French Muslims kickstart culture campaign to fight backlash

In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris on January 7, a group of French Muslim activists started a social media campaign

Nabila Pathan
Nabila Pathan - Special to Al Arabiya News
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In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris on 7 January, a group of French Muslim activists started a social media campaign called #JeSuisNous to showcase positive Muslim contributions to French culture. A month after the campaign’s launch, the Facebook page is a popular posting site where both Muslims and non-Muslims post daily stories on topics ranging from rap music, art, sport to academia.

With a strong desire to support a peaceful and cohesive society in France, the group of French Muslims that kickstarted the campaign consists of professionals that range from different backgrounds specializing in the fields of law, human rights, finance, communications and academia.

Speaking to Al Arabiya News, the team behind #JeSuisNous explain how the events of last month, considered as one of “France’s worst terrorist attack in a generation,” inspired the vision of #JesuisNous.

Laila Fathi, who is currently a Phd student in Law at SOAS university in London, described the urge to do something in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack as “cathartic” amidst growing fears of anti-Muslim backlash amongst the French Muslim community. “I felt that our very existence [as Muslims in France] will be put into question.”

The objectives of the campaign for #JesuisNous’s project manager, Suhail Najmi, who’s also a journalist for the niche Muslim channel Oumma TV, is clear: “Valorize actions of Muslims citizens...[by talking] about our individual stories...and promoting French Muslims contributions to [French] community, culture, art…”

Currently a Facebook page and an accompanying monthly YouTube channel have kickstarted the campaign, which aims to develop a digital platform “working towards enriching the influence of the Muslim community...but it is also about the community without the ‘communautarism” exclaims Laila. “So basically, creating events by which Muslims will feel more confident in their French identity...bridging between the different actors of French civil society.”

Since the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, there’s been unprecedented spikes in anti-Muslim hatred attacks. According to The Daily Beast: “The National Observatory Against Islamophobia says there were 128 anti-Muslim incidents reported in France between the Charlie Hebdo killings and Jan. 20, compared to 133 last year.”

Samia Hathroubi, a French history teacher, and #JesuisNous team activist, describes the current struggle to gain positive public perception of French Muslims hampered by negative narratives emerging on a “daily basis” from some quarters of French media and politicians, as well as anti-terror laws “singling out Muslims, a very worrying issue.”

In order to explain the challenges faced by French Muslims, fellow team member behind #JeSuisNous and Economics Professor Rabah Ghezali points out that "whilst Muslims in France may be the largest Muslim population in a European country (approximately six million), our community is composed of diasporas that have experienced different patterns of migration, often the result of decolonization, than say Muslims in the U.S.. Furthermore, Muslim institutions in France are not as representative as we would desire."

The team behind #JeSuisNous are optimistic that as a digital platform, the campaign is a good starting point to showcase French Muslim diversity. Adding to this, Hosni Maati a human rights lawyer states: “We promote our action on the internet but also in the real life.... We hope that our campaign will contribute to change the ambient speech on the Muslims of our country and first of all that of the political and economic decision-makers.”

Je Suis Nous which translates as I am we, has already garnered over 2000 likes since it launched and is growing rapidly. With excitement, Laila explains that the campaign has “lots of support.” The choice of the campaign name, #JesuisNous, is “sophisticated.”

“It is a shout, that means to overcome the divide #JeSuisCharlie created. It brings together those who were appalled by the attack against the magazine.” But moreover, “it is an assertion of a French identity that does not tick one is a plurality all conjoined by the belief in values of liberty equality and fraternity. Values that have lost their meaning in the past ten years.”

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