One year after attacks, French Muslims speak

One year after the November 2015 Paris attacks Le Monde published a collection of thoughts and commentaries from France’s Muslims. Glimpses into their lives reveal anxiety, sadness, hope and defiance, among other sentiments.

“I felt like half of a citizen,” said Tahar Mouci, who owns a bar in the 20th arrondissement.

“The Monday following the attacks I found out that I was assigned to house arrest under the State of Emergency,” recalls Anis M., a truck driver from Nice.

“I decided to enlist in the Army Reserves,” said Habiba M., while Louiza A. remembers her professor pointing to her veil and asking “what’s that for?” following the November 2015 attacks.

Click here to read the complete article.

Hollande’s hesitation on Muslim integration

On Jan. 17, 2015, roughly 10 days after the attacks by homegrown Islamic terrorists against Charlie Hebdo magazine and a kosher market, François Hollande went to Tulle, a town in central France, to talk to the folks. He told them, “Life goes on. The sales are on now, so go and buy. Nothing has to change.”

The president chose the no-news-today approach because he saw no gain in addressing the question of Islam in France, an area where frankness and willingness to act have been virtual taboos for him and others for a decade.

Mr. Hollande did ask parliamentary leaders to look into “forms of engagement and the reinforcement of affiliation with the Republic.” That grotesque convolution was meant to mask an attempt at measuring where the country’s Muslims stood in terms of respect for the supremacy of French law, and the national ethos of liberty, equality and brotherhood.

“Nobody knew what to do,” Françoise Fressoz of Le Monde later wrote in describing the circumstances. “Habits and conformity take over. It’s a historic opportunity, but the country missed it.”

The same situation pertains now.

After the 130 murders committed in Paris last month by jihadists mostly with French backgrounds, Mr. Hollande was able to declare war on Islamic State, send an aircraft carrier to the Middle East to fight it, and order a three-month state of emergency in France, which accounted for 1,233 searches and 266 assignments to house arrest during its first 10 days—while ignoring polling over the past three months that shows a clear majority of voters want to send French ground troops to Syria.

Strikingly, the president has turned away from another kind of determination at home. He is showing no signs of listening to the large segments of French society—60% to 70% at intervals over the past five years—that see French Islam as unwilling to commit to the rule of law and French Muslims as responsible for their own failed integration.

The circumstances are more tortured now than ever. The intelligent notion of a potential trade-off between France and its largely Arab Muslim population of five-plus million died with November’s attacks.

The idea was that France could offer an affirmative-action program of jobs, educational advantages and antidiscrimination measures to the Muslim community in exchange for its acceptance of an official charter for Islamic assimilation. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy had once argued in that direction but abandoned the issue. Mr. Hollande has never touched it.

Challenged as a wrong-minded giveaway, recommending a trade-off would be poison in the coming elections for the democratic right and left, and pure delight for Marine Le Pen’s right-wing extremists of the National Front.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls now says Islam must “stand up” and “cut out all excuses” for jihadism and terror, but the president hasn’t endorsed the statement. Mr. Hollande’s silence also met Mr. Valls’s remark, coming well before the recent terrorist attacks, that France faced “a war of civilization.”

With a considerable slice of Muslim voters having backed him in the past, the president may be trying to avoid accusations of Islamophobia. His approach certainly isn’t one that deals with what Alain Minc, a French intellectual of stature, writes is an “Islam that resembles a subterranean territory within French society.”

How can Mr. Hollande and France deal with the problem at the lowest level of possible confrontation or conflict?

Mr. Minc and others (notably a high-level French civil servant writing under the pen-name of Camille Desmoulins about French Islam’s lack of responsible governance) have talked of the state consulting representative Muslims about granting Islam the unique status of a consistory or religious council. That would give Islam a binding, official role equal to that of French Roman Catholics, Protestants and Jews, while requiring its allegiance to the primacy of French law. For Islam in everyday French life, that signifies the Civil Code superseding the Koran.

En route, in the manner of Napoleon in 1806 when he began a process extending official status to the Jews, the Muslims would likely be asked to affirm an obligation to defend France ahead of any other consideration. Importantly, Islam’s French representatives could be required to take responsibility for those misusing its name. The obstacles are more than vast, but Mr. Minc says “the results of a delicate truth-operation are predictable”: firm adherence among Muslims to the principles of the Republic.

Then there’s reality.

Accused throughout his years in office of coming up short on authority, a newly hang-out-more-flags Mr. Hollande, aiming at re-election in 2017, has recast himself as a war president battling Islamic State in the Middle East.

And as a president of deconfliction at home? On that front, Mr. Hollande has given no indication about when, or how hard, he is willing to fight.

How Many French Muslims? Public’s Estimation Incorrect

Following the attacks in Paris that killed seventeen people in three days, Le Monde published an article responding to the “distrust that has spread in public opinion for several weeks.” Using information gathered during an Ipsos study, Le Monde found that the French tended to overestimate the number of Muslims they believed to be living in France, believing the percentage to be 23% when it’s actually 8%.

While France forbids collecting data about religious affiliation, there are differing estimations about the number of Muslims in France. Certain polls say there are around 3 million, not including minors and the elderly. France’s Minister of the Interior recently stated that there are between 4 and 5 million Muslims living in France. In comparison, there are believed to be 11.5 million Catholics. He also stated that there are around 4,500 converts to Islam each year.

According to Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve and the Observatory Against Islamophobia, anti-Muslim acts have multiplied, with over 50 occurring since the January 7 Charlie Hebdo attacks.

A report in Le Monde on the 10th anniversary of French headscarf ban: ‘Ten Years After the Headscarf Ban: New Tensions’

March 15, 2014

 

A report in Le Monde on the 10th anniversary of French headscarf ban: ‘Ten Years After the Headscarf Ban: New Tensions’

 

Source: http://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2014/03/15/voile-apres-dix-ans-d-interdiction-de-nouvelles-tensions_4383602_3224.html

 

(Note: needs a subscription to Le Monde to access full article)

In the run-up to the municipal elections, the UMP party seeks to renew the ‘Muslim vote’

February 13, 2014

 

As France’s municipal elections approach, the President of the center-right UMP party Jean-Francois Copé is targeting the constituents disappointed in Francois Hollande’s regime in the hopes of turning them away from the left. Among this category of people, he is particularly attentive to what he considers the ‘Muslim vote.’

‘Our Muslim compatriots would find themselves in phase with the values that I propose: economic liberty, authority of the state and an equality of chances’, Copé affirmed to Le Monde.

Whereas 90% of Muslims had voted for Hollande, the moment seems optimal to seek ties with these voters since a number of them have been destabilized by the government’s social reforms. During the Manif pour Tous (Protest for All) gathering on February 2nd, they were only a few dozen protestors under the banner ‘French Muslims say no to gay marriage’, but Copé noted that many had answered the call to boycott schools in protest against the ‘gender theory’ classes that were going to be introduced. He noted that dozens of Muslim families had participated in the school boycott of January 27th in his city of Meaux in the Seine-et-Marne region.

 

Source: http://www.lemonde.fr/municipales/article/2014/02/13/a-l-approche-des-municipales-l-ump-reve-de-renouer-avec-l-electorat-musulman_4365751_1828682.html?xtmc=islam&xtcr=14

How is Islamophobia measured in France?

January 28, 2014

 

The number of anti-Muslim acts committed in 2013 and recorded by the National Observatory Against Islamophobia has been published on Sunday, January 26. Last year, 226 anti-Muslim acts (164 threats and 62 actions) were registered with the police. This represents an increase of 11,3% from 2012, though a smaller increase from precedent years (+ 34% in 2011 and +28.2% in 2012).

Amongst such acts on the rise, officials at the Observatory are concerned with an increasing aggression against veiled women. According to the President of the Observatory, Abdallah Zakri, ‘this confirms the unsound climate existing in our country, which is favored by certain declarations made by politicians.’

The Observatory obtains its numbers from complaints filed to the authorities, which they get news of from sources on the ground, such as regional representatives of the Conseil Francais du Culte Musulman (CFCM), mosque leaders and the police. Mr. Zakri then compares their numbers with those obtained by the Ministry of Interior, and claims the findings are always very close. According to him, however, the numbers are always below the reality, as at least 20% of people are not pressing charges. Such an analysis is confirmed by the sociologist Marwan Mohammed who devoted a chapter of his book, Islamophoba: How the French Elite Fabricate the Muslim Problem, to measuring Islamophobia: Relying on the charges pressed by people to measure Islamophobia is a relatively fragile form of data.. We don’t have a viable study on the police reaction towards plaintiffs. Moreover, the complaint can sometimes be rebranded, for example as incitation to racial hatred.’

The findings of the Observatory are much inferior to those of the Collectif Contre l’Islamophobie en France (CCIF) who chooses to record acts on the basis of citizen declarations or media findings. In 2012, the CCIF had identified a total of 469 Islamophobic acts, more than twice the amount of the Observatory’s numbers, which had a total of 201 that year.

These differences reflect the political divisions between the CCIF and the Observatory. The Observatory emerged from the Conseil Francais du Culte Musulman (CFCM) and was created a few months after a convention was signed between the then-Ministry of Interior, Brice Hortefeux, and the CFCM, ‘to keep better track of’ Islamophobic acts.

Although The Observatory eventually broke away to create its own organization, its’ proximity to the government is regularly denounced by the CCIF. The CCIF, which from the start was closer the Union des Organisations Islamiques de France (UOIF), willingly adopts a more polemical tone.

The numbers of the Observatory remain then more consistent with the numbers recorded by the Ministry of Interior. Researcher Marwan Mohammad suggests that Islamophobia is measurable so long as data is cross-checked. As for him, he relies on the number of complaints, the CCIF’s data, and on official sociological studies that regularly point to an increase in anti-Muslim sentiment.

 

Le Monde: http://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2014/01/28/la-difficile-mesure-de-l-islamophobie_4355742_3224.html

Baby Loup affair pushes question of religion at workplace into centre

October 22, 2013

The Baby Loup affair surrounding the question of wearing religious symbols in general and the hijab in particular in a nursery returned to the media when the French Court of Appeal opposed the Supreme Court’s decision on calling the termination of a French Muslim woman’s work contract in a nursery unlawful. The legal battle will most likely continue and will bring the question of religion at workplace to the forefront of the debate.
Le Monde:

http://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2013/10/22/l-entreprise-n-echappe-pas-a-la-politisation-du-religieux_3500730_3232.html?xtmc=musulman&xtcr=11

http://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2013/10/16/affaire-baby-loup-la-cour-d-appel-de-paris-entre-en-rebellion-contre-la-cour-de-cassation_3496539_3224.html

Semantics of Islamophobia in France

20.09.2013

In two separate newspaper articles on Libération and Le Monde, the papers discussed the polemics surrounding the word Islamophobia and the reluctance of certain politicians and organisations in using the term to describe anti-Muslim violence in France. The debate surrounding the roots of the term appears to be crucial to the question of who is comfortable in using the word and who refrains from doing so. For many politicians, including some leading politician in the current government, who reject to use the term, Islamophobia is a concept that misleads by being in allegiance with forces that attempt to undermine democracy and secularism.  Many consider the term to be of coinage by the Iranian government, who are accused of using the word in order to forward its radical agenda.

Marwan Mohammed and Abdellali Hajjat, two sociologists who have written a book on the genealogy of Islamophobia in France, have however revealed a completely different story of the term. According to them, French anthropologists used the term Islamophobia in 1910 to describe a way to administer French colonies in East Africa and reappeared in in the 1980s where in the UK where its politically coinage later took place.

Hijabi self-defense courses

27.09.2013

Le Monde

As a response to the growing tide of attacks against Muslim women wearing the headscarf (hijab) in France, the Muslim cultural association “Des racines” (Roots) announced to offer self-defence courses to Muslim women in three areas of Reims. The president of the association, Nadia Tara, proclaims that “this project is a response to the aggressions against women with headscarfs.” The move follows several attacks this summer against Muslim women wearing headscarves. Reims, however, is described as a rather peaceful city in regards to inter-communal relations unlike the suburbs of Paris.

MoE launches its “Charter of Secularism”

Le Monde

09.09.2013

Just a year ago, Vincent Peillon, Minister of Education, has launched the idea of teaching “secular morals” beginning in French kindergartens up to high school level. The project was in the meanwhile enthusiastically received by the French public and  has been renamed “teaching moral and civic duties”. It’s due to be launched in 2005.

With the beginning of the French school and university terms, the Ministry of Education has presented its “Charter of Secularism”, which is aimed to be exhibited in every educational institution of the country with the exception of private schools. The details of the Charter are so far unclear, but scepticism has arisen amongst religious communities, including France’s Muslim community as to what influence such a charter will have on the right to freely express faith. During the presentation, Peillon made sure to calm his critics by reassuring that “the battle for secularism is not to oppose one another, but a fight against those who want to oppose one another”. In an interview to a regional newspaper days prior to the launch, Peillon stated that “the issue of secularism should not turn into an obsession of Islam” (…) The vast majority of our fellow Muslims are convinced of the benefits of secularism. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but not to challenge education or miss a class . The charter recalls these principles.”