary manner. Sociologist Laurent Mucchielli believes that it poses a danger in terms of justice and politics as much as it is a symbolic defeat. The director of the police commissioner’s office in the department of Eure-et-Loire even admitted that the police raids that were carried out there targeted only Muslims “who habitually practice their religion, change their behavior or the way they dress” for “prevention purposes” because “the perpetrators had had no legal issues before”. These actions rely on denunciation, ethno-racial prejudice and racial profiling, which is oddly reminiscent of our history’s darkest hours. Despite the excessive amount of police raids, the strategy that consisted in raiding homes failed, which highlights a security drift that not only did the CCIF denounce, but the judges themselves did too. The Council of State, which is the highest administrative authority, “considered that the 3,000 operations undertaken after

the November 2015 attacks seriously challenge the Constitution’s 66th article which states that ‘the judiciary authority is the guardian of individual freedoms.’” In light of this, the Council of State decided to question the Wise Persons of the Constitutional Council on the absence of a judge during the procedure that leads to administrative searches. This decision follows in Jean-Jacques Urvoas’s steps, he is the rapporteur of the parliamentary Committee and he concluded that the state of emergency “is losing momentum”. Similarly, the General Secretariat for Defense and National Security pointed out the failure of taking into account only security considerations and advocated the renunciation of State repression. In addition, they recommend acknowledging the civil society’s expertise, especially the Muslims on the field. The CCIF worries about the consequences entailed by the state of emergency, particularly concerning the people that are unfairly targeted by these “preventive” police searches. These are sometimes conducted with questionable methods, specifically the disproportionate deployment of human resources and the use of force (tackling to the ground, handcuffs, material damage, degrading treatment, etc.), sometimes in front of children. Collective against Islamophobia in France

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The state of emergency is accountable for:

More than 4,500 administrative searches (among which 2,700 occurred within a month only) More than 700 house arrests And‌ only 23 proceedings were instituted By the way, those proceedings constitute elements of common law and did not need to be subject to the extraordinary measures provided by the state of emergency. For instance, they related to the illegal possession of arms and the glorification of terrorism, which are certainly condemned by law.

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Why such minimal results? (0,5%)? E X C E R P T F RO M T H E C C I F ’ S R E P O RT The CCIF deplores that the “Muslim community” was requested to “publicly condemn” the attacks. This type of discourse alienates Muslims and treats them like they were different citizens, and beyond that, it rationalizes the unfounded idea that cultural communities isolate themselves. Indeed, political commentator Olivier Roy expressed that “the Muslim community does not exist”, because Muslims make up a heterogeneous group that shows social, economic and generational differences, in the same manner as French society as a whole. If the religious aspect had to be explored, it would be to emphasize what is obvious: “the Islamic State’s communication can only affect those who have no Muslim culture,” as contemporary Islam specialist Jean-Pierre Filiu justly put it. Antiterrorist judge Marc Trévidic draws the same conclusions: the religious aspect is said to be of limited importance because only 10% of terrorists’ profiles claim religion to be their motive. To escape this social situation, the CCIF advocates the debate form, the search for socio-economic causes, the exchange of knowledge with the world of research and with associations on the field, altogether to build social cohesion. It is undeniable that the government did not choose to make those choices, whether after the January attacks, when the Ministry of National Education created the division among schools1, or after the November attacks, when the state of emergency was declared and authorized the abusive police searches. These developments attest to the materialization of Islamophobia within the Republic’s institutions themselves. 1 Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem unveiled a proposal that would allow schools to take disciplinary action against students who snubbed school values, that is to say applying a binary division between students who declared “I Am Charlie” or “I Am Not Charlie”.

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Back to reality: a film about current times When the writing of Soumaya’s script was initiated, France still remained under the state of emergency, and the SILT law that reinforces national security and the fight against terrorism had not been proposed yet. However, on October 30th, 2017, the law was adopted, which alarmed numerous human rights organizations because it legislated some measures that were specific to the state of emergency. According to the CCIF, even four years later, the results of the state of emergency are still observable. In addition to the SILT law, the arguments advanced in the manifestation of discrimination still very often refer to terrorism. It intensified last October following the attack at the police headquarters in Paris. We indeed witnessed a media and political uproar that displayed the way the antiterrorist policy was operated: it constructs a domestic enemy whom every citizen should look out for their “weak signals” in order to denounce them.

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Are we heading for a society of denunciation? CCIF’s article – news report of October 2019

Following the authorities’ discourse used throughout October 2019 that prompted an Islamophobic surge, the CCIF published a text that alerts on the dangers of such policies: President Emmanuel Macron and the Minister of the Interior Christophe Castaner’s declarations adopted a worrying stance in the official political discourse, which the CCIF has been observing since the initiation of the state of emergency. We thought that the defamatory denunciations and the abusive police searches that were respectively issued and staged in 2015/2016 were due to a state of panic and administrative folly, coupled with the desire for a show of force. Yet, today, it clearly appears that, through Macron’s war rhetoric, the desire to enter a state of suspicion and denunciation is, in actuality, wellthought-out, pondered, written and solemnly expressed. The President’s warlike accent when mentioning those “small details” is doubly alarming. On the one hand, it is demonstrated that violent extremism generally operates through concealment (precisely, by concealing those

small details, which displays the government’s inability to seriously combat terrorism). On the other hand, the “small details” and “weak signals” as coined by the Prime Minister and the Minister of the Interior are nothing less than the signals of the most common religious practice. Following those statements, many Muslim citizens have found themselves completely stunned. Why this stupefaction? Well, many people, who until then did not know that they exhibited a behavior regarded as “Islamist”, now recognize themselves in the “weak signals” described by the Minister of the Interior. By the way, the CCIF received several calls from people who were seriously worried for their professional future and social integration. These people have noticed that any visible sign of belonging to Islam can be interpreted as dangerous, and now we can confirm this sentiment.

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How have we reached this point? Our assumption, which gets increasing support over time, underlies a semantic shift that has occurred for several years, and that has expanded and become acceptable after the 2015 attacks: this semantic shift attributes characteristics that are actually common characteristics of a normal practice of Islam to what is known as “Islamism” or “political Islam”. They include wearing a headscarf (which is now easily likened to terrorism by some polemicists), sporting a beard, praying (especially if the prayer is performed at the mosque and if its regular performance leaves a mark on the believer’s forehead), spiritually retreating during the month of Ramadan, etc. Among the weak signals mentioned by Castaner, they actually form the archetypical, practicing Muslim, except for some elements involving social behavior (e.g. refusing to salute with a kiss on the cheek or to team up with the opposite sex) that must be resolved with arguments based on civility and labor law. Previously, the notion of “moderate Muslim” was introduced in order to avoid the blatant stigmatization of Muslims in public debates (about the headscarf, halal food, the swimming pools, etc.) But it actually promoted the idea that simply being a “Muslim” clashed with the idea of peace and moderation. Now, we are here: the amalgam has become acceptable. This discourse has had severe consequences for the representation of Muslims in France. Thus, it caused denunciations to multiply, as well as “home visits”1 and discriminations against Muslims, especially if they are practicing Muslims. Coined as such in the SILT law. In practice, it is nothing less than a euphemism for “police search.” 1

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Representation of Muslims In films and in the media Qui a raison ? Regarding Soumaya, the film’s reception highlights a recurring response that especially emanates from Muslim women who wear a headscarf: “for the first time, I could see myself in a movie”. This cheers up the producers of the film and gives them confidence in their work. Nonetheless, it also shows the deep problematic surrounding the representation of Muslims, which has been examined in a certain amount of film analyses. Generally, Muslims’ representation in films, as well as in numerous media outlets, feeds prejudices that shape those Muslims in a way that sets them apart as an alienated group. The practice of religion is systematically represented as something that is, at best, mind-numbing or, at worse, violent. Soumaya attempts to deconstruct these ideas and add some complexity to the matter.

In Soumaya, the different protagonists have debates, even arguments. Muslim viewers merely discover that the characters do not think the same way. It is evident; yet, it is interesting to recall this fact in the context of Muslims that are constructed as a domestic enemy and seen as a uniform group. The film’s directors declare that they feel like they are “every character at once”. The disagreements that exist between those characters are the testament to their fervent opinions although these are never fixed and they are meant to evolve. Who is right in the debate? Is it Soumaya who believes in justice and pursue inexorably her objective which is to assert her rights? Is it Maryam who grows weary of fighting and does not want to debate the things that she considers self-evident (fundamental liberties)? Is it Jérôme who thinks it would be better to leave the country? Is it Kaïs who concludes that it is impossible to defend both the Republic and the practice of religion at once? The debate is open and makes way for all these sharp differences of opinion .

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About freedom of speech Was Soumaya censored in France? A screening of the film was supposed to take place on March 15th, 2019 at the Grand Rex, which is a prestigious theater that can accommodate up to 2,600 people. Without going back on the case in detail, it is noteworthy that what happened to the film is related in the film: a progressive exclusion whose very reasons remain unexpressed (until the film’s crew went to court to expose them). Just like Soumaya’s boss Veron offers her some compensation, the Grand Rex director first offered the crew to “move into another movie theater”, a “smaller theater” that would be “more suitable to indie movies”. The film was probably sidelined because of its production process: it is an independent production supported by an organization (the CCIF), with a small budget (27,000 euros, compared to an average 4 million euros among French films), without a producer nor a distributor. Within the French film landscape, those kinds of films are called “savage films”. In fact, this phrase may uncover a process of marginalization occurring within cinema as well as within society. It is then significant that the quickest solution proposed was to move the screening to a seasoned theater in the “banlieue”1 of Épinay-sur-Seine. Gradually, the reasons behind the canceled screening at the Grand Rex theater were uncovered. It was not until the matter was taken to the courts that the real reason for the cancelation was textually given: the Grand Rex will not screen “films of a political or religious nature”. The Grand Rex could have easily determined the precise nature of the film without the need for them to see it. Regarding the religious nature of the film, anyone who watched it obviously knows that it does not have a religious nature, however, it deals with the discrimination that people of Muslim background face. If the Grand Rex

refers to the faith of the film’s characters, then films that deal with Jews, Christians or people of other faiths should be excluded too, which, other than being absurd, would be racist. Regarding the political nature, Soumaya may indeed be considered a political film. And this characteristic may possibly be shared by a large amount of films scheduled at the Grand Rex theater. For instance, is Hunger Games a political film? Many would say yes. That is why the film’s crew speaks of censorship. In other words, the spatial (France) and temporal (recent events of 2015) proximity to Soumaya’s story certainly contributed to it being rejected (including by some distributors who admitted that this proximity raised an issue). Thus, the relevant question to ask is: through the traditional process of filmmaking, can we contemplate making a film that raises issues concerning the current policies of our country independently and without making any concessions? Additionally, is it possible to represent a woman wearing a headscarf with a different perspective from the one that most media and films adopt?


Equivalent to the “projects”, in the suburbs of Paris.

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Un-look at the veil For an esthetic approach Contrary to appearances, and despite what some might retain from the film, Soumaya is not really about the Muslim veil. It is merely part of the “weak signals” that were said to be connected to the radical practice of Islam, and even to terrorism. Soumaya rather deals with policy measures that progressively curtail fundamental freedoms, in this case the freedom of conscience. The issue relating to the “veil” or the “headscarf” has been debated excessively for decades in France, however, the women that are at the heart of the debate generally do not get to speak up. It might be bewildering to observe such relentless debate over a piece of fabric. Nevertheless, when we take a look at the history of this “fabric”, it turns out to have a wider scope than the one encompassing the “Islamic veil in France.” In his book Comment le voile est devenu musulman ? (How did the veil become Muslim?), art historian Bruno Nassim Aboudrar explains that the veil is not specific to Muslim visual culture. Obviously, the veil is observable in Christianity, but more broadly, the veil as a motif in art has always been present in Western sculptures and paintings (e.g. drapery in antiquity). However, as a “Muslim issue”, the veil seems to be connected to the colonial history and thereby can be considered the result of a construction: Westerners are indeed the first to look at the veil, that is to say they assign their own visual meaning to this object that prevents them from seeing women’s body and face, and this visual meaning disapproves of covering. (page 69) This poses a paradox demonstrated by Bruno Nassim

Aboudrar: the veil as clothing that covers or even conceals became so visible or even visual that it ended up defining the very women that wear it. Among the Muslim French women’s movement, some tend to reject the designation “veiled woman”, which essentializes women because it characterizes them on the sole basis of their clothing. Therefore, they suggest another designation: “Muslim women wearing a headscarf”, which may galvanize Muslim women’s fellow citizens into starting to abstain from looking at their clothes. In many films that deal with the Muslim headscarf, it is intended to define it as an instrument of oppression. The way those films depict the characters that wear a headscarf captures them finally removing it in a scene of “unveiling”, which corresponds to the fantasies that have been nourished since the paintings of the colonial era. However, assuming that the headscarf is worn freely by the majority of Muslim women and that, according to their definition, it is a liberating garment – for instance, as a form of holding power over their body – it is about time that filmmakers reinvent the esthetic image of the veil, so as to reverse gradually what has been done so far. Un-look at the veil and dissipate the frenetic attention that it attracts.

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— 1 8 — for more informations

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France, 2015. A state of emergency is declared after the attacks of 13 November. In one month, 2,700 searches take place, mostly within Muslim families. The film Soumaya provides a detailed account of one of these raids, and discusses the issues at stake in such measures, which many human rights organizations have considered to be a violation of fundamental freedoms. In a context where the authorities speak of ÂŤweak signalsÂť that every citizen should denounce, Soumaya is highly topical, as it offers a new perspective on these issues and provokes debate while helping to calm the debate. Obviously, Soumaya remains a film, an entertainment; it is cinema, but a social cinema that can open the eyes to realities that are unknown to many people. In this way, it also becomes an educational tool, particularly for students, teachers, trainers, association leaders and others, who can use it to better observe what happened in France in 2015 and understand the effects on our society today.

pedagogical file