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France: Anti-Muslim attacks surge as UN is petitioned to intervene

26th Feb 2021
France: Anti-Muslim attacks surge as UN is petitioned to intervene

Thousands of demonstrate at Gare Du Nord in Paris after the call from scores of institutions, during a protest against Islamophobia, in November 2019
(Credit: Mustafa Yalçın/Anadolu Agency)

Harun Nasrullah

Islamophobic attacks in France surged by more than 50 per cent last year, a monitoring group announced on January 29, the news comes amid controversy over President Emmanuel Macron’s Government’s stance towards Muslims. Earlier this month, a coalition of 36 NGOs representing 13 countries petitioned the UN Human Rights Council, complaining against systematic Islamophobic actions in France.

There were 235 attacks on Muslims in France in 2020, up from 154 the previous year, a 53 per cent leap, said Abdallah Zekri, head of the National Observatory of Islamophobia.

Attacks on mosques jumped 35 per cent in the same year, Zekri said, stating that last year, 70 threatening letters were sent to the headquarters of the French Council of Muslim Worship or its administrators. Zekri raised the alarm over the spread of lies about Islam and Muslims as well as e-mails that incite hatred against Muslims.

Muslims in France are worried about negative views some members of the French public have about Islam, he said. He stated that there are no links between Islam and terrorism, and Muslims in France should be able to practise their religion freely like members of other faiths.

The French Government has been criticised for its moves and rhetoric on Islam and Muslims, including Macron’s October claim that Islam is “in crisis,” raids on mosques and Islamic foundations, and a proposed “anti-separatism” law that would slap wide-ranging restrictions on the Muslim community. The bill, set for a vote in the French parliament, would interfere with mosques and their administrators as well as control the finances of associations and NGOs belonging to Muslims.

 

UN petitioned to end Islamophobia in France

Managing Director of the UK-based CAGE Advocacy Group, Muhammad Rabbani, a signatory to the complaint, said the French Government’s policies have led to “securitisation” of Muslim life and shutdown of places of worship, charities, and NGOs. He also accused France of “attempting to export its model of Islamophobia across the EU”.
Rabbani said that France’s treatment of Muslims encouraged the far-right populists in Europe.

“France is arguably the testing laboratory for European Islamophobia. It is, therefore, crucial that it is challenged robustly and in an organised fashion, so it does not expand beyond the French borders,” Rabbani added.

He also said that the international coalition of NGOs is also planning to take legal actions against the French Government to ensure the rights of Muslims are protected. The group also highlighted the violation of international rights obligations by France. Feroze Boda, the spokesperson of the Association of Muslim Professionals of South Africa, said that Macron’s policies are “aimed at eradicating Islam under the guise of France’s ideology of liberty and egalitarianism.”

“They unapologetically discriminate against Muslims among others, tarnishing the dignity of Prophet Muhammad SAW under the disguise of free speech, attacking the wearing of the hijab, raiding Muslim homes, masjids and organisations and banning Muslim charities,” Boda said.

Drawing parallels between Macron’s policies to the apartheid experienced in South Africa, Boda said the experiences during the apartheid regime will enable his organisation to provide insight and expertise to the other international complainants.

According to the press statement, the NGOs have forensically identified and documented evidence of structural Islamophobia and discrimination against Muslims in France. The statement said that the documents chart the history of discrimination against Muslims since 1989 and find that France has violated several basic rights that are protected in legislations ratified by Paris

“France exploited acts of political violence to entrench Islamophobia in policing and the judiciary. State policies designate religious practice as a sign of risk and is highly similar to failed venting and Countering Violent Extremism models,” said the statement.

The statement also alleges the Government is weaponising Laïcité (secularism) to justify the state intrusion in the lives of Muslims. “France stands in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. France infringed on freedoms of children, specifically to target Muslim children in violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child,” the statement added.

The UN is also called to ensure that France upholds and enforces the UN Universal Declaration/International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and every directive on the prohibition of discrimination and racism.

The statement further urges France to enact or rescind legislation where necessary to prohibit any such discrimination and to “take all appropriate measures to combat intolerance on the grounds of religion in this matter.”

The NGOs are seeking the intervention of international bodies in the wake of the lack of real or any effective remedy within the French legal system to tackle this discrimination.

 

Far-right party at record high in polls propose hijab ban

The President of France’s far-right party National Rally (formerly the National Front) has proposed a controversial hijab ban in all public places. Marine Le Pen is seeking to build on a recent poll putting her almost neck-and-neck with Macron.

“I consider that the headscarf is an Islamist item of clothing,” Le Pen told reporters at a press conference on January 29, where she proposed a new law to ban “Islamist ideologies”, which she called “totalitarian and murderous.”

Recent polling shows her closer than ever to her ultimate prize and has led to a rash of new speculation about whether the anti-EU, anti-immigration populist could finally enter the Elysée Palace.

The online poll by Harris Interactive suggested that if a final-round presidential run-off were held Le Pen would garner 48 per cent while Macron would be re-elected with 52 per cent, the narrowest gap ever recorded Le Parisien newspaper reported.

During the 2017 French elections, Macron and Le Pen appeared closely tied until the second round of voting, which Macron won convincingly.

Jean-Yves Camus, a political scientist specialised in the far-right, said, “It’s the highest she has ever been at” adding that it was “too early to take the polls at face value.”

He said Le Pen was benefiting from frustration and anger over the pandemic, with France on the verge of a third lockdown, but also the beheading of a French school teacher by “an Islamist” last October. “It had a major impact on public opinion,” said the expert from the Jean-Jaures Foundation. “And in this area, Marine Le Pen has an advantage: her party is well known for its position denouncing Islamism.”

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

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