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The Muslim World Needs To Rally Around French Muslims

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The same “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” that carried the French Revolution is now being used as means of state oppression. France needs another Enlightenment. But the stakes are much higher this time.

The world is boycotting France and it is hurting them. The great French leader, Emmanuel Macron, who once declared to the world that Islam is crisis, is now begging Muslims to not boycott France. The truth is, France without the continued money and loose loyalty would regress into a third-world power as former French President, Jacques Chirac, stated, fall apart and probably still have the same trajectory towards the far-right than it does now. 

If we were to be honest, however, this sudden Muslim unity is focused on the crude disrespect of our beloved Prophet (pbuh) and for good reason. But what is less known to Muslims is the level of crackdown the France state is enacting on its Muslim citizens.

The French Muslim communities have faced state persecution for a long time – largely in the form of police raids of households, mosques and organisational premises. From 2019, they started to experience a whole new level of escalation. 

After the wake of an attack killing 4 police officers in that same year, Macron stated in his speech the need for “society of vigilance” and called for the “automatic reporting” of any suspect. This was the list of signals to identify them that was presented at the time: growing a beard, regular and open practice of rituals and a particular observance of Ramadan among other “signals”. 

In 2020, just the following year, 73 schools, madrasas and mosques have since been shut down. 

In September 2020, Macron announced his plan “against separatism”, focusing almost entirely on controlling the political, ideological, theological and financial control of Muslim communities. Some examples from his plan included only allowing state approved Imams, taxing Hajj to finance “anti-radicalisation” programs, prohibition of any non-religious activities for religious organisations, and powers to dissolve local authorities to dissolve Islamic organisations without any legal proceedings.

On the 2nd of October, Macron made another announcement further outlining his “plan against separatism” which mentioned 73 occurrences of Islam and Muslims. He mentioned in that since 2017: 212 Muslim owned cafes, 15 mosques, 4 schools and 13 cultural associations have closed and in addition details how “women wearing hijab while in contact with the public” are “problematic practices”, along with his intentions to ban home-schooling and end the teaching of languages of origin.  

On the 16th of October, Professor Paty was beheaded and the French Minister of Interior exploited the incident. Very quickly CCIF and BarakaCity were blamed and threatened with dissolution. He also stated intention to raid 123 Muslim homes and organisation which have nothing to do with the killing, just to “send a message”. Note that 56 raids had already occurred in this same year.

That same weekend, two Muslim women are repeatedly stabbed beneath the Eiffel Tower by an Islamophobe, covered only three days later by a small number of outlets.

Stuck in the Past

Some of you reading this would consider the overt action of the French state is jaw-dropping and maddening. But it makes complete sense if you know their history. 

Despite principles of secularism and “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity”, the French have a history of applying it exclusively to themselves. The history of the French empire is littered with countless of examples of ethnic and religious cleansing, but perhaps the bloodiest was in Algeria. 

French occupiers in Algeria cleansed Islamic and cultural symbols from society. This included forcing women to unveil, relegating the Arabic language to the private sphere, and taking over mosques to then convert them into churches. 

In the particular invasion of the 1830’s, financially struggling France robbed Algiers’ treasury clean after conquering it – stealing somewhere above 43 million Francs in gold and silver. In the same invasion, the largest Ottoman Ketchaoua mosque in Algeriers, built in 1612, was converted into the Cathedral of St Philippe in December 1832 by the French. In that same year, the French army wiped out the entire tribe of Ouffias, sparing no woman or child and their possession seized. 

French intellectuals, such as the celebrated Alexis de Toqueville, upheld ideas of empire and racial apartheid: “it is possible and necessary that there be two sets of laws in Africa, because we are faced with two clearly separate societies. When one is dealing with Europeans [colonial-settlers in Africa], absolutely nothing prevents us from treating them as if they were alone; the laws enacted for them must be applied exclusively to them.”

Another French intellectual, Edmond Fazy, attempted to manipulate Islamic theology and the presence of imams to produce a “modern” Islam that France could “tolerate” whilst simultaneously be utilised to weaken the Ottoman empire.

In 1871, around 150,000 Algerians Muslims joined the Kabyle leader, Al Muqrani, in a revolt against the French, who responded by killing hundreds of thousands and razed dozens of towns and villages to the ground ensuring the entire Algerian elite was eliminated. This massacre and the French-caused famine of the late 1860 resulted into the death of 1 million Algerians, about a third of the population at the time. 

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Like many European nations, they never reflected on the losses they sustained at the end of Empire. Rather, they enforced a state of voluntary amnesia never to address their bloody legacy and as a result, they are condemned to be stuck inside the mindset of empire, even now, and condemn to re-create it upon their own population. 

French Moral Hypocrisy

Perhaps you can see the parallels of the extent the French are willing to assimilate their “subjects” into a top-down idea of Frenchness and that this more about power play than it is about ideology. Before it was about empire, but now it is about the “upholding free speech” and recently Macron’s term of “separatism”.

“Separatism” is usually used for those who wish to break away from a nation. Like the Scottish National Party or Plaid Cymru or Catalonia. But Muslims have never expressed any will to separate themselves from the French state or even its sacred Laïcité (Secularism). This is about racism. 

French Muslims have been making social and economic advances despite living in an overtly racist society. And they have done this without diluting their faith, by not “assimilating”. For the French elite, they see this rising minority as a political threat, despite the fact that French Muslims have explicitly expressed that they just want to be left in peace, practice their faith, and be treated as equal citizens. 

Even the whole “freedom of speech” argument is a misnomer. In 2018, the ECHR ruled that disparaging religious doctrines, such as insulting the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), was not protected by freedom of speech. So by asserting this ruling, are they not going against EU law?

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, they are upholding the concept of freedom of speech legally – the French state is at the same time still demonising and criminalising Muslim citizens for using freedom of speech to criticise the state’s racism and Islamophobia. 

Since when was freedom of speech taken away from the powerless and used against them by the powerful?

CCIF is a well respected organisation, who is widely respected across Europe, a key NGO within the OSCE and consultative status with the UN. The move to dissolve organisations like these are purely political in nature, and designed to “send a message” to Muslim minorities that independent self-organisation outside of the state is no longer an option. 

The same “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” that carried the French Revolution is now being used as means of state oppression. France needs another Enlightenment. 

But the stakes are much higher this time. What Macron is doing is undermining French and European laws and fundamental civil and human rights. It won’t help Macron win votes from the far-right and it won’t protect the Republic. Liberty, democracy and human rights cannot co-exist with racism and Islamophobia. The creeping fascism that naturally follows is becoming mainstream.

Ideologies do not respect borders either. Just as the UK’s PREVENT strategy was used as a template to implement institutional Islamophobia from the top-down, this will be seen as a template by others to deal with the “Muslim problem”. Macron’s actions are also a threat to the EU and Western nations as a whole. 

French Muslims Need Us

So what can we do?

Well first, as a principled moral stand, we should demand a stop to the widespread persecution of French Muslims and that France uphold their commitments to human rights and rule of law. 

Secondly, we should apply pressure to France through lobbying human rights organisations, international bodies, and our political representatives to speak out and take action. 

And thirdly, continue and further the boycott with the demand of respect religious sensitivities but also the rights of our French brothers and sisters to practice their religion in peace and with dignity.

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