Members of a feminist protest group known for storming events topless has disrupted an Islamic conference in France and caught what appears to be a bit of a beating in the process.
Femen, founded in Ukraine, doesn’t have a huge reputation stateside. The group, the subject of a 2014 documentary, is known for its advocacy on behalf of Ukranian rape victims and ambushing Russian president Vladimir Putin — news that isn’t always news on the other side of the Atlantic. But the group’s provocative tactic — as the group’s Facebook page puts it: “Our God is a Woman! Our Mission is Protest! Our Weapon are bare breasts!” — keeps the group in the headlines from time to time.
And even right-wing media sites like Breitbart were impressed when two young women, sans shirts, took the stage last weekend at what was billed as a “Muslim salon” in Pontoise, France, a town just outside of Paris. The salon, as Buzzfeed reported, included a conversation about “Women’s valuation in Islam.”
In dramatic video that’s not exactly safe for work, the women take the lectern and start shouting in French: “Nobody enslaves me, nobody owns me, I’m my own prophet.” Messages written on their chests — a Femen trademark — offered similar messages.
“The two activists (both coming from muslim families) [gave voice to] hundreds of women, feminists, and associations, all disgusted by this public hate speeches,” the group wrote on Facebook. “It was our duty to interrupt this enslavement event, and to let a scream of freedom be heard in the middle of their submission lessons.”
The women were quickly escorted offstage. But the escorting seemed to turn into a scuffle as a number of men began kicking the women once they were down.
A reporter for Buzzfeed France present at the event told The Washington Post that, at the time the women took the stage, the imams they interrupted were actually taking a moderate tone.
“These two imams” —Mehdi Kabir and Nader Abu Anas — “have held women in radical speeches in 2013 and 2014,” David Perrotin said. “But the show, it was the opposite. … They [were explaining] ‘why Islam required Muslims to respect women.'”
Yet, Perrotin said that the protest fit into Femen’s anti-religious, anti-authoritarian message. Perrotin pointed out that they staged a similar protest at Notre Dame last year.
“It’s the logical fight of Femen,” Perrotin said. “They protest against all forms of misogyny … although some opponents accuse them of Islamophobia.”
Perrotin also said the use of force was unquestionable.
“Yes, it was pretty violent,” he said. “… I saw a Femen beaten by a man who did not belong to security.”