Charlie Hebdo attack: A turning point for Islamophobia in France?

The Charlie Hebdo massacre is likely to stir a new wave of Islamophobic sentiment in France

Asma Ajroudi
Asma Ajroudi - Al Arabiya News
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The Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris on Wednesday and the consequent chain of events are likely to stir a new wave of Islamophobic sentiment in France, experts and rights activists told Al Arabiya News.

Immediately after the shootings, social media networks saw a surge in what many labeled “Islamophobic” comments. And multiple reports surrounding mosques being targeted in reprisal attacks and an explosion at a kebab shop seemed to reflect fears among French Muslims - thought to number around eight percent of the country’s population - over a further outburst of already simmering sentiments.

“Imams [Islamic clerics] are afraid to welcome their people in mosques. Some of my friends are saying they are scared to go out because they wear the veil,” human rights activist Samia Hathroubi told Al Arabiya News on Friday.

Rokhaya Diallo, a journalist and frequent contributor to French radio station RTL, said she was verbally attacked by one of her colleagues who asked her to express her condemnation of the attack to prove she did not feel any solidarity with the event.

“I have been working at the station for five years, and he knows me. But suddenly, I was not a journalist anymore. I was a Muslim,” said Diallo.

“It will be complicated now [for anyone] to publically say I am a Muslim,” she added.

“We are more than ever victims of all the prejudice, and all the racism and all the anti-Muslim feelings that are growing among Frenchmen and Frenchwomen,” Hathroubi said, describing the aftermath of the Paris shootings “a turning point” for the country’s Muslim community.

“We have been working for decades against prejudice in France. And I think 30 years later, we can say that nothing has changed, I mean not for the best,” she added.

Far-right political figures including Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front party, used the attacks to promote their “anti-Muslim” agenda, French political scientist Remi Piet told Al Arabiya News.

“She is definitely not into the strategy of calming things down and trying to have a republican pact of all parties in the society,” Piet said. “She just wants to win more power and make a place for her party.”

Le Pen stated that “radical Islamism,” which is a “deadly ideology that kills thousands of victims around the world,” was the cause of the attack, according to French daily Le Monde. She also called for the “absolute refusal of Islamic fundamentalism” and urged President Francois Hollande to impose all necessary measures to win France’s “open war with radical Islam”.

Far-right online paper Riposte Laïque was also quick to renew its calls for a rally entitled “Islamists out of France” due to take place on Jan. 18, claiming that it is “Quranic teachings that assassinated Charb and his colleagues,” referring to Charlie Hebdo’s slain editor.

Echoes in Germany

The rally echoes similar demonstrations in Germany led by the “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident” (PEGIDA) movement against what they call the “Islamisation of Europe” through “lax” immigration policies.

“Cached [veiled] Neo-Nazi” organizations such as the Riposte Laïque and the Bloc Identitaire, another far-right group, have always been the “armed force of the extreme Right” and are very well-organized, said Piet. “They are extremely low in terms of numbers, but they are obviously going to use the opportunity to try to recruit new members.”

National Front have announced that it will march on Saturday instead of joining a national rally scheduled the day after.

“The event on Sunday was launched by all political parties in France, with the exclusion of the National Front, and will be massively followed by Muslims who will express their outrage at the extremists who have hijacked Islam and betrayed its message,” said Nabil Ennasri, writer and leader of the Muslim group Collective of Muslims of France (CMF).

However, “there are groups that want to take advantage of the sentiment to advance their agenda,” he added.

“They don’t want to mourn like everyone else because they know that French Muslims will go [to Sunday’s rally],” Hathroubi said. “They want to single out the Muslim community from the national community.”

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