Islam has been in the news again due to the events that have taken place in France. Events such, as the recent attacks in Nice, the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and French President Emmanuel Macron’s statement that “Islam is in crisis”, has placed the Muslims in the spotlight once again. I was born in France and grew up there and have seen the situation of Muslims deteriorate over the years.
France is considered to have the largest concentration of Muslims in Europe. It is estimated that around six million Muslims live in France constituting around 9% of France’s total population, though no exact figures exist due to the French policy of not recognising religion as a form of identity and not collecting census data on it. Most of the Muslims in France are of North African descent, from countries such as Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia while the rest of the Muslims come from other African countries in West Africa such as Senegal and Mali and some from Turkey. A large proportion of Muslims are already 3rd and 4th generation Muslim, who are children of those who settled in France in the wake of World War II. Like the rest of Europe, France needed to be rebuilt and desperately needed manpower which she sought from her colonies. Given a large proportion of her colonies were in Muslim lands, that’s why a large number of Muslims migrated there. Unlike the popular stereotypes, my experience with Muslims who migrated to France was many of them were hard working, often in menial jobs, they pay their taxes and have to put up with a lot of discrimination and racism in their everyday lives. They are also very generous members of the society, which is at odds with the individualistic values of the French society.
The way France decided to handle such large immigration was through a policy of assimilation. This was very different to the UK that used multiculturalism to deal with the influx of immigrants. Assimilation meant that France as a nation views the French nation as the sole legitimate community in the country and she views negatively the existence of any minority or other grouping. So those who were not French, needed to be assimilated and would just be viewed as individuals until then, irrespective of what group they came from or identified as.
France was the first European nation to embrace secularism following the French Revolution in 1789; this was a bloody struggle against the clergy. The violent birth of secularism even saw the genocide of French Catholics, including women and children, in the Vendée region in 1793. From its colonial adventures France has always been very aware of the political dimensions of Islam and always viewed any public manifestation of Islamic identity as a serious threat to the secular nature of France. When France invaded Algeria in 1830, it was reported that a third of the population was killed and when the French left 140 years later, she killed over a million Muslims (out of a population of nine millions).
The last few decades has seen a rise in legislation against Islamic practices and values. The first controversy was with the hijab in 1989, twelve years before 9/11. Three Muslim girls wearing the hijab were expelled from the school even though no such legislation existed at the time. In 2004, the Jacques Chirac government banned the wearing of the hijab in schools. In 2010, the Nicolas Sarkozy government passed a law to prohibit the wearing of the face covering or niqab in any public space including the street. More recently, in 2016, many French municipalities banned the wearing of the burkini on beaches.
Muslims in France face significant discrimination in the workplace. Many are refused employment for having Muslim names on their CVs or for living in well-known migrant neighbourhoods. Those who are hired are not allowed to pray at work, or to take a break for Jumma prayers. Wearing a hijab is out of the question. My own friend who worked in a large French supermarket didn’t shake hands with women and avoided shaking hands with his female director; he was fired on the spot when he refused. Another friend of mine had to change his Turkish name to a fake French one on his CV in order to secure his job after a long search.
Muslims in France have long faced police discrimination. Most Muslim men have experienced random ID controls in the street by the police. In 2005, two Muslim teenagers who were chased by the police and were electrocuted by a power transformer. The police were accused of not having helped them when they were electrocuted by the machines. This led to the worst riots across France in decades. Four years ago, Adama Traoré, originally from Mali, was brought to a police station for not having his ID card with him. He was later pronounced dead. To this day, no police officer has ever been charged while Traoré’s brother was found guilty by a court for having insulted police officers.
Following the 2015 Paris attacks the French state increased its hostility towards Muslims and has been on a vendetta against all Muslims. An incredible number of Muslim homes with no connection to the attacks or any links to violent organisations were raided by the police forces. A close friend of mine, who recently passed away after contracting Covid-19, was one of the victims of state brutality at the time. The police SWAT team initially raided his neighbour’s flat by mistake and injured a young girl there. They then went to his flat and raided his home with so much violence as if a gang came to kill him. He was eventually convicted of no crime and was found to be innocent. But he was just one of many who received such treatment. There were some 4,452 police raids, 752 arrests, 19 mosques were closed down and only 77 convictions were handed out in the end, a lot of them not related to terrorism.
Following the Charlie Hebdo attack in 2015, the French government ran a McCarthyite campaign called “Stop jihadism” where they were calling members of the public to denounce potential extremist Muslims by spotting behaviours such as changing eating habits, dressing style or those who stopped going to the cinema and not listening to music.
After the recent beheading of the school teacher who showed cartoons insulting the Prophet (ﷺ), there were 66 police investigations under the charge of glorification of terrorism carried out on people who spoke negatively about the history teacher. This includes many 12-16 school children and some as young as 8-9 years old.
Following the recent Nice church attack, prominent French MP Éric Ciotti called for the creation of a “French Guantanamo” where Muslims would be placed without a court order.
In recent years, the public discourse has toughened up. One of the prominent TV personalities is Éric Zemmour, a French Jew originally from colonial Algeria. Zemmour’s TV show is one of the most watched shows in France. Zemmour openly calls for the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in France. His inspiration is Renaud Camus, a French Jewish writer from the LGBT community, who wrote a famous book called The Great Replacement. In the book, Camus argues that Muslims came to replace the French population with the complicity of globalist elites. His solution to what he calls ‘white genocide’ is to carry out ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population. Camus was the main inspiration for Brenton Harrison Tarrant, who carried out the mass murder of the Muslims of Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019. His book also inspired Patrick Wood Curius, the white supremacist killer of El Paso, USA.
Given the dire economic and social meltdown of the French society, Islam and the Muslims are a convenient scapegoat for the politicians in order to salvage what is left of their system. The distrust and hatred of the public against politicians was exemplified with the leaderless Yellow Vest movement. The level of violence was unprecedented in the recent history of mass demonstrations in the country.
MPs were physically attacked in either their offices or homes. The impact of the poor management of Covid-19 exacerbates that level of distrust of the French public towards the political class and system. That’s why it is likely the level of oppression against Muslims will get far worse over the coming years.
It is important Muslims outside France are aware of the state of the Ummah in France.
مَثَلُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ كَمَثَلِ الْجَسَدِ إِذَا أَلِمَ بَعْضُهُ تَدَاعَى سَائِرُهُ
The example of the believers is like the body, if part of it hurts the rest of it is summoned (Ahmed)
The corruption and hypocrisy of their deceiving values of free speech, secularism and human rights. On the topic of freedom of expression, the hypocrisy couldn’t be more blatant. While the French regime ask Muslims to accept insults against our beloved Prophet ﷺ, the French authorities have jailed a number of people who have either questioned some facts around the Holocaust or attacked French values like the Republic and secularism. Well known French far-right activist Alain Soral was sentenced in 2019 to a year in prison for having stated the Pantheon, which hosts the tombs of eminent French figures, was becoming a “kosher graveyard” after a number of Jewish personalities were buried there recently. Whilst the French take aim at the Muslims, in reality their own values and system is crumbling around them due to its contradictions. France still maintains a ban on Islamic face coverings even after making masks mandatory during the COVID pandemic.
What is taking place in France is really a battle over Islam and Muslims and the failre of the French to assimilate them. This is one aspect of the global struggle against our deen and as an ummah it is important to see it like this, as the French see it as such.