Filmmaker Nadia Zouaoui released her new documentary The Trial 2.0 online for streaming this week.
Rabat – A new documentary, The Trial 2.0, focuses on the impact of the 2013 Charter of Values law created by the Parti Québécois. If passed, public employees would have been banned from wearing symbols of their faith, including the Islamic veil, the Sikh turban, the Jewish Kippah, and large Christian crosses. Ultimately, The Charter of Values did not pass into law.
The Trial 2.0 touches on the role of Internet harassment in relation to a public debate that aired in 2013. The events surrounding the charter highlighted, as Zouaoui puts it, are the “modern challenges of living together.”
In an interview, Zouaoui said, “All these people are allowed to speak and their view is valid. But at the same time, what the film says is that you cannot slander or become violent because somebody else doesn’t like you [or your opinion].”
Context: The backstory between Quebec’s secularism and the hijab
Even though the Charter of Values did not pass, The Trial 2.0 is still relevant. The current Coalition government, Avenir Québec, has recently proposed a similar law under the intention to “separate religion and state,” called Bill 21. The new law would ban newly hired public employees from wearing religious symbols while holding specific positions of authority. Additionally, in order for citizens to receive public services, they must remove head coverings which hide their face, so that they may be properly identified. The bill has been described as an “ethnic cleansing” for its inherent minimization of diversity.
The debate over Quebec’s secularism has been going on for over a decade. Considering that Quebec is indeed a secular state which aims to “attach importance to the equality of women and men.” From this perspective, the veils that Muslim women wear can be seen as a visible denial of this philosophy.
The laws, though not an explicit hijab ban, sparked another, more explosive universal debate around disposing of the hijab entirely.
The hijab, traditionally a symbol of faith, is already a controversial garment because many against its use view it as something which polices a woman’s natural body for the sake of promoting sexual purity culture. The idea that sexuality should be heavily guarded and therefore women should resist displaying body parts which have the power to charm a man into deviant sexual behavior. Many Muslim women commit to wearing the veil not from being forced, but by their own free will. In the perspective of these women, the hijab liberates women to coexist with men, without inspiring sinful sentiments and gives them a sense of spiritual inspiration.
On the other hand, there is some truth in viewing the hijab’s uses as problematic. Quite often, women are being forced to wear the veil, whether by law or family members. Typically, these women are not permitted to publicly express that they are being forced to wear the veil. However, what must be distinguished is that the veil is only an Islamic custom and therefore criticizing it is not necessarily a critique on Islam itself.
As a result, more hijabis, able Muslim women who wear their hijab with a sense of purpose, are becoming vocal and are speaking in favor of their a woman’s choice to wear the veil. All the while, many women do suffer in silence. The debate over the hijab questions whether or not it is overall harmful and oppressive or helpful and liberating for women.
In her documentary, Filmmaker Nadia Zouaoui chronicles the social division around the hijab that the law highlights, especially in the Quebec feminist movements within Islam.
Plotline: Internet harassment and Dalila Awada
The main subject of the documentary is Dalila Awada, a Quebec Muslim feminist who wears a hijab.
Appearing on the popular Radio-Canada TV program Tout le monde en parle, Sept. 29, 2013, Awada debated that women should maintain the right to choose whether they want to wear a hijab. Her opponent was the author and pundit Djemila Benhabib, who argued that the veil is a garment that casts women as temptresses and men as predators. Benhabib argues that the hijab is a symbol “stained with the blood of thousands of women forced to wear it.” After the program aired, Awada faced more intense backlash.
Among the backlash were death threats, and insults. Some of the virtual harassment has lead Awada to file $120,000 in lawsuits, for what she alleged were defamatory things that were expressed after she spoke out against the consequences of the charter on the Quebec talk show.
In one of her lawsuits, Awada claimed that French actor, Phillipe Magnan, made a video, accusing her of infiltrating the Quebec Federation of Women to advocate in favor of the niqab (a veil covering the face but leaving the eyes visible). Awada also said the video falsely claimed that she associates with the World Islamic League, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Canadian Islamic Congress.
Other lawsuits include one for Louise Mailloux, a Canadian secularist and feminist, who allegedly circulated emails containing erroneous information about Awada. As well, the website Vigile.net, which allegedly published several articles about Awada, portraying her as a manipulator, working for Muslim fundamentalists.
Awada said she will donate any money she receives from the cases to the Fondation Paroles de Femmes. This is a non-profit organization that promotes and defends Quebec women who speak out publicly in support of interfaith and cross-cultural dialogue and against intimidation and harassment.
Regardless, Zouaoui said that the film’s debate over the hijab is still yet to be resolved.
When asked about her position on the veil and the law, Zouaoui said, “When I go back to my country [of Algeria], or Morocco, I’d say 80 percent of women wear a hijab. Even very young and modern women[…]Philosophically, you could understand that, yes, it could be a sign of oppression, but in a country, in a democracy where people have the right to be and the right to practice their religion, it’s very hard to chase women who wear a headscarf.”
Morocco is one of the countries which have banned the sale and production of the full-face veil called a burqa. The ban was designed to fight against religious extremism.
The film, The Trial 2.0. is available for paid streaming through Vimeo.