45 Imams from Morocco coming to the Netherlands promoting a ‘healthy Islam’

During Ramadan, 45 Moroccan imams will come to the Netherlands to promote a ‘healthy islam’. Contact Body Muslims and Government (CMO) hopes that radicalization among youth will be prevented this way. Spokesperson Yasin el-Forkani says that the imams are interpreting Islam in a moderate Malikiti tradition – an interpretation that can change according time and place.

Jan Jaap de Ruiter arabist at the University of Tilburg however says that when someone feels attracted to an extremist ideology and the idea of a Caliphate, an imam with moderate ideas will not change this easily. Moreover he sees the necessity of flying imams in from Morocco as a Dutch weakness: before the Netherlands knew 3 imam educations, but graduates had a hard time finding a job in Dutch mosques. Furthermore, the imams from Morocco won’t be speaking Dutch.

El-Forkani admits that this is not the best solution for preventing radicalization. It seems however the best solution possible at this moment.

© ANP
© ANP

#JeTchipelesRepublicains: Debate on Islam sparks ‘tchip’ on Twitter

Islam is at the center of the debate in Nicolas Sarkozy’s party under its new name “The Republicans.” So what is “tchip”? It’s a term used “In black cultures: among Africans, those from the Caribbean, or African-Americans,” explains Yaotcha d’Almedia, author of the TV show Karambolage d’Arte.

Tchip is a non-verbal act of disapproval or annoyance. Most often used by women and young girls, tchip-ing can be used instead of a phrase or response. It sends a clear message. Some schools are starting to ban the noise as it is seen as insulting.

Many politicians and political actors declined the invitation to Sarkozy’s meeting with The Republicans. The hashtag #JeTchipelesRepublicans is in the top 10 of most-used hashtags, which has been used to show opposition to the meeting.

A Muslim school in Marseilles comes under state contract

It will be the fourth of its kind to come under state contract in France. The first private school in Marseille will soon be recognized by the State. And while the debate concerning secularism rages, the government’s willingness to increase the number of religious schools remains a highly sensitive topic.

At the beginning of the year, the government had officially recognized the increase in the number of private Muslim schools, mostly for better defining Islam in terms of the Republic.

Today, one hundred children are undergoing selection for the following school year for a curriculum that focuses on math and French. Success, mentoring and discipline are other characteristics that pushed a mother of a recently converted family to register her child for the school. According to her, it is imperative to create a Muslim elite. “With Islamic education in France, we will create future actors in French society and maybe even politicians,” she said.

© LIONEL BONAVENTURE / AFP
© LIONEL BONAVENTURE / AFP

In this school, where young girls don’t all wear headscarves, State recognition is seen as a way to escape marginalization. “It’s true that when we tried to have Muslim schools, there is always a need to justify them. The fact of being recognized will allow us to feel better. People will no longer be afraid. We are first and foremost Frenchmen, culturally Muslim, but we are French.”

Islam: Cazeneuve calls for ‘transparency’

Bernard Cazeneuve called for ‘transparency’ regarding the funding of religious activities related to Islam – mosques, imam training, ritual slaughter- and hopes that future “dialogue” will help. The minister of religion hosted thirty media personalities active in the Muslim community (Saphir News, Oumma.com, Zaman…) for, as he said, “a moment of meaningful exchange,” in the form of interviews.

A continuing theme throughout the panel was critiques of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), largely seen as unrepresentative, failing to manage imam and chaplain training, ritual slaughter, or halal certification. Bernard Cazeneuve hoped for increased “supervision” of “those who want to grow and develop.” “I believe the CFCM did its best and often did well in putting those items on the agenda,” he said.

KENZO TRIBOUILLARD
KENZO TRIBOUILLARD

“I told CFCM representatives: We will not do this without you, we will do it with you and outside of [the organization], with others who, regionally, in towns, on religious questions, have something to say.” Cazeneuve confirmed that a “forum for dialogue” will be held for the first time on June 15.

Questioned specifically about ritual slaughter and mosque funding, Cazeneuve responded: “We will have made significant progress together if the dialogue forum guarantees transparency concerning the funding of these activities.”

Bernard Cazeneuve also mentioned protection for places of worship (around 2,400 including prayer rooms), in a period of increasing anti-Muslim acts. The minister also affirmed an “inclusive” interpretation of secularism, which “does not preclude alternative menus in schools.”

“The Republic needs French Muslims to continue to prosper up and to unerscore its values,” he concluded after two hours of discussion.

Former Guantanamo detainee now steering youths away from jihad

He learned warfare in an al-Qaida training camp, did time at Guantánamo and more time in a French prison. With such a resumé, Mourad Benchellali may seem an unlikely youth counselor – but he is telling his story to young Europeans, warning them against the lure of jihad.

Associated Press
Associated Press

The 33-year-old Frenchman is one of a small number of Europeans presenting their jihadi past as an example for others not to follow. Many see men like him as a powerful tool to deter youth from heading to Syria – while Western governments are wary of them.

Benchellali meets with young audiences at least once a week in France, Belgium and Switzerland to persuade them of the folly of flying off to join the Islamic State or other groups waging holy war in Syria and Iraq.

“There are kids who are tempted, who’ve been approached,” Benchellali told The Associated Press. “They come to listen, they are curious and the fact that I’m a former Guantánamo (prisoner), that speaks to them. … I give them tools to understand.”

A practicing Muslim, Benchellali above all strives to take the glamour out of jihad. As a 19-year-old, he viewed the voyage to al-Qaida’s training camp in Kandahar, Afghanistan, as a romantic adventure. The reality, he tells youths, was a shock: grinding physical exercises in blazing heat, weapons training and propaganda videos in the evening, along with mind-numbing organization rigorously enforced – and a compulsory 60-day minimum stay.

Then came the Sept. 11 attacks, followed by U.S. bombings in Afghanistan and mass flight from Kandahar. He escaped through the mountains to Pakistan, only to be arrested and turned over to American forces – and sent to the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba for 21/2 years. He filed a lawsuit against the United States for torture and isolation.

In his meetings with youth, Benchellali does not preach against jihad, saying that would discredit him with his young audience. He claims he was not a real jihadi because he never took up arms in a conflict.

European officials are creating parental hotlines and other tools to stem the flow of hundreds of youth to Syria, but lack the know-how to contain the exodus. Yet they remain suspicious of men like Benchellali, fearing returnees may have a secret mission to pull youths into extremism rather than steer them away.

Hamid Benichou, a Belgian police officer in contact with a group of mothers whose children went to Syria, worries that former jihadis may “carry within them the germ of Islamization.” And Lassouri Ben Hamouda, whose 15-year-old son went briefly to Syria, claimed that Benchellali is just trying “to buy himself back” into society.

But many analysts say these men – dubbed “formers” – are just what is needed to counter the attraction of jihad. Returnees have street credibility that officials and mainstream counsellors cannot offer.

Benchellali clearly had the ear of some Muslim youths at a recent meeting in the immigrant-heavy Paris suburb of Gennevilliers. “You are loaded into a machine, a very organized system,” he told his rapt audience. “You are thrown into another dimension.”

After the meeting, one 18-year-old said he had thought last year about going to Syria with a friend, after being contacted on Facebook, and hadn’t fully buried the idea. He said he paid heed to Benchellali’s message because he “has lived it” and “is advising against it.” The young man spoke on condition he not be identified by name because he did not want authorities to know he had toyed with the idea of jihad.

Britain has small projects using “formers,” including an online global network, Against Violent Extremism, open to former radical extremists, survivors of terrorist attacks and anyone else who wishes to join. The network grew out of the 2011 Summit Against Violent Extremism launched by Google Ideas.

Despite concerns about returnees, there is general agreement that an alternate narrative to the Islamic State siren calls is needed to keep kids at home. “Right now it’s only Islamic State who is telling a story, and I think to have a counter-story being told by a former fighter itself would be potentially very powerful,” Peter Neumann, director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization at London’s King’s College, told The Associated Press.

Benchellali is perhaps the only returnee in France now offering a reality check to those tempted by jihad, a stark story of misguided youth that may mirror the naive impulses of those setting off for Syria today.

More than 1,200 French have traveled or are planning to travel to Syria to wage jihad, the largest group among Western nations. But in the eyes of French officialdom, Benchellali says, a checkered past makes the former militant more of a threat than a resource.

Benchellali’s parents and two brothers were convicted in 2006 on terrorism-linked charges, suspects in an alleged plot to attack Russian interests in France in support of fighters in Chechnya. At one point, his older brother Menad, considered the group’s chemicals expert, was mixing toxic potions containing ricin in his mother’s face-cream jars. His mother and father, an imam in a makeshift mosque in a grim Lyon suburb, were expelled to their homeland in Algeria. The brothers served time in prison and are now free in France.

John G. Horgan, head of the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, said officials should overcome their fear of tapping people like Benchellali.

“There’s fear that, well maybe, if we invite people in … they may inadvertently serve as a beacon for radicalization or recruitment to others, may actually have a reverse effect,” said Horgan. But “the tales of disillusionment (among returnees) are very real, and we seem to be unable to harness them with any kind of momentum.”

Still, Horgan said, not everyone back from the battlefields is a good candidate for prevention work. He and other experts said candidates must be vetted, protected and supported financially – but with as small a government footprint as possible.

“You may face reprisals from your community for doing this kind of work,” said Magnus Ranstorp of the Swedish National Defense College.

Yet he, too, emphasized the importance of teaching by example: “If you really want to reach youth, prevent them from taking drugs, the best person you can put out there is a former drug addict.”

For Benchellali, lending a hand at a critical time is a “collective responsibility.”

He recalled an encounter with a cellmate at France’s Fleury-Merogis prison who told him it was cool that he had been a jihadi – and said he wanted to become one, too.

“Hearing that, I knew I had to explain,” Benchellali said. “Explain that this was a mistake.”

French Muslims Say Veil Bans Give Cover to Bias

Malek Layouni was not thinking about her Muslim faith, or her head scarf, as she took her excited 9-year-old son to an amusement site near Paris. But, as it turned out, it was all that mattered.

Local officials blocked her path to the inflatable toys on a temporary beach, pointing at regulations that prohibit dogs, drunks and symbols of religion. And that meant barring women who wear head scarves.

Mrs. Layouni still blushes with humiliation at being turned away in front of friends and neighbors, and at having no answer for her son, who kept asking her, “What did we do wrong?”

More than 10 years after France passed its first anti-veil law restricting young girls from wearing veils in public schools, the head coverings of observant Muslim women, from colorful silk scarves to black chadors, have become one of the most potent flash points in the nation’s tense relations with its vibrant and growing Muslim population.

Mainstream politicians continue to push for new measures to deny veiled women access to jobs, educational institutions and community life. They often say they are doing so for the benefit of public order or in the name of laïcité, the French term for the separation of church and state.

But critics say these efforts, rather than promoting a sense of secular inclusion, have encouraged rampant discrimination against Muslims in general and veiled women in particular. The result has been to fuel a sense among many Muslims that France — which celebrates Christian holidays in public schools — is engaging in a form of state racism.

The ban, some critics argue, also plays into the hands of Islamists, who are eager to drive a deeper wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims in the West.

So far, France has passed two laws, one in 2004 banning veils in public elementary and secondary schools, and another, enacted in 2011, banning full face veils, which are worn by only a tiny portion of the population.

But observant Muslim women in France, whose head coverings can vary from head scarves tied loosely under the chin to tightly fitted caps and wimple-like scarves that hide every strand of hair, say the constant talk of new laws has made them targets of abuse, from being spat at to having their veils pulled or being pushed when they walk on the streets.

In some towns, mothers wearing head scarves have been prevented from picking up their children from school or from chaperoning class outings. One major discount store has been accused of routinely searching veiled customers.

Some women have even been violently attacked. In Toulouse recently, a pregnant mother wearing a head scarf had to be hospitalized after being beaten on the street by a young man who called her a “dirty Muslim.”

Statistics collected by the National Observatory Against Islamophobia, a watchdog group, show that in the last two years 80 percent of the anti-Muslim acts involving violence and assault were directed at women, most of them veiled.

“What is revolting is that such things take place in broad daylight and with the total indifference of the people around,” said Abdallah Zekri, the group’s president.

France, where Muslims make up an estimated 8 percent of the population, has long displayed discomfort with Muslim women who cover their heads, behavior that is standard in the Muslim world and is in keeping with the Quran’s teachings on modesty.

But in recent years, French leaders appear ever more focused on banning veils. They have been driven by a number of factors, including the rise of a far-right movement that openly deplores what it calls the Islamization of France and the reality that homegrown Muslim extremists have carried out two of the worst attacks within France, including Charlie Hebdo shootings in January.

Mainstream politicians on the right, including former President Nicolas Sarkozy, are calling for veiled women to be barred from universities. Others in Mr. Sarkozy’s party want to see women who cover their faces in public brought up on felony charges. On the left, a small party has pushed for a law stopping veiled women from working in day care centers with government contracts.

Even in President François Hollande’s Socialist government, Pascale Boistard, the junior minister for women’s rights, said in January that she was “not sure that the veil had a place at the university level.”

Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, who noted the high number of attacks on veiled women as an area of particular concern in his 2014 report of France, is critical of what he called the country’s “preoccupation” with Muslim women’s attire.

“It only highlights and stigmatizes them,” he said.

Many French officials defend the anti-veil laws. The ban on full face veils is needed for security reasons, they say, noting that Belgium has a similar ban, and the Netherlands is considering one. They say the ban in schools, prompted by an incident in 1989 when three young girls were sent home from public school for refusing to remove their head scarves, is in pursuit of laïcité. (Skullcaps and large crosses and other ostentatious religious signs were banned too, they point out.)

The concept of laïcité was developed during the French Revolution, and was intended to limit the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in the government.

More recently, however, experts say it has become the rallying cry of the right, which has redefined it as a weapon to defend the traditions of French life against what many see as the frightening influence of a growing Muslim population.

Yet, even as there are more and more calls for restrictions on the veil, France’s most recent law, which bars veils that cover the face, has proved problematic. Some question why it ever came into being as experts believe that only a tiny fraction of French Muslims dress that way — no more than 2,000 and perhaps as few as 500, many of them converts.

In the three years since the law took effect, only about 1,000 fines, which can go as high as 150 euros, have been issued. Several women, it seems, have enjoyed goading the police. One woman received more than 80 fines. Few paid themselves. A wealthy Algerian businessman created a fund to pay for any ticket issued.

Meanwhile, researchers say that some Frenchwomen who are committed to being fully veiled have become shut-ins, afraid to leave their homes.

“It is the worst-case scenario,” said Naima Bouteldja, who wrote two reports on the subject for the nonprofit Open Society Foundations, which supports human rights. “They are not liberated, they are imprisoned by this law.”

Many French Muslims scoff at the law, saying wealthy tourists from the Middle East wearing full face veils and carrying expensive handbags are able to stroll down the Champs-Élysées or vacation on the Côte d’Azur without ever being ticketed.

They also say that the constant debates over veil laws have confused many people about what is illegal.

In Méru, a town north of Paris, veiled mothers have not been allowed to chaperone class trips in public schools for about 18 months. Nor can they help in holiday parties for the children, many of which continue to be linked to Christian celebrations. Ouassila Arab, 34, one mother barred from such activities, said the first veiled mother who was told she could not come on school property had been at work on the class Christmas party. The case is still making its way through the courts.

“France wanted us when they needed us,” said Ms. Arab, who grew up in Méru after her father came from Algeria to help build roads. “Now they are not so interested.”

Ms. Arab said she started covering her hair in her 20s as her faith grew. But, like many veiled women, she said it was a decision that came with a price. She has had trouble finding work and now commutes into Paris — about an hour — to work as a secretary in a Muslim-owned construction company.

Veiled woman — like anyone else wearing obvious signs of religious affiliation — are officially barred from working in the public sector because of the original laïcité laws. There is little doubt that, in practice, this restriction has broader impact on Muslim women who cover their heads.

On a recent Sunday, a group of young Muslim women who attend a monthly meeting to discuss religion and morality gathered to discuss the veil in an apartment in Montreuil, a suburb of Paris. In their private lives, they all wore the veil, though almost all of them said they felt obliged to take it off for work, some making the changeover in their cars.

Among them were women who work in finance and marketing, a pharmacist, an optician and a nutritionist. Many said that they had tried to find employment with their veils, but that employers had balked when they saw them in person.

A 33-year-old engineer from another Paris suburb said that for years she did not have the courage to cover her hair at work, but decided after 10 years in a large construction company to try.

She found it “very, very hard,” she said. Her boss was supportive, she said, but emphasized that she needed to wear “pretty” and “colorful” veils that did not cover her neck. Some of her co-workers, however, just stopped speaking to her. And some went to her bosses saying that she should not be allowed to “represent the company.”“I am pretty sure they just wanted me fired,” she said.

Defending his ban on veiled women at the temporary beach, Richard Trinquier, the mayor of Wissous, told a court that he was protecting France’s commitment to secularism.

According to newspaper accounts, the mayor, a member of Mr. Sarkozy’s center-right U.M.P. party, said that the increasing presence of religious symbols in public was becoming “an obstacle to living together.” Mr. Trinquier declined to be interviewed. The judge in the Wissous case disagreed and the beach was eventually opened to Mrs. Layouni. But the event left her traumatized and split this tidy village of modest homes as friends lined up on one side or the other.

“My husband said that I lost my inner light,” said Mrs. Layouni, with a sigh. In the aftermath of the ruling, the couple, who owned a tearoom in Wissous, also saw their business fall off. They closed it this year, and moved to a neighboring town.

National Front MEP Under Investigation For Islam Comments

Relieved of his duties as leader of the National Front delegation in the European Parliament after calling for the “de-Islamification of France”, sources told AFP that Aymeric Chauprade is now the subject of a legal inquiry.

Extreme right MEP Aymeric Chauprade is under investigation by the French authorities for his controversial video response to the Paris terror attacks in January, French legal sources say. His comments had already cost him the leadership of the French National Front’s (NF) Brussels delegation.

In a press release published on his website on Thursday 4 June, the NF politician announced that he would use his immunity as a member of the European Parliament to refuse a police summons to give evidence in the investigation.

MEPs are protected against coercive measures like police custody, but their parliamentary immunity does not extend to protection from trial. According to a legal source, Aymeric Chauprade’s recent police summons was to a free hearing.

An inquiry was opened by the Paris prosecutor following complaints by several organisations, including the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (Licra), the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) and SOS Racism.

The MEP is accused of inciting hate, violence and discrimination on the grounds of religion.

Aymeric Chauprade posted this video on the Internet after the terrorist attacks in Paris, between 7 and 9 January.

In the passage under investigation, Chauprade said: “We are told that the majority of Muslims are peaceful. Of course, but so were the majority of Germans before 1933 and National Socialism.” He also called on the French people to “fight the Islamification of our country”.

The video, in which the MEP denounced a “powerful fifth column” in France that could “turn against us at any moment” triggered strong reactions in France and beyond. Many MEPs were also shocked to learn that these comments, uttered during a European Parliament plenary session in Strasbourg, had been recorded using the institution’s own technical services.

In response to the outcry, Marine Le Pen, the president of the National Front, stripped Aymeric Chauprade of his functions as her international affairs advisor and head of the party’s European Parliament delegation.

In spite of his demotion, Chauprade accompanied his party leader on her visit last month to the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Egypt, one of the most prestigious Sunni Islam institutions. Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb reportedly shared with Marine Le Pen his “serious reservations” over her “hostile position towards Islam and Muslims”.

The National Front leader later spoke of her “many converging points of view” with the Grand Imam.

Sarkozy’s ‘Républicains’ debate Islam in charting new course

Members of the right-wing Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party last week approved Sarkozy’s proposal to rename their political organization Les Républicains in an online ballot. The name change is meant to help re-energise the party, which has been marred by bitter infighting and financial scandals in recent years.

The divisions that have threatened to tear apart France’s main opposition party nevertheless remain, and the Républicains now face the daunting task of establishing a clear political platform as it looks toward all-important presidential and parliamentary elections less than two years away.

The list of contentious issues is long, and Sarkozy – now party chief – wants to tackle the question of Islam first.

A daylong meeting entitled “Islam in France or France’s Islam” will be held at the party’s headquarters in the 15th arrondissement (district) of Paris on June 4. Party leaders, members of the Union of Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF) as well as experts on secularism have been invited to participate.

The French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), among the invitees, declined to participate.

Sarkozy initially called for a meeting focusing on Islam during a UMP roundtable debate on February 7, declaring: “[The meeting] will not be to discuss what France can do to accommodate Islam, but what can be done so that Islam in France becomes the Islam of France.”

Muslims represent the second-largest religious community in France after Catholics. While French law forbids official surveys of the population based on race or religion, polls by private firms show Muslims make up 7.5 percent of the country’s total population today, or around 5 million people. Initially scheduled for April, the Républicains’ conference was moved to this week and has been declared off-limits for the media.

Members of the Républicains are the first to admit that they have struggled to see eye-to-eye on the issue in the past and urgently need to find common ground.

“There is such tension around these issues that we need to establish boundaries, rules. The worst thing would be to continue arguing among ourselves all the time,” French MP Henri Guaino told Le Monde in May. The newspaper reported that Sarkozy personally put Guaino and fellow MP Gérald Darmanin in charge of drafting the guest list for the June 4 meeting.

Indeed, the divide within the Républicans camp is wide, with MP Benoist Apparu, a former secretary of state for housing, declaring that he is against “secularist totalitarianism”, on the one side, and MP Eric Ciotti championing a bill to ban the Muslim veil in universities on the other.

The meeting itself has been the subject of discord. Even as party members try to show a united front during a critical moment for their political camp, some have publicly questioned the wisdom of focusing on religion instead of on France’s struggling economy.

“It appears that we’re saying that our priority, as a new political group, is Islam and the Republic; it’s a bad idea,” the party’s vice president, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, told French news channel BFM-TV on May 10.

Kosciusko-Morizet, who has suggested she would run in the Républicains’ presidential primaries next year, expressed concerned that the party was too focused on social issues.

“Religious questions are taking up too much space in the country’s political debate,” she told BFM. “We have this tendency to wrap up our identity in religious debate.”

Kosciusko-Morizet, seen as a moderate force within the right-wing party, may have reason to worry. Sarkozy has given increasing importance to religion and Islam since his November 7 speech in Paris, now regularly cited in the French press as a keystone moment in his new tenure as party chief.

Speaking in the southern Parisian suburb of Dammarie-les-Lys on March 20, Sarkozy warned that “those who join us must assimilate; they must adopt our way of life, our culture”. While campaigning for nationwide departmental elections at the same time, he declared that he was opposed to offering alternative, non-pork lunches in schools and supported a bill to ban Muslim headscarves in universities.

 

Those stances have been hard for many leading figures within Sarkozy’s party to digest, including a trio of former prime ministers: François Fillon, Alain Juppé and Jean-Pierre Raffarin. Claude Goasguen, a veteran lawmaker representing the city of Paris, is another politician loudly objecting to the course Sarkozy has charted for the freshly rebranded party.

 

“The situation in France is so sensitive that we shouldn’t be adding more vinegar to it,” Goasguen told French news channel i-Tele on March 17, in reference to Sarkozy’s support for mayors who want to remove school-lunch alternatives. “It’s an extremist secular position that I do not share … within the UMP we are not all toeing the same line.”

Sarkozy has succeeded in casting the UMP’s name aside. It remains to be seen if he can do the same with its all-too-familiar contradictions.

Stéphane de Sakutin, AFP
Stéphane de Sakutin, AFP

French Muslims boycott Islam meeting

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).

Ratings of Muslims rise in France after Charlie Hebdo, just as in U.S. after 9/11

Pew-Research-Center-European-Union-Report-FINAL-June-2-20151

The attack on the Paris office of the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo in January was the most devastating terrorist incident in France since the Algerian War more than five decades ago. Two French-born Muslim brothers affiliated with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula carried out the attack, killing 12 people and injuring 11 FT_15.06.02_franceMuslimsmore.

In the aftermath, there has been considerable debate in France about the extent of radicalization among the country’s nearly 5 million Muslims, and more broadly about the role of Islam in a country famous for its secularism. However, there has been no backlash against Muslims in French public opinion. In fact, attitudes toward Muslims have become slightly more positive over the past year.

A new Pew Research Center study finds that 76% in France say they have a favorable view of Muslims living in their country, similar to the 72% registered in 2014. Meanwhile, the percentage with a very favorable opinion of Muslims has increased significantly, rising from 14% last year to 25% today. Attitudes toward Muslims tend to be more positive on the political left in France, but ratings improved across the ideological spectrum.

The pattern is similar to what we found in the U.S. following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Favorable views of Muslim Americans rose from 45% in March 2001 to 59% in November of that year. The increase took place across partisan and ideological groups, with the biggest improvement occurring among conservative Republicans.

To many, these changes may seem counterintuitive, especially since much social science research suggests that the more people feel threatened by a minority group, the more likely they are to have negative attitudes toward that group.

However, following the attacks in both countries there were widespread calls for national unity, and important statements by national leaders (including presidents Bush and Hollande) making it clear that violent extremists do not represent Islam. Also, as Claremont Graduate University’s Christopher Smith has argued, the media may have helped shape American public opinion after 9/11 by critiquing stereotypes of Muslims and drawing attention to violations of Muslims’ civil liberties.

Of course, it is important to note that even though there was no broad public-opinion backlash in France or the U.S., violence against Muslims increased in both countries following the attacks. Among the small minority of people with extremely negative views, some may become more likely to turn to violence after such incidents.

It is also worth noting that favorable ratings of Muslim Americans declined slightly following the post-9/11 bounce. By 2007, just 53% of Americans expressed a positive view, down 6 percentage points from the November 2001 survey though still significantly higher than the 45% in the March 2001 poll.

Moreover, the view that Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its believers has become more common over time. In March 2002, just months after 9/11, only 25% of Americans said Islam is more likely to encourage violence, but this jumped to 44% by July 2003. And the last time we asked the question, in September 2014, fully half of Americans (50%) expressed this view.

It remains to be seen whether the improvement in French attitudes toward that country’s Muslim minority will hold, but the topic of Islam in French society will surely be an important issue as the country moves toward presidential elections in 2017.