France’s tough act on Muslims is causing divides not fighting terror

There’s no denying the fact that the French have good reason to be angry – they have fallen victim to numerous attacks carried out by people either pledging allegiance to, or claiming to be influenced by ISIS in the past couple of years.

The terror group made its intentions perfectly clear towards France when it said it would target the European nation. Its official spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani urged Muslims to “kill a disbelieving American or European - especially the spiteful and filthy French”.

But the French are not the only European nation to be targeted by what former UK Prime Minister David Cameron referred to as the Death Cult. There have been numerous cold blooded killings in the streets of Britain carried out by people claiming to be doing so in the name of Islam.

But the way the two nations have reacted to the ongoing threat has seemingly been very different. France has systematically targeted Muslim women by banning full faced veils, and even now prevented them from wearing the Burkinis on several of the country’s beaches – citing public order as its justification.

Arguably the moves have led to increased prejudice and violence towards Muslims living there, despite them being France’s largest minority group and the highest concentration of Muslims in all of Europe – that’s a lot of tax payers contributing to French society.

Following the spate of attacks across France, including the murder of a priest and the lorry which ploughed in crowds in Nice on Bastille Day there has been an increase in hate crimes against Muslims in the country.

There are those in the British Isles who believe that the country has gone to the other extreme, with the rights of suspected militants being apparently protected more than the safety of law abiding citizens

Peter Harrison

Stigmatizing population

Yet France’s government seems to be playing right into the hands of ISIS by stigmatizing it’s five million Muslims with acts like banning full-body bathing suits, rather than combatting the divisions.

Recently French PM Manuel Valls warned that the militants were aiming to “set the French people against each other (and) attack religion in order to start a war of religions”.

French newspaper Le Monde reported that ISIS’ strategy ‘was to make life so uncomfortable for Muslims in France that they would end up joining the militants’. Britain has slightly more than three million Muslims – and only a truly ignorant person would try to claim that these Muslims lead their day-to-day lives free of bigotry and harassment.

Indeed after various attacks in the UK there have been calls for Muslims to stand up and denounce the militants. This in itself sparked a great deal of debate in Britain and eventually most agreed it was unreasonable to expect every Muslim to denounce every incident carried out by someone claiming to be carrying out a heinous act in the name of Islam.

And of course there are extreme right wing groups that have been created for the sole purpose of pushing Islam out of Britain. But it seems the difference with the UK is that eventually sense does seem to have prevailed and the government – while not even close to being perfect – has avoided creating any legislation that is as blatantly prejudice as the burka ban.

There are those in the British Isles who believe that the country has gone to the other extreme, with the rights of suspected militants being apparently protected more than the safety of law abiding citizens. It took the British government eight years of legal battles before it was able to extradite Abu Hamza to the US where he was to face terror charges.

And more recently Anjem Choudary – described by British press as Europe’s most prolific hate preacher – who mocked British efforts to bring him to justice for two decades, was convicted of terrorism offences after signing an oath of allegiance to ISIS.
Generally most Muslims do condemn the outrageous attacks that have been carried out in the two countries – why wouldn’t they? There have been many Muslims who have died in these attacks too.

The question I’m left asking is with France fast approaching a general election in 2017, is the seemingly populist politics approach a last ditch attempt by President Hollande to win votes, given his very low standing in the polls?

One final point – I don’t write this as a French hating Brit – I’m anything but. But in my view there does need to be balance reached to avoid the inevitable cracks in society which this fine mainland European nation seems to be cultivating. Banning the burkini does nothing to fight terror, it does everything to breed prejudice.

And in Britain maybe a tougher approach towards known militants should also be addressed.
Peter Harrison is a British photojournalist whose career spans three decades, working for print, digital and broadcast media in the UK and the UAE. He's covered a broad spectrum of subjects, from health issues and farming in England, to the refugee crisis in Lebanon and the war in Afghanistan. He is a senior editor with Al Arabiya English.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:48 - GMT 06:48
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