6 Nov 2019
in the French town of Bayonne, an 84-year-old man attempted to set fire to a
mosque. When two passersby tried to stop him, he shot and wounded them both,
before he was eventually arrested. That same day in Paris, President Emmanuel
Macron was meeting Muslim leaders at the Elysee Palace - not to discuss threats
against their community, but to urge them to step up efforts to combat
events were just part of a vicious cycle of recrimination and demonisation that
has erupted in France since the stabbing in Paris on October 3 of four
policemen by a colleague who had converted to Islam.
the incident attracted little attention, especially when compared with the mass
killings in Paris in November 2015 and Nice in July 2016.
France, it has sparked a deeply concerning escalation of Islamophobia - one
that is being fuelled at least in part by the words and actions of Macron and
other political leaders.
speech at a ceremony honouring the four slain policemen, Macron called for
"a society of vigilance" to act as a barrier against the
"Islamist Hydra". He also called on the nation to rise up against
"this underground Islamism that corrupts the children of France", by
identifying "the little nothings that become terrible tragedies."
These are the fight of the nation "at school, at work, in the areas of
later, a local right-wing politician in the city of Dijon turned on a Muslim
mother who was wearing a headscarf during an elementary school visit to her
local regional council. He asked the council's president to order the mother to
remove the scarf or leave the assembly, saying her presence was unacceptable
given the police killings.
turn, thrust the fraught question of what Muslim women wear back into the
public spotlight, all against the emotionally-charged background of the
stabbings. A slew of television and radio debates followed - none of which
included any headscarf-wearing women. On the same day as the attack on the
mosque in Bayonne, the French Senate began considering a bill that would ban
women from wearing headscarves while accompanying school trips. In 2011, France
banned the wearing of full-face veils in public, while public officials
including teachers are not allowed to wear headscarves
said that no one should be stigmatised for wearing the headscarf or veil. Yet
his government's efforts to combat extremist violence increasingly look like a
cultural assault on Islamic religious practices. France's interior minister, in
a speech to the National Assembly, recently listed conservative religious
behaviour, including "regular and ostentatious" praying, growing a
beard and declining to exchange kisses with a woman on greeting, as potential
signs of radicalisation. A public university outside Paris, Cergy Pontoise,
subsequently asked its staff to report students who might be displaying a
similar list of indicators of orthodox practice - later apologising following
already has an aggressive regime of measures that overwhelmingly target
Muslims, first introduced under the state of emergency that followed the
November 2015 Paris attacks, and then passed into law two years ago. Individuals
may be assigned to residence, subject to restrictions on their freedom of
movement, subject to house searches or dismissed from employment, based largely
on secret intelligence information without due process. Speech that is judged
to be an "apology for terrorism" can also result in prosecution.
this background, individuals are reporting being called into police stations
after anonymous tip-offs expressing concern about their behaviour. One woman
who converted to Islam published an account of such an interview session on her
Facebook account on October 17, which included questions about her mosque, her
husband, her family and the way she dressed.
truly humiliating to find oneself alone interrogated by two men, obliged to
justify oneself and one's choices," she wrote.
this end? Discrimination against minority communities is not only unlawful, but
it is also counterproductive for two reasons. First, repression and
discriminatory treatment invariably breed resentment and reaction. And second,
relations with affected communities, who are the best allies of the police in
the effort to maintain public safety, are damaged. A recent article in Le
Monde, for example, noted that of the 59 "terrorist" attacks that the
Ministry of Interior claims have been "prevented" on French territory
in the last six years, 58 have relied on human intelligence sources.
needs to regain the battered confidence of its Muslim citizens. And it needs to
start by ending this witch-hunt.
Headline: Islamophobia is on the rise in France