France’s anti-Muslim tensions will be ‘short lived’ - expert

The rise in attacks over the last two weeks represents a 110-percent increase over the whole of January 2014

Rajia Aboulkheir
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Hostilities experienced by France’s Muslims, following the attacks carried out by Islamist extremists on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo are likely to be short lived, according to one French commentator.

The claim comes after an apparent spike in incidents against Muslims since the January 7 and 9 attacks that left 17 people dead. In the two weeks that followed, the number of anti-Muslim incidents in France significantly outnumbered the number of attacks for the whole of January 2014.

Infographic: Anti-Muslim attacks in France rise since Charlie Hebdo
Infographic: Anti-Muslim attacks in France rise since Charlie Hebdo

The violence included shots fired at a Muslim prayer center in Digne-les-Bains in Provence - according to British newspaper The Telegraph - and at a mosque in Soissons, about 20 miles away from the town where the Charlie Hebdo suspects were shot dead by police.

A few days later a homemade bomb went off outside a mosque in the central city of Villefranche-sur-Saone. In a separate incident the head of a wild pig was placed outside a prayer room in Corte in Corsica.

But while Muslims in France are fearful of reprisals, John Keating, a political journalist, told Al Arabiya News that he believed they would be short lived.

He explained: “These anti-Islam acts are in reaction to the attacks in Paris but this will probably be a very brief phenomenon.

“It is important that we look at the data, but there has been no deaths or major injuries. So I wouldn’t over play this. But these acts need to be closely monitored by the “Conseil Francais du Culte Musulman (CFCM).”

The CFCM was set up to serve as an official interlocutor with the French state in the regulation of Muslim religious activities.

But his optimism is not shared by Muslim residents, who say they fear that ordinary French people might not give up so quickly.

“Killing isn’t part of Islam. I don’t recognize these men [who attacked Charlie Hebdo] as Muslims,” Zoubida, an Algerian living in France, told Al Arabiya News.

“They’re terrorists and I’m a Muslim, but unfortunately in France the rest of us [Muslims] will have to pay the price,” she added.

According to the National Observatory Against Islamophobia, more than 100 incidents have been reported to the police since the attacks on January 7-9. The rise in attacks over the last two weeks represents a 110-percent increase over the whole of January 2014, the observatory said.

The majority of the attacks have been against buildings – including mosques – but there have also been scores of attacks, verbal as well as physical, against people.

Mariam Ghali, a veiled Egyptian studying in Paris, told Al Arabiya News that she was “worried the French government might take measures against Muslims and limit immigration.”

She added: “Even though I haven’t seen anything against Muslims and Islam so far, the government is likely to take action soon.”

John Keating said such an outcome was unlikely.

“The government was clear that citizens should not associate Muslims with Islamists attacks which have nothing to do with Islam,” he explained.

“We can’t blame either of them [Muslims or the government] as the integration of Muslims [into French society] comes from many factors including social and educational.”

And he said on the flipside there were also efforts being made “to try to work with people to prevent them from becoming radicalized.” But he said prisons and schools were two places that the government needed to focus on.

It won’t be a simple process, the far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen has said she refuses any “agreement with Muslims in France,” and the daily Liberation reported that she said citizens with dual nationality “must choose.”

Socialist politician Jean-Marc Germain told French daily L’Opinion that the country must re-examine the Schengen zone, the policy of border-free travel within most of Europe.

A woman born to a Muslim father and Christian mother told Al Arabiya News that she had witnessed Islamophobic conversations following the attacks.

“I already saw people talking negatively about Arabs and Muslims in front of me as they mistook me for a non-Muslim citizen,” the 24-year-old said, adding that they believed Islamophobia was likely to increase.

While most Muslims denounce the attacks, many refuse to identify with the publication Charlie Hebdo. Some Muslims in France refused to participate in a national moment of silence for the victims of the attacks, French daily Le Figaro reported.

“There are limits to freedom of speech,” Ahmed Youssef, an Egyptian Muslim professor and journalist living in Paris, told Al Arabiya News.

The right of Charlie Hebdo journalists “to express themselves stops when they disrespect others.”

He added: “I condemn the violence and the killing of the journalists, but they provoked extremists by their depictions of religious figures and especially Prophet Mohammed.”

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