A meeting held by France’s main opposition Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party was boycotted by Muslim groups in the country, seeing it as a part of a campaign to “stigmatize” their faith.
“We can’t participate in an initiative like this that stigmatizes Muslims,” Abdallah Zekri from the French Muslim Council (CFCM) told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Thursday, June 4.
The organization had “come under pressure to attend but will not be going,” Zekri added.
Led by former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, the meeting was held on Thursday to debate the “question of Islam” in France.
The right-wing party, recently rebranded “The Republicans”, will debate “the place of religion” in secular France and more specifically “Islam in France.”
It comes amid increasing anti-Muslim sentiments after January’s attacks in Paris that killed 17.
“The question is not to know what the Republic can do for Islam, but what Islam can do to become the Islam of France,” Sarkozy said last January.
The Union of Islamic Organizations of France was another group that decided to boycott the event, saying it would not take part in “that type of debate”. “To debate with a political group that has just been formed and that starts with Islam makes us a bit uneasy,” said its president Amar Lasfar.
He also said the group had not appreciated Sarkozy’s comments in which he called for the veil in universities and substitute meals in schools to be banned.
France is home to a Muslim minority of seven million, Europe’s largest. The situation for French Muslims has been deteriorating recently, especially after Paris attacks killed 17 civilians. Following the attacks, the National Observatory Against Islamophobia said over 100 incidents have been reported to the police since the Charlie Hebdo attacks of January 7-9.
The rise in attacks over the last two weeks represents an increase of 110% over the whole of January 2014, the organization said.
The observatory also noted that more than 222 separate acts of anti-Muslim behavior were recorded in the first month after the January attacks.
Moreover, a Muslim father was stabbed to death at his own home in southern France last January by a neighbor who claimed to be avenging Charlie Hebdo.
Seeing the Charlie Hebdo attack as a betrayer of the faith, leaders from Muslim countries and organizations have joined worldwide condemnation of the attack, saying the attackers should not associate their actions with Islam.
Later on, French Muslims called for criminalizing insulting religions amid increasing anger around the Muslim world over Charlie Hebdo’s decision to publish new cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).