Islamophobia in France

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Marine Le Pen, a French politician and the president of the Front National (FN), notorious for her virulently Islamophobic rhetoric. (Photo: Reuters)

Marine Le Pen, a French politician and the president of the Front National (FN), notorious for her virulently Islamophobic rhetoric. (Photo: Reuters)

French Muslims are shocked by yet more Islamophobic remarks from political figures.

This time, a right-wing mayor, Claude Goasguen, said that it was impossible “to teach the Holocaust in secondary schools as we are afraid of the reactions of those drug-addicted Muslims in mosques.” These words, however, didn’t make the headlines.

Yes, Islamophobia is a real social phenomenon. Many NGOs such as Amnesty International or international organizations like the Council of Europe clearly point out the rise of Islamophobia in the old continent. But prejudices against Muslims have become socially acceptable in France.

It is time, or maybe it is too late, for a larger debate on the way French Muslims handle this problem. The very first problem in the fight against Islamophobia seems to be the over use of the term “Islamophobia.” How can we distinguish an Islamophobic act from a racist one? Combatting Islamophobia by overusing the term seems to consist of two big traps for French and European Muslims.

Firstly, overusing the term leads to a dichotomous reasoning which helps to internalize the separation between “us” and “them.” Muslims have to remember that thousands of fellow citizens also face discrimination, like the Roma or black people. The fight against Islamophobia requires sympathy and solidarity with other minorities who are also victims of discrimination and racism. We are witnessing the emergence of a new generation of Muslim intellectuals and dynamic associative networks gathering around the fight against Islamophobia in France. But the main approach of these intellectuals and networks towards this issue is unfortunately reactive and oppositional. This new activism against Islamophobia seems to unite the Muslim community, but the excluding discourse isolates them from other anti-racism and minority groups.

Secondly, in recent years, some governments in the Muslim world — including Turkey — have started to exploit the fight against Islamophobia by simply using it as a public diplomacy tool to counter Western criticism on human rights violations in their own country. For example, French Muslim associations and intellectuals are often invited to state-run symposiums on Islamophobia organized in Muslim countries. In fact, this political instrumentalization does nothing but further stigmatize Muslim minorities in their own country.

To put it clearly, this way of fighting Islamophobia is legitimate. But it is limited and sometimes inappropriate. Many French people are afraid of Muslims because they simply do not know them. And many French politicians like Marine Le Pen shamefully choose to feed this fear because they simply have nothing else to offer. But it firstly belongs to French Muslims to build bridges in order to transform conflict into healthy diversity and to invest in education by developing a more pro-active and constructive discourse for this long fight.


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