“Whether someone wears a hijab in a public space is not my business. But wearing a hijab in public services, in schools, when we are educating our children, is my business.”
Hatred is not equality: The rise of Islamophobia in France
On Monday, the 29th October, there was a shooting and arson attack against a mosque in Bayonne, in which two people were seriously injured. One of them was shot in the chest. French President Emmanuel Macron condemned and described it as an “odious” attack on the mosque. He said that “the Republic will never tolerate hatred…Everything will be done to punish the perpetrators and protect our compatriots of the Muslim faith.”
There was very little reaction from the international community and a lack of mainstream media coverage worldwide regarding the attack. Despite Islam being the second most popular religion in France with an estimated number of six million Muslims, there has not been much detailed explanation as to how far this ‘protection’ really goes.
According to Claude’s Sinke’s prosecutor, he said that Sinke wanted “revenge for the destruction” of the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris which was destroyed by a fire on 15th April 2019. Sinke is a former election candidate for Marine Le Pen’s far-right political group, the National Front, which has been re-branded as National Rally. Far right organisations had wrongly claimed that Muslims were celebrating as the cathedral burnt, despite the tragedy being ruled as an accident.
In fact, a group called Muslims for France held its own fundraising campaign to help reconstruct Notre Dame. They said in a press statement that “an exceptional piece of heritage of our country, Notre Dame, is one of the emblems of France. Muslims of France renew the expression of their most fraternal feelings to all our Christian friends.”
Following the latest mosque attack in France, President Macron spoke at the Choose La ReUnion Summit. He said: “Whether someone wears a hijab in a public space is not my business. But wearing a hijab in public services, in schools, when we are educating our children, is my business.” His argument is that public services have a duty of ‘neutrality.’ But given recent events, is this rhetoric helpful or does it just create a greater division further ostracising the French Muslim community?
Research by Collectif contre l’islamophobie en France (CCIF) in France using data from 2015 showed the majority of Islamophobic incidents took place in public institutions. Macron was responding to demands from Le Pen to ban the hijab and French Education Minister Jean Michel Blanquer, who said that the hijab “was not appropriate in our society”, as it went “against the value of equality between men and women.”
Equality is defined as the right of different groups of people to have a similar social position and receive the same treatment. Can France really ignore that preventing women from having the freedom to cover their own bodies is not an example of equality?
France’s far right organisations do not promote equality and its fear mongering tactics by using dangerous xenophobic, racist, and Islamophobic language has undoubtedly created a hostile attitude towards French Muslims.