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In 2006, French activist-journalist Caroline Fourest made global headlines when she and 11 others – including Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Taslima Nasreen – signed a Manifesto Against Islamist Totalitarianism, a manifesto for which she received death threats on an Islamist website called ummah.net.

Fourest was unfazed.

“The threat is simply not acceptable,” she said. “Our manifesto urges resistance by means of ideas. But the Islamists have answered with threats of violence. A proof — if such was necessary — of their rejection of democratic debate and of their totalitarianism. The manifesto isn’t against Islam but against Islamism and the Islamists using the religion politically to oppress, for example, freedom of speech.”

Two years later, she was back in the news – a spot she rarely seems to leave thanks to her feminism and fierce defense of French secularism – with a seminal book on Swiss theologian Tariq Ramadan that cemented her reputation as a voice that would not be silenced. In Brother Tariq, Fourest observed that at one time she had hoped Ramadan was one of a number of “ambassadors in the struggle against discrimination”. But to her great consternation, she found him promoting a “political Islam that is arrogant, dominating, Manichean”. Using plenty of evidence, Fourest exposes Ramadan’s ‘double discourse’ — to unsuspecting non-Muslim audiences, he twists his message with slick sophistry into a seemingly modern and secular view; but to his Muslim audiences, he telegraphs a more ‘radical’ intent.

To Fourest, Ramadan’s ‘unmasking’ was a necessary battle in the struggle to prevent the creeping totalitarianism in French society. Her research and interest in the subject was such that she read 15 of his books and a staggering 1,500 articles that were either written by him or of which he was the subject. She also studied 100 tapes that he had made to distribute his message.

But then neither intellectual rigour nor gutsy outspokenness are unfamiliar to Caroline. Her credentials as a feminist and secularist mean that she has often been a critic of Islamism, when she sees it at being at deviance with the principles of secular societies; she has also been a ferocious opponent of the right-wing National Front.

A graduate in sociology and political sciences, Fourest, 38, has authored numerous works on the extreme right, the anti-abortion lobby and religious fundamentalism. She is also the editor-in-chief of ProChoix, a journal she co-founded with her partner and co-author Fiammetta Venner in 1997. AlthoughProChoix originally began with a primary focus on abortion rights, it has broadened its scope and now describes itself as “a magazine of investigation, reflection and analysis at the service of civil liberties under threat of essentialism, racism, fundamentalism and totalitarian ideology or anti-choice”.

In 2011, she co-authored a biography of Marine le Pen, the new face of the National Front. In the book, Fourest argues that Marine’s ‘modernising’ turn does not mean a break with the extreme right. She accuses Marine of trying to appropriate French secularism, while retaining a strong bond to French Catholic culture.

Last year, as Catholics protested against the proposal to legalise same-sex marriage, Fourest was at the forefront of the counter-protests, along with members of Femen. Fourest had the last laugh when in May the president signed a law that allowed same-sex couples to legally wed.

Despite death threats, Fourest continues to struggle against misogyny and is representative of a Leftist current that opposes rather than accommodates totalitarianism, and which recognises that the worth of a human society is measured by the rights it affords to all.

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