Women Against FEMEN

Check out a collection of pictures here.  Or browse the twitter hashtags #MuslimahPride and #Femen.  And here’s an article providing some context.


All organized religions seem to get themselves mixed up in some shady hierarchies…..but F*** imperial feminism.

50 thoughts on “Women Against FEMEN

  1. Andreas,

    It’s nice that you found some non-racist and non-imperialist stuff they’ve done, but that doesn’t really negate the fact that a bunch of white and non-Muslim women running around singling out Islam as being anti-feminist is colonialist and racist crap that needs to stop.

    Also, your comment on your post about Ukrainian protesters being sexy is creepy and gross. You should think about changing that. And if you don’t see anything wrong with your comment on a bunch of protesting women’s fuckability, then you should consider not linking to your creepy comments on my posts. (As in, I will start deleting your comments if you link more stuff like that.)

    It’s cool that you’re interested in feminist philosophy, but please take some time to check your privilege before contributing. (For instance, this blog is not your personal sounding board.)

  2. Stacey, while I understand that muslim women would be well pissed off by others trying to liberate them and telling them that they shouldn’t cover their heads and bear their breasts, I’m really not sure how the Femen movement came to be interpreted as such. As you know, the topless jihad started because Amina Tyler, a Tunisian member of Femen, was threatened with stoning after bearing her tits on facebook, and subsequently disappeared. Asking muslim officials not to threaten women when they don’t cover their body (heads or breasts) isn’t tantamount to telling muslim women what they should or shouldn’t wear. I don’t suppose any of the muslim women protesting against Femen’s recent activities condone violence against women. Has anyone from Femen actually threatened, or belittled in any way women who don’t strip? If they have, then that’s obviously wrong, but it’s also quite different from what they are allegedly trying to do! (Also it’s worth noting that Amina is not exceptional in her support of Femen, but that quite a few muslim women, at least in Turkey, support them too).

  3. @Sandrine: correct. Instead of clinging to our ideology (e.g. being over-concerned not to promote “western imperialism”), we could, maybe, pay attention to who are the actual, flesh-and-blood victims here. And yes, I can confirm from Turkey, that women I interact with at university level have no problem with Femen. But maybe you have to live in the right places (e.g. not in Western Europe or the US) in order to get your views more connected to reality and less to fashionable ideologies:)

  4. I can certainly understand the “I don’t need saving” idea. But the “Islam is my equality” bit is Orwellian.

    Also: to the two Turkish commenters, I really admire Billkent philosophy, what you philosophers have built there. All of “Hesperus is Bosphorus” in fact.

  5. Maybe I should have provided some more quotes. So this is from the “Muslim Women Against Femen..Muslimah Pride Day.” FB page (which is linked to in the article I linked above):

    “On the 4th April. The so called feminist group, FEMEN has declared ‘Topless Jihad Day’ in which they are asking women to go topless and write ‘My Body Against Islamism!’ on their bare breasts. We as Muslim women and those who stand with us, need to show FEMEN and their supporters, that their actions are counterproductive and we as Muslim women oppose it.

    So please post pictures of your beautiful selves, whether you wear hijaab, nikaab or not. This is an opportunity for Muslim women to get a say and show people that we have a voice too, that we come in many different shapes and sizes that we object to the way we are depicted in the west, we object to the way we are lumped in to one homogenous group without a voice of agency of our own.

    Why do you feel proud of being Muslim? Why do you choose to wear the Hijaab/nikaab? Why do you choose not to wear it? Which muslim woman inspires you? How do you feel about constantly being Fetishized by the media/feminists/policy makers in the west?

    Write signs on paper, telling YOUR story, hold them up and get someone to take a pic and post on the http://www.facebook.com/groups/408107599288286/?ref=ts&fref=ts Group and on twitter using the #MUSLIMAHPRIDE also tag #FEMEN so we can get the message across. Lets show the world that we appose FEMEN and their use of Muslim women to reinforce western Imperialism.”

    –So their beef with FEMEN, as I’m reading it, is the white savior complex, the feeling that by FEMEN staging a protest where they run around naked in Europe, that Muslin women who don’t want to be be naked in public are closed off from participating in the protest, and so remain invisible as if they have no voice and unable to support the activist in Tunisia and protest the threats against her. (That’s how I read one possible articulation of their beef, anyway.)

    –That FEMEN is supporting an actual woman in Tunisia: that is good; that should be done. That is terrible what has happened to her. But doing so by asking European women–presumably a lot them who are going to be white and non-Muslim, to write “My Body Against Islamism!” and “Topless jihad” on themselves and run around naked is feeding into some strong strains of Islamaphobia in the West and colonialism in feminism. To run around naked with an “I’m again Islamism” sign in Europe–where countries are considering banning and have banned women from wearing things like the hijaab and nikaab–is to (at least implicitly) feed into the ugly strains of Islamaphobia there. I mean, unless I’m totally mistaken, in Europe where these FEMEN protests are happening, Islamism is not nearly as big of a problem as anti-Muslim bigotry. So having a bunch of largely white, non-Muslim women protest against Islamism ion another continent while their own countries talk about banning religious garb and Muslims needing to “assimilate” to Western culture and civilization is….problematic.

    –“Has anyone from Femen actually threatened, or belittled in any way women who don’t strip?” I think having any white non-Muslim woman write “Topless jihad” on herself and run around naked in a place where women wearing a hijaab is marginalized, is belittling to those women who want to wear the hijaab and other such clothes. Also this: “And in Brussels a small group of women stripped to the waist gathered in front of the Grand Mosque shouting “Fuck your morals”” (http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=57921) Unless someone representing the Grand Mosque has come out and been all “Ya Sharia is awesome. Let’s have that everywhere,” that is belittling, disrespectful, and stupid.

    –This is reminding me of some of the problems with PETA. PETA supports a good cause; it does actual work to improve the material conditions of living beings. But that doesn’t mean PETA should get a free pass when it plays off of sexism, body shaming, and racism to promote the causes it supports. Likewise, we can distinguish between supporting the cause that FEMEN is supporting and demanding that they do so in a way that doesn’t feed into racism, nationalism, and colonialism. When these women say “they’re against FEMEN”, obviously that doesn’t mean they’re against everything FEMEN is for.

    –I don’t understand how all the women posting signs that say “Stop being colonialism a-holes and promoting the idea that we are invisible and silent” don’t count as “flesh and blood victims.” (Because their life isn’t currently under threat? Because a bunch of naked women in Europe are going to save a woman in Tunisia from harm?) And I don’t understand how showing solidarity for dismantling the very real legacy of racism and colonialism within feminism counts as “clinging to ideology.” I take it you mean I’m just mindlessly supporting this cause on reflex and actually haven’t thought it through?

    –Also, isn’t Turkey pretty secular overall? So that kind of makes sense if a lot of people in Turkey don’t mind if people are singling out Islam as being misogynistic in a way that further marginalizes religious Muslims. I mean, if a bunch of US East coast college professors were fine with a protest bashing country music, I wouldn’t be surprised, and I wouldn’t take that as evidence that Americans in general were fine with it. (I could be wrong though; I don’t know enough about Turkey.)

    –I don’t see how “Islam is my equality” is Orwellian. (“Maybe if you read that as: “Islam already treats me as being perfectly equal.”) But that would mean interpreting the sign holder as being too stupid to recognize that there is clearly some misogyny within organized Islam. Some feminists are into liberation theology, which isn’t Orwellian. So I don’t see why Islam would be any different. If women use Islam and the Koran as sources of strength, as things in their lives that remind them of their worth as people and their deserving of justice, then Islam is part of their equality. We draw strength from flawed things (my family, my favorite TV shows, feminism) all the time.

    –I’m pretty sure I’m not concerned *enough* with not promoting Western imperialism, since it’s kind of everywhere and I benefit from a whole lot of it. .

  6. I probably suck at articulating this coherently, but here’s one more try at pointing out how FEMEN’s protest is super problematic.

    “We’re free. We’re naked. It’s our right. It’s our body. It’s our rules and nobody can use religion, [or] some other holy things, to abuse women, to oppress them,” – Femen member Alexandra Shevchenko

    To focus on Tunisia restricting women’s right to be naked when European countries are trying to restrict women’s freedom to wear religious clothes is playing into hypocrisy and the imperialist ideology that Europe and the West are civilized, and that Muslim, Arab, and/or African women need to especially be saved from their oppressive governments, cultures, and/or men.

    And again, I just want to point out, this doesn’t mean that *everything* FEMEN has ever done is terrible. As one blogger argues, FEMEN is “a group of young feminists whose protests against sex trafficking and human rights violations are in many ways admirable.” (http://www.thisworldwelivein.com/2013/04/05/muslimah-pride-day-vs-topless-jihad/)

  7. Turkey is a lot less secular than it used to be (women can now wear a head scarf in universities) and Islam is still the official religion, and the majority religion. Perhaps that’s why people are a bit twitchy about extremism. But in any case, FEMEN were not protesting for Muslim women’s right to go naked: they were protesting for Muslim women’s rights not to be threatened with stoning! That they protest topless is almost incidental, although, clearly, that’s part of what’s bothering people. Also, I’m not sure that a group that is run by a bunch of Ukrainian women counts as privileged and imperialist. I certainly respect Muslim women’s rights not to be patronized or pressurized to behave in ways that goes against what they believe, especially as far as clothing is concerned, but I think that their response here misses the point somewhat and that there would be more productive ways of registering their discomfort with the FEMEN protests than accusing them of imperialism.

  8. This is definitely interesting. As a non-white, I never understand the ‘white-imperialist’ thing though.

    Similarly, I’m just wondering when Islam became a race and not a religion… unless of course the contention is that only arab/middle eastern people are Muslim (and simultaneously that all arabs and middle easterns are Muslims), therefore making claims against Islam are also claims against arabs/middle easterns. But that sounds more racist to me than making claims about a religion which oppresses (roughly) half of its members. Furthermore, is it racist to claim that Catholic oppression of woman is racist? Or Protestant oppression? Jewish I guess could be arguable, but maybe if we qualify as Hasidic practice.

  9. I’m not claiming that everyone who is Muslim belongs to the same race. I am alluding to the fact, though, that anti-Islamic bigotry often comes hand in hand with, and tangled up with, racist sentiments, so the two often get smushed together in people’s actions.

    I mean, the fact that post 9/11 some Hindus were attacked and killed because they were brown and wore turbans is a pretty gruesome visual of how people treat Islam as a racial thing as well as a religious thing. (Pretty sure someone who looked Chinese or Vietnamese (or white?) wouldn’t have been gunned down even if they were wearing turbans.)

  10. I don’t know if it’d be proper to equate post 9/11 attacks on Hindus/Sikhs with specific claims against Islam. The former definitely comes from ignorance, whereas the latter, due to the content of the criticism, appears to come from a place of recognizing that there is a difference between the race of a person and their religion, and that certain religious moral claims are essentially not moral and can be dangerous to (in this case) women.

  11. I’m not equating them. You insinuated that Islam and race getting mixed up together must have been a mistake on my part, since Islam is a religion and not a race. I described an anecdote to demonstrate how our cultural ideologies have squished racial and religious traits together, so that me saying that anti-Islamic sentiment has some racism in it is not a patently absurd claim.

    I’m not saying that the post 9/11 attack are exactly the same thing that is happening with FEMEN. I said, it “is a pretty gruesome visual of how people treat Islam as a racial thing as well as a religious thing.” I said this because you seemed to not be aware of the possibility that an event or action can have racist elements even if it does not explicitly mention race and is explicit targeting a religion.

  12. Out of curiosity, I’ve checked some of the Femen websites in order to see whether their rationale for “topless jihad” is in any way close to what Muslimah Pride is replying to — to my mind, it is not. The triggering factor was the Amina affair, and the message is addressed not to observant Muslim women, but most probably (a) as a message of solidarity and encouragement to non-observant women in countries that Femen takes as likely to fail to protect such women from social-conformist violence (e.g. being threatened or attacked just because you express an opinion that the majority or the state dislikes or feels insulted by), and (b) as a message of protest against the authorities (political, cultural) in these countries. I didn’t see it as addressing observant women at all.

    It does not seem to say “only if you get naked you can be free”, but “leave women alone and let them get naked if that’s what they choose to do”. And “fuck your morals” means “we do not subscribe whatsoever to your vision of what is moral and what is not”, and I think it has nothing to do with one religion or another, but with traditionalist morals in general.

  13. Can you link to the FEMEN sites? I couldn’t find anything that looked to be directly from them in my initial searches last night and this morning.

  14. As someone with a Jewish heritage, who is pretty fundamentally opposed to Zionism and much of Israel’s political policies, I get very frustrated by conflations of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. It seems to me that something similar might be going on here.

  15. I’m not familiar with this whole situation, but I think generally when a outsider party shows solidarity with an oppressed group, they should check out things first with representatives of the oppressed group to make sure that their way of protesting contributes to that oppressed groups struggle against their oppression on all levels, not only on consequentialist grounds, but also insofar as the struggle of an oppressed group against their situation is a question of self-dignity, of self worth, of becoming autonomous subjects.

  16. I agree, but in this case the protests were aimed primarily at solidarity with a particular woman–a woman who herself participated in FEMEN protests and now faces backlash for precisely that participation.

  17. I support what FEMEN is doing here. Islam for the most part is oppressive for women. Wearing a headscarf should be an option and not a requirement. In Turkey, ever since the headscarves were allowed to be worn by university students and civil servants, more and more women have been forced to wear headscarves by their husbands, other family members, social pressures depending on one’s situation. Since women are allowed to wear headscarves in the workplace/university, some do not have the option to not wear it anymore.

    Unfortunately, in the patriarchal world we live in, women are often (in many Muslim communities around the world) coerced into wearing headscarves, and if they don’t, then they get branded as “indignant,” “impure,” “a disgrace.” Or in some cases, women are stoned to death. Anything that deviates from what is seen to be the proper dignified Muslim woman in some religious circles is unacceptable. Women are made to feel ashamed of themselves.

    The point is not that nudity liberates a woman. Rather, the issue here is that a woman should not have her freedom to dress as she sees fit (like shorts in warm weather) be taken from her, and societal pressures on women to wear headscarves do precisely that.

  18. Anonymous of Comment 20 here. Just to be clear, I am not judging the women who choose to wear headscarves. What I mean to say it that in a world in which women are frequently judged for their worth by how much of their bodies they have chosen to cover and in what way (and often by men who hold the power to brand a woman as an “indignant” and therefore worthless person), headscarves and other means of religious veiling of women can serve as dangerous tools in the hands of the oppressors.

  19. Links:

    Everything on here: http://oppressedbrowngirlsdoingthings.tumblr.com/

    “Femen claimed that the veil and the burqa should be seen as intrinsically oppressive, and encouraged Muslim women to “free themselves” by stripping. This is apparent from both their protest actions as well as the slogans they use, including “Muslim Women! Let’s get Naked.””


    Femen’s leader Inna Shevchenko gave HuffPost her response to the anti-Femen group:
    “”They write on their posters that they don’t need liberation but in their eyes it’s written ‘help me’.”
    [OP note: ^^^^Seriously?! Yup, no imperialism there.^^^^^]
    “You know, through all history of humanity, all slaves deny that they are slaves being scared to fight for freedom.”

    Bim Adewunmi, in an essay on NewStatesman, wrote about Femen’s movement:
    “Like much of the feminisms that have been exported from the West, it does not seem to take into account the obstacles to carrying out this form of protest. It rides roughshod over grassroots organisations and the work they may have been quietly and steadfastly engaged in over years, and stipulates that this feminism, the one where you bare your breasts and sloganise your skin, is the feminism. It does not take into account community mores, and, in this case, incorporates more than a little Islamophobia.”

  20. Oh I wanted to say too, I’m interested in the point you made about not mixing up things like anti-Zionism an anti-semitism. So if you want to expand on that, I’d like to know more about it.

  21. Oh, there I just meant I don’t think there’s any necessary correlation between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. I’m opposed to Zionism for the same kinds of reasons I’m also opposed to anti-Semitism, racism, displacement, and inequality more broadly. Likewise, I think one can be opposed to Islamism without any opposition to Islam itself. I do think the two issues get conflated quite frequently. To be fair, of course, quite a bit anti-Islamism goes hand in hand with Islamophobia, but surely the two can come apart. I know quite a few Muslims who are themselves opposed to Islamism, and at least they take themselves to be opposed to it on account of principles that are tied up with their theology.

    So, here I was worried that the protests in opposition to Islamism might be unfairly taken to be in opposition to Islam itself. While I still think that’s probably true for at least some of the protesters and the way I’ve seen the protest framed elsewhere, the quote you found from Shevchenko suggests that she thinks there’s something inherently problematic with Islam itself (or, I suppose most charitably, at least as it’s practiced or manifested in this particular instance).

  22. I’ve only just begun exploring her work, but I feel Saba Mahmood has a lot to contribute here – her Politics of Piety would be the main thing, where she has a really interesting analysis of the veil as an instrument of self-expression for Muslim women, rather than symbol of the patriarchy to be resisted (of course her work is a lot more nuanced and sophisticated than my clumsy summary permits). This interview (http://thelightinhereyesmovie.com/resources/interview-saba-mahmood/) is a good introduction.

  23. It strikes me that moaning about FEMEN’s imperialism is a way of these Muslim women _dodging the issue_ that conservative Muslims have threatened the Tunisian topless protestor. They prefer to side with reactionary men than with fellow Arab women

  24. I should have said so-called “imperialism” in # 27 since am not convinced Ukraine was ever an imperialist power. In Tsarist and Soviet times they considered themselves as being colonised by Russia and, I think, there are times when they have been under Muslim (Tartar) rule in the Middle Ages. Muslims can be just as imperialist as Christian powers (e.g. before India was a British colony its Hindu-majority people were ruled by various Muslim dynasties).

  25. Of course Islam can be imperialistic. Al Qaeda is an imperialist project, as imperialist as George W. Bush and Sam Harris.

    I’d say that imperialism is, among other things, an invasion of the cultural-psychic space of another group, often from a position of supposed cultural, spiritual or moral superiority, without due consideration for that other group’s need for autonomy and self-determination.

    Solidarity is never imperialistic, because solidarity respects the space of others and their need for autonomy and self-determination.

  26. I confess to finding these kinds of discussions incredibly frustrating – not least because so much focus is placed on the nature of the speakers, as opposed their claims.

    I would think that the more important issue is whether or not claims like, “The burqa should be seen as intrinsically oppressive” are true. And I would hope that, whichever it is, the answer would be accessible to people of a whole range of cultures, races, etc. – even taking into account the conceptual hurdles being of one or another raises.

    Focusing on who has standing to make criticisms (independent of epistemic considerations) seems mostly a distraction.

    Admittedly, the above makes certain metaethical assumptions.

  27. Maybe this is too off topic, but is there a paradigmatic account of ‘imperialism’ (or colonialism, white saviour complex etc.) that someone could reference for non-experts on the topic?

  28. No that’s not off topic. I don’t know many academic sources (Spivak and “Under Western Eyes” come to mind–http://www.udel.edu/anthro/psw/mohanty.pdf), so here’s what I’ve found from perusing the web:

    white savior complex:

    The Kony 2012 thing seems like a highly visible event that was wrapped up in the white savior complex.

    The British empire and the American philosophy of manifest destiny are the two biggest glaring examples of “imperialism” in history that I can think of.

    And I think I recently came across something that said, “Associating success and beauty and education with foreigners is a legacy of colonialism,” which I thought was a good way of getting at why colonialism is still a current problem and not just a historical thing. (Also I’m using imperialism and colonialism here synonymously, which they might not be.)

    Oh also in literature, “The White Man’s Burden” is an example of racist imperialism: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/kipling.asp

    For a recent example of sexist imperialism: The US gov’t will use “We need to save women from their gov’ts that take away their rights!” as a reason for intervening in other countries–all the while infringing on the rights of women in the US. (I think both the Bush and Obama admins have done stuff like this.)

    Is this what you meant?

  29. so considering that the only imperialist history of ukraine has to do with the mongols, and besides that has seen itself mostly as being oppressed/colonialised by russia, how, exactly, is ukraine a base for western imperialism in this context? just trying to understand the word usage, it’s being thrown around a lot.

  30. When your only tool is a hammer, all problems look like nails. FEMEN has a tool, getting naked, and uses that as a substitute for a program and a strategy.

  31. Just to add, apart from the philosophical issues mentioned here, I’ve worked with immigrant communities in the US for thirty years, including helping to found two Latina feminist empowerment organizations. Let me assure you, young white women marching naked through immigrant neighborhoods with aggressive slogans painted on their bodies would not be seen as a sign of solidarity unless they were invited by the immigrant women. Also, slogans like “no sharia” are typically associated with the racist far right.

  32. Ian, were the protests focused on a specific governmental entity, you might have a point. However, the news reports indicate that the white Femen activists were as likely to show up at mosques in immigrant neighborhoods and scream “fuck your morals” at members of minority populations. How does attacking the local immigrant community free Amina?

  33. I don’t know, i just feel badly about how this whole thing is playing out. I don’t think that people associating strongly with FEMEN’s tactics have it right either, but it seems like the focus is drifting widely.

    there’s a post here: http://altcrit.tumblr.com/post/47337057259/the-question-i-keep-asking-is-what-happens-when-a

    The question I keep asking is “What happens when a Muslim woman decides she wants to do a FEMEN style action?”

    The answer seems to be that she is pushed aside in favor of a re-framing of the entire issue along a different narrative:

    Conventionally blonde western colonialist (kind of, superficially, if you count Ukraine somehow) feminist extremists


    Muslim women (also mostly living in western countries that allow them to speak out) who mostly agree with Muslim standards of modesty

    This leaves the original oppressed person, arguably the most literally oppressed person, the non-white Muslim feminist who lives in a secular democracy that is 98% Muslim, completely silenced.

    Without blaming any particular party involved, I believe this re-framing of the debate serves the purposes of the entrenched oppressive systems.”

  34. Look, Ian, Femen could have framed the debate as “where is Amina?”, an essentially human rights concern. Instead they framed it as Fuck your morals, I.e. Fuck Islam. This is not designed to help Amina, rather it is intended to build Femen. Feminist and human rights activists should continue to insist on protections for Amina and people like her who express a dissident current, but it is counterproductive to broaden that into an attack on observant Muslim women and their families as Femen appears to be doing.

    By the way, I know you make a lot of Femen’s Ukraine roots but a lot of the women participating are from the good old European colonial powers. Also, being Irish myself, hardly a colonial power, I am fully aware that the Irish can be as racist as anyone else even though we were ourselves the victims of colonization. Being from the Ukraine hardly innoculates Femen.

  35. I really have no intention of ‘innoculating’ femen, but i think there were a lot more people protesting this week than just the femen members being featured in most coverage. i just feel that the coverage and conversation in general has become extremely simplistic in some areas and extremely complex in others – and it seems like it’s weighted in a way that plays into distraction from some immediate issues (and possible removal of agency from people who should be involved in the discussion. or at least less coverage for voices that are not easily placed in a camp far from the other.. and i don’t think femen is entirely blameless for this shift in discussion)

  36. to put it bluntly, while i strongly disagree with some of their actions and tactics, i think that femen is quickly becoming a villain of this narrative and that doesn’t seem to be in any way positive for me. it’s possible for people to be wrong and right, it’s possible for people to be misguided but positive minded, and it’s possible for others, in power and unknowingly supporting an abusive system, to play into a narrative that allows an abusive system to persist. framing it as ‘they are dictating what others can do’ ignores the fact that femen is in no place to dictate anything, no matter how extreme their rhetoric. others with similarly extreme rhetoric ARE actually making policy and enforcing it. i’d like to see the debate focus on how we we can best help, or at least amplify (if that’s our role as western femenists) the concerns of people within those systems.

    does that make sense?

  37. Yes it does. You appear to be significantly younger than I am, and I hope you will bring your intelligence and good heart to the struggle for decades to come.

  38. hey guys, forget about us Muslims. I mean yeah right we are SO oppressed. Lets say you really ARE “liberating” us from our hijaabs and naqaabs. Being nude is being free? Yeah right like here in the East, OH GOD! In the West, no such thing. Not a woman covers herself by her own will. Nuns roam about naked all day long, I mean, hey, everyone’s free in the west. and, just so you know, freedom in today’s sense means being naked. So lets all be free and go back to stone age.

  39. Nust, the point is not that being naked is necessarily liberating. The issue is rather that those who regard veiling as the appropriate way of living impose it upon others and in some cases seriously punish those who chose not to veil. This is not necessarily a question of the East and the West in the way that you put it, as the Amina case shows.

  40. Our very genuine indignation against people who violate human rights in the Muslim world has been manipulated so often by the good people from the CIA, ExxonMobil and Halliburton that one gets a bit suspicious when the media begin to turn up the volume on the righteous indignation meter.

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