Maryam Pougetoux: my veil is ‘absolutely not’ a political symbol

BuzzFeed news interviewed Sorbonne student Maryam Pougetoux following the national outcry surrounding her TV interview, in which she appeared in a hijab. Below is a translated excerpt of the interview.

Buzzfeed: We are speaking one week after your interview…which sparked controversy. How do you manage all this?

Maryam: The week was quite difficult, because we do not expect it. We fight every day, we do our job as unionists, we go to class, we are with our families … And overnight, we find [Laurent Bouvet’s] face in the media. I was very surprised that it was going so far, and that is why I am speaking today. I had to take a step back, but now I think it’s time to explain things and talk. On the emotional level, I was very supported, I think that’s what helped me stay stable, which allowed me to ignore all the negative comments about me. But it’s complicated.

Buzzfeed: Your photo…was circulated. Did you fear for your safety?

Maryam: Fear was always in the back of my mind because I didn’t know what could happen at the corner of a street. I was already recognized, but fortunately people were not malicious. I was careful, and then the exam period happened and I could not go out too much. It could have been more complicated for me. My family supported me a lot, it’s a protective cocoon, even if they were both angry and sad for what was happening to their child.

Buzzfeed: Is this the first time you’ve realized wearing a veil could be an issue for certain people?
Maryam: I’ve noticed it many times. First on the street. After the 2015 attacks in particular, I felt that people did not look at me in the same way, that someone could look at me a little too much. But at the university level, there is the idea that we are all here to work, to learn, to study…When I arrived at the Unef, I wasn’t judged because I wore a veil. That’s why I was so involved in this union and I feel at ease.
Buzzfeed: This affair was amplified after the Interior Minister Gérard Collomb…believed that your veil could mark your ‘difference’ from ‘French society’, what do you want to say to that?
Maryam: It’s pretty bad, I did not expect it to go up so high that it’s almost a state affair. It is rather pathetic for an Interior Minister to make such brutal remarks. Knowing that my veil has no political function. It’s my faith. After that yes, it is visible, but it doesn’t entail proselytism. I almost have to justify my choice when I shouldn’t.
Buzzfeed: He also seemed to draw a connection between young people wearing the veil and those drawn to Daesh…
Maryam: In my opinion, there is no connection between my veil and young people who would be attracted to Daesh. You have to know that everything comes from education. When we give young people the opportunity to educate themselves, to go to university, to form their own opinion so that they can think for themselves, we should not have this concern about radicalized youth. There are always exceptions, of course, but this is the main way to fight these radical temptations in my opinion. And with regard to me, I consider myself to be integrated and I have nothing to do with Daesh. I am a French citizen, I studied in France, in secular and public institutions, my veil has no connection with that. I wear it by choice, by religious conviction, but in respect for the law, respecting others, so from that moment forward, the debate should not even arisen.
Buzzfeed: The Secretary of State for Equality Between Women and Men, Marlène Schiappa, remarked that your veil is an expression of ‘a political Islam,’ is this the case?
Maryam: I refute the fact that one can say that my veil is a political symbol. This is absolutely not the case. It is given a meaning that I myself do not give it. I think we need to demystify this issue. Behind “political Islam”, we put a little of everything and anything… At no time did I put my veil on as a result of a political or reactionary will. Absolutely not.
Buzzfeed: And what do you want to say to those who see your veil as a symbol of submission?
Maryam: I put it on by choice. From that point on, I think the question shouldn’t even arise anymore. I support all women, whether they want to wear it or do not want to wear it, whether Muslim or non-Muslim. There is no single feminism, there are different, diverse and varied feminisms. And I think the debate should end at some point, or be clearly put to rest. Because currently, the law authorizes the wearing of the veil in the public sphere, in the university, in respect of others. In my opinion, I meet all these conditions.
Buzzfeed: Do you have anything else to add?
Maryam: I just want to say thank you to everyone who supported me.  I couldn’t respond to everyone, but it’s that which I hold on to. 


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