Discussion Europe History

France’s Veil of “Freedom of Speech” Has Fallen to Expose Racism & Intolerance

Written by Shoaib

In a staggering display of hypocrisy, the French President Emmanuel Macron has sued a cartoonist for depicting him in an offensive way. Who would have thought that the same President who so vehemently defended the degrading and often racist caricatures against the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) would be offended by cartoons against himself.

For many it exposes how in France the banner of “freedom of speech” is used to cover up the racist underbelly of French society which manifests as intolerance and hatred of Muslims and Islam. For Muslims who are subjected to daily discrimination and humiliation at the hands of French authorities, it was all too obvious but with recent developments it is becoming more apparent for all.

The cartoon of the French President depicted as Hitler which led to him suing the cartoonist

The double standards of the French President being offended by a cartoon while claiming Muslims should not be offended have exposed even to the average French person that “Freedom of Speech” was just a veil behind which many racists and fascists have lurked for years. It belies the real intention which was to insult Muslims and Islam and exhibits France’s fear of Islamic morals.

The French President Emmanuel Macron defended the degrading cartoons against the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) claiming “I will always defend in my country the freedom to speak, to write, to think, to draw”.

This is clearly untrue and in France always has had strict limits.

France and Macron’s own long record paints a different picture on freedom of speech. Indeed, citizens do have the freedom to speak, write, think or draw without limit, so long as it is against Muslims.

France is a nation which tells its citizens how to dress, what not to discuss and what to draw. It is a nation far from freedom of speech where the deep racism problem embedded within its society are not up for discussion.

The right wing in France is often pandered to while Muslims Imams are sacked for even quoting verses of the Quran. The silence from the European Union towards the right wing does not go unnoticed by people of colour and minorities in France.

This article is a deep dive into this issue and is longer than our usual articles as the issue will be explored from several angles and in detail. The article also aims to explain why the cartoons invoke so much condemnation and how the media has misrepresented Muslim views.

The aim of the following article is to bridge the divide and to move towards reconciliation, respect, and dialogue between the French people and Muslims. The Muslim hand of friendship is outstretched, but not reciprocated with mutual respect. This article is an attempt to reconcile that.

Background

A French magazine named Charlie Hebdo published racist imagery attempting to degrade the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). This led to protests around the world but France defended the images as “freedom of speech”.

In 2015 a terrorist attack saw 12 Charlie Hebdo employees lose their lives and 11 injured. The shootings were condemned across the Muslim world, where Muslims sought to detach peaceful condemnation from the activities of extremists. The magazine continued to publish further offensive depictions despite peaceful protests across the Muslim world asking France to ban offensive images.

Recently the cartoons were projected onto government buildings, leaving the claimed impartiality of the French government in tatters. A boycott of French products has begun in many Muslim countries causing further woes to the French economy.

The French President Emmanuel Macron has recently taken China-like steps to tackle what he termed “Islamist separatism”. This means the secular state would control imams, and many mosques and Islamic charities would be closed.

A teacher recently showed the offensive images in a class room to his students, one of the students then killed him. A debate ignited in France comparing those who condemn the cartoons in a peaceful manner to the extremists who resort to violence.

So Why are Muslims so Offended at this Particular Imagery?

Islam forbids mocking other religions, not just Islam. Religion is something all Muslims hold dear, more so than our race. So, if mocking our race is (rightly so) unacceptable, then so is mocking our or anyone else’s religion. As such at Muslim World Journal we will not reproduce offensive degrading imagery of all beliefs from all religions and those of none. Whether the imagery was degrading to the Prophets Muhammad, Jesus, Moses or Abraham (peace be upon them all), or whether the imagery was degrading to Buddha, Ram, Ganesh or Hanuman.

We have, however, shown three examples of racist imagery below to show the readers the abhorrent nature of what is being termed “cartoons” under “freedom of speech”.

Charlie Hebdo’s offensive drawings reinforce historic racist stereotypes against Africans and Arabs. They are racist drawings which show Muslims and our Prophet (ﷺ) as terrorists, thus reinforcing a centuries old fascist narrative.

Charlie Hebdo ignore centuries of Muslim contribution towards European and French society and by backing Charlie Hebdo’s racist imagery the French political elite follow suit.

Language

“Cartoons” makes it sound very innocent, as if Muslims are annoyed at ‘Spongebob Squarepants’ or ‘Tom and Jerry’. An avid anime fan would be offended if you claimed that “Attack on Titan” or “Death Note” were mere cartoons.

Language can make a big difference to the public perception in a discussion. I remember first hearing the term “waterboarding” and thinking it was a water sport but it turned out to be an extreme form of torture. Similarly, “extraordinary rendition” sounds more like an excellent musical performance rather than what it actually is; kidnapping and imprisonment without trial.

The imagery is not just Islamophobic but also racist

The outrage from Muslims has nothing to do with Islam forbidding images of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) as many media outlets keep reporting. While the depiction of the Prophet (ﷺ) is forbidden for Muslims themselves, the outrage is due to the disrespect the caricaturist wishes to offer.

The caricaturist achieved his aim – as his caricatures were immediately adopted by the racist far-right even as far away as India, as the cartoons coincide with the fascist message the far-right aim to deliver.

Most media reports are quick to mention that Islam forbids Muslims from depicting the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). The reports always suggest that Muslims are only outraged because the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) has been depicted, which is not allowed in Islam, but fails to mention the manner he was depicted.

Naturally in discussions non-Muslims will comment “But I’m not a Muslim, why should I care whether Islam forbids it or not”. Well of course, if it was just a depiction, Muslims would not be outraged either.

Recently an Indian news anchor tried to shift the focus of Muslims viewers from the Indian-backed-French to the Indian-nemesis-Chinese. They showed a clip of a Chinese drama where the Chinese Empire gifts a painting of the Prophet (ﷺ) to the Muslim empire, the painting is shown on screen. The Indian media anchor screams from her desk “There are no protests against China, why?”

The reason there was no outrage at the Chinese drama is simple. The depiction was not racist, not intended to incite hatred, and was not mocking a people whom they had colonised and looked down on for centuries.

Poor research seems to have become the corner stone of reporting on the Muslim world. Depictions of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) exist in some very prominent places yet no one takes offence. As Muslims we may not visit them and we may not like depictions of him (ﷺ) but none of us are outraged at them. Here are a few examples:

  • A statue to honour the Prophet (ﷺ) at Capitol Hill in the USA. It shows a bearded muscular figure titled “Muhammad, the founder of Islam”
    It has been met with no outrage from the Muslim community, only criticism for inaccuracies such as he (ﷺ) was not the ‘founder’ of Islam.
  • Some Muslim Sufis of the past drew images of the Prophet (ﷺ) in an attempt to honour him, as they thought it was allowed. This was under Muslim rule, in Muslim countries for which they faced no punishment.
  • Some Shi’ites also have attempted to depict the Prophet (ﷺ) and still continue to attempt to depict his (ﷺ) family. Again, to no outrage.
  • Some old Christian books depict him in literature about Islam, there has been no discussion or book burning of such publications.

Depicting the Prophet (ﷺ) is forbidden in Islam because this would lead to idolatry and venerating of images – the greatest crime against God in Islam. In this Muslims are not alone, orthodox Jews equally prohibit depictions.

The people who think they are bringing down the divine station of the Prophet (ﷺ) by simply drawing him, don’t realise that his station or personality cannot be harmed by them. The anger of the Muslims is about something deeper.

Charlie Hebdo has Serious Racism Issues

The magazine at the centre of this controversy has a history of publishing racist cartoons, specifically against Black, Arab and Muslim nationalities. Their racist cartoons are not limited to the Prophet (ﷺ) but they’ve done it time and time again even on the most insensitive of topics. For example, the image above drawn by Charlie Hebdo depicts the black Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira as a monkey.

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Remember Aylan Kurdi? The three-year-old innocent boy who drowned while his family escaped the Syrian war into Europe? Here is a heart wrenching picture of his dead body which washed up on a beach, an image which showed us the heart-breaking reality of the Syrian civil war, the legacy of French colonialism.

This picture brought tears to the eyes of many Europeans who lamented the loss of such innocent life. It failed, however, to move the staff at Charlie Hebdo, who instead used it to inspire further racist portrayals of Muslims.

Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body washed up on a beach. A picture which hurt anyone with any humanity.

Charlie Hebdo mocked Aylan’s death saying he would have grown up to become a rapist in Germany. See the image they drew below.

Notice in their depiction of a future Aylan they added a pig’s nose. Now look at the top left of a cartoon by Charlie Hebdo mocking Aylan Kurdi, then read the caption we have translated below the image.

See the top left depicting Aylan’s lifeless body. Below it suggests Aylan would have grown up to become a rapist in Germany. The caption reads “What would little Aylan have grown up to be? Ass groper in Germany”

If mocking the powerful is the freedom of speech Charlie Hebdo pursues, then why is the lifeless powerless boy Aylan being mocked? His parents were heartbroken when they saw the racist caricatures of him.

Why has Charlie Hebdo not actually mocked the powerful in their country? They have failed to depict President Macron’s wife chasing after a young boy, which would have been more factual than the racist imagery they produce. This is not written to offend Macron’s wife but say this to show the hypocrisy of the right wing publication Charlie Hebdo and how it fails to achieve what it claims to, instead pandering to right-wing extremists.

Remember that a cartoon by the same Charlie Hebdo mocking the then French President’s son, was widely condemned by French society. So how is it that this did not come under freedom of speech but attacks on Muslims do?

If you still believe Charlie Hebdo is standing up for freedom of speech and is not a racist and Islamophobic magazine which incites hatred against Muslims, then there are plenty more examples for you.

Charlie Hebdo ridicules Nigerian human trafficking victims as welfare queens, simply because they are Muslims.

Another image mocked protestors protesting for democracy who were shot dead during the Egyptian military coup. The image shows a Muslim man holding a Quran saying “The Quran is ****, it doesn’t stop bullets”. Mocking the religion of pro-democracy protestors who are killed, is perhaps the lowest a democratic society can go to ridicule other people.

The Charlie Hebdo cartoon attacking the protestors shows the protestors wearing traditional Arab clothing, even though the protestors were not dressed like this but in western clothing. Thus Charlie Hebdo is twisting real life events to create inaccurate portrayals which are derogatory to Muslims. The last time this approach was taken in Europe was by the Nazis, the same people who elements within French society helped.

The persecution of races included Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roma and Sinti (pejoratively known as Gypsies). Have the French not learnt from their pitiful history of the consequences of such racist depictions? Perhaps Charlie Hebdo and the French should be reminded that in the battlefields of France many Muslims fought and died to free France from the grip of racist ideology.

The cemeteries in France which house the graves of the dead of the First and Second World Wars have many Muslim graves. Muslims who fought and gave their lives coming to the aid of France at a time when most of the French population were unable to liberate themselves. And yet in its denial France mainly acknowledges only the contribution of white Christian nations.

Hypocrisy much? The image on the right mocking the death of protestors who happened to be Muslim mocks the Quran and was published nationally, was defended as freedom of speech. The image on the left by a 16-year-old French student mocks the death of a Charlie Hebdo cartoonist and was posted to his Facebook, leading to the boys arrest who was charged with “defending terrorism,”

The Charlie Hebdo cartoon is stereotypical racist imagery and mocks the death of the protestor and mocks the Quran. Due to it mocking the Quran, the cartoon has a free ticket to offend under freedom of speech.

The hypocrisy is most shocking of all. A 16-year-old student then mocked Charlie Hebdo when their cartoonist was killed by drawing a similar cartoon saying “Charlie Hebdo is crap, it doesn’t stop bullets”.

The boy was arrested and falsely indicted for “defending terrorism”. Where was his right to freedom of speech? Where are Macron and others from the French political elite to defend his right to freedom of speech? Why are some cartoons acceptable when attacking Muslims and others are not when exposing the hypocrisy of Charlie Hebdo and France?

The same freedom of speech does not apply to the almost identical cartoon drawn mocking the satire magazine for the same thing; being shot. We do not endorse either cartoon, but one led to applause across France and one led to a 16-year-old boy’s false arrest and the banning of the image.

What is freedom of speech and what is its purpose?

According to Oxford Languages’, from Oxford University Press, freedom of speech is “the power or right to express one’s opinions without censorship, restraint, or legal penalty.”

The First Amendment of the US constitution declares freedom of speech but in its very definition it limits freedom of speech saying “No one may be disturbed on account of his opinions, even religious ones, as long as the manifestation of such opinions does not interfere with the established Law and Order.”

The European Convention on Human Rights declares that freedom of speech should be limited if it could lead to disorder or crime, but goes further to say that freedom of expression should be limited “for the protection of the reputation or rights of others”.

French law itself limits freedom of speech when it comes under hate speech. Hate speech in French law is defined as “inciting discrimination, hatred or violence against a person or group of persons because of their origins or because they belong or do not belong to a certain ethnicity, nation, race or religion

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in May that insulting the prophets of religions such as the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) was not covered as freedom of expression. The ruling stated that defaming the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) “goes beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate” and “could stir up prejudice and put at risk religious peace”.

The purpose of freedom of speech is that it enables an individual to speak against the powerful in their society and to shed light on topics which society would rather not look into.

France’s colonial past, of which real remnants persist today, is a topic one would imagine comes under the spotlight often since France boasts itself a bastion of freedom of speech. Other issues, one would think the French shine light on often, are how elements within French society aided Nazism in the Second World War or one may think they often criticise the almost religiously fanatic secularism within France.

The opposite is true. Discussing colonialism is a taboo and discussion of it frowned upon. French President Emanual Macron was widely condemned in France for discussing it. Discussing elements within France whose role helped Nazism during the Second World War remains taboo and largely undiscussed and unresearched.

‘France is one of those countries that by printing money for 14 African states. It prevents their economic development and contributes to the fact that the refugees leave and then die in the sea or arrive on our coasts’

Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio

France is also a country where denying the holocaust is illegal. No doubt, denying such an atrocity occurred is hurtful to the Jewish people and hateful views should be prevented. But while many countries will allow people to deny the holocaust under freedom of speech, France is one of the few countries of the world where it is illegal to make such a claim.

But could this be an underhand method of preventing investigation to protect France from exposure from its role in the holocaust? One only has to look into the Dreyfus affair to see the historical Anti-Semitism which gripped France in the 20th century.

“France has now become one of the greatest international threats to free speech”

– Jonathan Turley, The Hill

The term freedom of speech in France seems reserved for mocking the religion of the majority of the people France colonised. Instead if France tolerated freedom of speech on colonialism, the Second World War and what some have described as “militant secularism” within France, then perhaps France would face up to its own refusal to grant freedom to its former colonies, and would face up to its own societal problems rather than allowing racism to fester under the false banner of freedom of speech.

It’s not just Muslims calling out how the French are misusing the idea of freedom of speech

The rhetoric coming from the French government and media would have listeners believe this is a battle between Islamic and European values, when in fact many European and western leaders have refuted the French hypocritical ideas of free speech.

The outspoken rights group Amnesty International chastised the French President and his government in a recent article saying the French government and media “doubled down on their perpetual smear campaign against French Muslims, and launched their own attack on freedom of expression”.

Amnesty International said that while the defence is focussed on the freedom to offend the religious beliefs of Muslims, that “Muslims’ freedoms of expression and religion usually receive scant attention in France under the disguise of Republican universalism.”

“In the name of secularism, or laïcité, Muslims in France cannot wear religious symbols or dress in schools or in public sector jobs.”

The Pope could not stand more theologically opposed to Islam, but it did not stop him from refuting French hypocrisy. “Each religion has its dignity” Pope Francis said “there are limits”.

The Pope continued “If a good friend speaks badly of my mother, he can expect to get punched, and that’s normal. You cannot provoke, you cannot insult other people’s faith, you cannot mock it”

Canada’s liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would be the obvious candidate to champion freedom of speech if it was under threat. Instead he said “freedom of expression is not without limits” and that “We owe it to ourselves to act with respect for others and to seek not to arbitrarily or unnecessarily injure those with whom we are sharing a society and a planet”

While acknowledging the need for freedom of speech he explained that there is a limit “We do not have the right for example to shout fire in a movie theatre crowded with people, there are always limits”

In similar fashion the recently re-elected Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Arden campaigned for stronger laws against hate-speech, explaining that doing so did not threaten freedom of speech.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is known for keeping a cool head but when the Charlie Hebdo ‘cartoons’ furore started again, Merkel delivered a rare fiery speech saying “We have freedom of expression in our country, for those who claim that they can no longer express their opinion, I say to them: If you expressed a pronounced opinion you must live with the fact that you will be contradicted. Expressing an opinion does not come at zero cost but freedom of expression has its limits. Those limits begin where hatred is spread. They begin where the dignity of other people is violated.” concluding that Germany would challenge this “otherwise our society will no longer be the free society that it was”

Taking the veil off French Racism and Hypocrisy

So while France hides behind the veil of “freedom of speech” we see that they have reinforced racist stereotypes against people from Muslim majority countries. Since colonial times the French have had a racism problem, which unfortunately persists and thrives today.

Before proceeding, some will argue that Islamophobia is not racism. This is untrue. Criticising or debating the religion of Islam is encouraged in Islam, ISLAMophobia does not mean not debating Islam, instead it is spreading hatred of or discriminating against Muslims or those who are perceived to be Muslim.

Wes Streeting explains in The Guardian that Islamophobia is racism. “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”

Amnesty International points out that in 2019 a French court convicted two men for “contempt” after they burnt an effigy of Macron in a peaceful protest. The rights group pointed out the hypocrisy saying “The French government’s rhetoric on free speech is not enough to conceal its own shameless hypocrisy”

In France citizens will face a 75,000 Euro fine and a five year prison sentence if they refuse medical examination by a doctor of the opposite sex. This means that when citizens are embarrassed of intrusive examination or invasive treatments, they have no freedom of choice.

Outrage for anti-Semitic imagery is correct, it should be banned. But why is that outrage not matched for racist imagery against Black, Arab and Asian people? France has a real racism problem, last month a magazine published a cartoon of a black politician in the chains of an African slave, again taking aim at her race.

The same French President Macron who defended Charlie Hebdo’s so-called freedom of speech, last year condemned age related jokes about his wife by the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro which he called “extraordinarily rude” causing a diplomatic spat. The joke was about the age gap between Macron and his wife.

The French President’s wife is 28 years older than him and their relationship began when Macron was still a child under the age of 16 and his illicit lover and future wife was his school teacher. Put into context, Macron was younger than all three of her sons when she began an affair with him.

A Pakistani politician was forced to delete a tweet in which he criticised the French President. France officially demanded that Pakistan rectify “blatant lies” against Macron. She compared Macron’s anti-Muslim policies to Nazi Germany.

The response from France was almost word-for-word the response Muslims had on the cartoon issue. They demanded respect and said “Such slanderous comments are disgraceful at such a level of responsibility” and are “deeply shocking and insulting”, demanding that “Pakistan must rectify these remarks and return to the path of a dialogue based on respect.”

Seeing as the comments were made by a woman with a Muslims sounding name, the French response couldn’t contain itself, claiming the comments were “loaded with an ideology of hatred and violence”

Her tweet was censored and deleted. Why were her comments not under freedom of speech? Why is the outrage and offense of the French government more important and serious than the outrage and offense of 1.8Billion Muslims?

Macron also accused English speaking media of ‘legitimising this violence’, why? Because apparently American media was biased due to openly discussing racism, terrorism, and discussing solidarity with minorities. The message was clear, that discussing an opinion contrary to the French state would be shut down under the banner of ‘legitimising violence’.

“When I see them legitimising this violence, and saying that the heart of the problem is that France is racist and Islamophobic, then I say the founding principles have been lost” Macron told the New York Times.

An article in POLITICO critical of France’s militant secularism was apparently pulled after criticism from secular activists in the country. This stands directly against freedom of speech, even in the strictest of Islamic societies, critiquing the ideology of Islam itself is seen as fair and discussion and debate is encouraged. Why is France’s ideology of extreme secularism not open for debate?

When running for the office of President, Macron said he would ban fake news. He was criticised for curbing freedom of speech as many leaders often claim news critical of them is “fake”.

Even before the cartoonist depicting President Macron as Hitler was sued by Macron, here are 15 examples of cartoons which were banned for making jokes about political leaders or religion. Notice the lack of any cartoons being banned which took aim at Arab, Asian or any other nationality associated with Muslims:

DISCLAIMER: Racist and Anti-Semitic cartoons will only be described and not reproduced or linked to. We stand firmly against Anti-Semitism and racism, as such refuse to re-publish or link to such vile content. We create this list to simply highlight the double standards that Macron and others claim.

  1. A joke branded Anti-Semitic for showing UK Labour party leader Keir Starmer serving former party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s head in a plate, drawn to look like a painting showing Salome with the Head of John the Baptist
  2. A photo of a man wiping his bottom on the French flag led to France criminalising the degrading of the Flag.
  3. A racist cartoon by Bernardo Silva mocking Benjamin Mendy’s race
  4. A cartoon showing Benjamin Netanyahu as a dog with a Star of David on the collar leading Donald Trump who is wearing a Jewish cap
  5. A cartoon showing Netanyahu holding puppets of Boris Johnson and Donald Trump
  6. cartoon joking that you join the US army to fight for Israel
  7. A cartoon depicting the devil as an Israeli
  8. cartoon showing Israeli PM Netanyahu building a wall from Palestinian blood
  9. Sydney Morning Herald’s cartoon showing an Israeli watching the Gaza conflict like TV
  10. Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon mocking French President’s son
  11. A cartoon saying the media is controlled by Jews
  12. A cartoon showing a Jewish person holding puppets of Obama and McCain
  13. A cartoon showing the Judicial system is Jewish biased
  14. A cartoon showing Obama as a monkey
  15. cartoon showing George Bush as lacking the intelligence to play a video

For Muslims the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) holds a place of respect, honour and love greater than any political leader or any individual. If degrading a flag held dear to 66 Million people is banned, then degrading someone held in even higher regard than everything in our lives and the lives of 1.8 Billion people worldwide is far worse.

Rightly so, degrading the Jewish community is banned and mocking people based on the colour of their skin or race is banned. Then why is the mocking of Muslims, our culture, our Prophet (ﷺ) and Arabs fair game?

France itself is claiming that Muslim countries do not have a right or freedom to boycott French products in protest. In France, business owners were convicted for boycotting Israeli products in protest of Palestinian rights. This took away their freedom of choice to purchase products. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that French judges were wrong to prosecute them and ordered authorities to pay them damages.

According to Macron, Muslims should not be free to boycott French products as that would harm the French economy but on the same token Muslims should endure the excesses and extremism that France chooses to promote.

This is a problem of colonial mindset

Aylan Kurdi was a Syrian. The civil war in Syria is against the Alawite regime which France left in charge of Syria when they left.

Looking back at history helps contextualise current affairs. Muslims have been part of French history from as early as the 700s. The Umayyads ruled over Southern France from as early as 719CE, within 100 years of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). This period gifted some Arabic words to the French vocabulary.

Despite the period seeing war between Christian Franks and Umayyad Muslims, Christians were permitted to continue to practice their faith under Muslim rule without impediment.

Compare this to when the French arrived in the wealthy Mali which had seen the richest societies known to man, even the richest man to have ever lived, Mansa Musa. Their kings travelled to, and discovered America centuries before Columbus. A video surfaced showing a French historian discussing the universities of Timbuktu, Segou and Genet were known around the world.

Mali had an education system that the Europeans would not know until another 600 years, they had an army, a treasury, a bustling free society. Mali was rich in gold, cotton and peanut trading. Commerce occurred between Gambia, West Africa and to the Mediterranean.

The French invaded and broke the trade up by bringing in foreigners such as Lebanese and Greeks. Most horrifying of all is that the French murdered thousands of Arabic teachers. Why? Arabic was the language of commerce much like English is today. By doing so trade could not be continued, and as such the country saw serious decline under French occupation and its greatness was wiped from the books of history.

The problems are a lot older than the recent civil war and the French intervention by air strikes in 2018. Syria negotiated independence from France in 1936 and the French left in 1946. As the French left Syria, they left it in the hands of French loyalists, the minority Alawites. The country has since always been ruled by the powerful minority of Alawites to which Bashar al-Assad and his father Hafez al-Assad belonged.

It has been argued that the problems in Syria which erupted into the Syrian civil war were the remnants of France’s colonial failures.

The cartoons shown above mock the Syrian Aylan Kurdi, Egyptians being shot and trafficking victims of Nigeria, all three countries which France occupied in their shameful colonial past.

The stench of racism from the mocking cartoons of Charlie Hebdo seem even more potent when seen through this historical context. Colonialism relied on racism to occupy, and still those countries who France looted are looked down on, their religion and Prophet mocked.

When France left their colonies, they imposed the “French Colonial Tax” as a condition for leaving the country. Every year half a Trillion dollars ($500Billion) is pumped into the French economy from the struggling economies of former colonies. Those who did not agree to the oppressive terms saw the French demolish buildings, destroy agricultural tools, burn books among other destructive behaviour.

Many see this as France bullying their former colonies and holding them hostage. To some extent slavery of those countries continues to this day as by paying their former occupiers, they are prevented from development.

The conditions mean that the national reserves of these 14 nations must be held in France’s Central Bank. These countries are required to keep 65% of their foreign currency reserves in the French Treasury. This is usually to the tune of $500Billion, without which many commentators argue France would not be the rich state it is.

France takes this without any thanks to these poor nations with struggling economies. Instead, France allows mocking the religion of most of the residents of these countries under the banner of freedom of speech.

Yet discussing France’s colonial past as well as the oppressive measures on the 14 former colonies, are a taboo in France.

It took 170 years for France to return the skulls and remains of the 24 Algerian anti-colonial soldiers which the French had beheaded. Arguments for not returning their remains centred around how their remains were “French art”. French colonial forces killed 1.5 Million Algerians in just 8 years.

France seems exceptionally racist to Muslims

France recently began a clampdown on Islam in the country. The claim was that Muslims have not abided to secular values and to do so, the government would control Mosques, funding of Muslim organisations, public speakers and Imams. Funny that a so-called secular nation would be deciding which Imam would be suitable or not, and somehow maintain its “secularism”.

France’s secularism seems only targeted against Islam. Recently a 19-year-old French Muslim girl wore hijab in a documentary talking about student protests against the French president’s educational reforms. Maryam Pougetoux was faced with a barrage of criticism from the government with no minister responding to the content of what she said, rather what she was wearing.

Why are some religious symbols even worn by the French President, while others banned from his country?

The French Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa said it was a “form of promotion of political Islam” and Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said Ms Pougetoux’s appearance in a hijab was a “provocation” that he found “shocking”.

The ministers criticised 19-year-old Maryam for practicing her personal faith and wearing a scarf, while the film features a woman wearing a cross, which drew no criticism.

The Hijab was banned from schools in France in 2004 along with other religious symbols. At the time Ministers even commented that the aim was ban Muslim religious clothing and was not targeted at other faiths.

The French authorities took aim at marginalising working Muslim women by ruling that they can be sacked for simply choosing to wear a scarf.

Secularising Islam will still not be enough

The idea that if Muslims accepted the secular values of France, they would be seen as true French citizens just as those of Christian heritage are, is likely untrue. Turkey, for example, is a completely secular state where Islam plays no part of law.

Turkey itself had banned hijab until recently and the Turkish President Erdogan recently clarified that he believes Turkish law should keep “equal distance from all faiths”. Erdogan has also promoted secularism amongst students and helped secularise those parts of society who were historically firm believers of Shariah.

Yet when it comes to Turkey’s bid to join the EU, France has been at the forefront of blocking Turkish efforts of joining. Despite Turkey being a secular state, where Islamic Shariah plays no part in law at all, France still holds their Islamic heritage over them.

In 2004 the French Prime Minister Raffarin said France’s concern was “Do we want the river of Islam to enter the riverbed of secularism?” while his administration allowed immigration from Christian nations.

In the same year the ruling party of France clearly stated that their opposition to Turkey joining the EU was due to the population being “predominantly Muslim”

The leader of the Union for French Democracy said “Our European culture is not only Christian; she has received a Judeo-Christian heritage” and despite shouting so much about secularism, the secularism card seems only to be used against one religion: Islam.

A paper on “Why Not Turkey” claims that Turkey joining the EU would threaten the Christian majority of Europe. Another paper claiming Turkey would bring their culture into the EU, which is derived historically from Islam. This is false as Turkey has significant Christian and Jewish culture which is active to this day.

“Negative attitudes being cultivated in today’s France are predominantly aimed at Islamic people” claimed a 2010 paper titled ‘Turkey’s French Problem’. It stated “Many Turks feel therefore that the elemental reason why France opposes Turkey’s EU membership is racism and Islamophobia, and not geography”

A 2015 report ‘Turkey’s 10 years of EU accession negotiations: no end in sight’ by William Chislett stated that, despite its secularism, Turkey was viewed as “too Muslim” to join the EU. A 2016 article by Klant voiced similar points that the EU was a “Christian club”

Secular French Muslims have also faced discrimination. Naouelle Garnoussi is French, her grandmother and great-grandmother’s names couldn’t get more French, Annick and Antionette. Due to a conversion to Islam in her parent’s generation, Naouelle is a Muslim.

Despite her not wearing the hijab or anything showing she is outwardly Muslim, when people discover she is Muslim they have become abusive or violent. She describes how the call to prayer played on her phone, causing a passer-by to spit on her.

The question must be asked that if even after integrating and accepting secular values Muslims are not safe, then what is the goal for the French government? Could expelling Muslims as they did the Huguenots historically become an option? Or perhaps concentration camps just as when elements within French society helped the Nazis with the holocaust?

Guilty with No Evidence

The Minister of Interior, Gérald Darmanin, ordered a series of raids in the houses of French Muslims. They included horrifying accounts of breaking into French Muslim’s homes and not allowing them to dress or even tend to a 4-year-old child.

After the raids he went before the media and admitted “We had nothing on those people, legally speaking, we are just sending a message”.

Darmanin also said he was going to expel 231 foreigners for threatening the “national security” and were “radicals”, again without evidence.

The Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) was set up to counter growing Islamophobia in France. Gérald Darmanin said he would dissolve the CCIF. He said they are “an enemy of the republic” and a “back room for terrorism” while not producing any evidence to prove his claims.

The laws that are enabling the French government to carry out these illegal raids and shut downs are not just against Muslims. The focus is on Muslims for today.

It is Muslims today, you tomorrow

In the words of German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemöller after witnessing the rise of the Nazis in World War 2

The Macron government claims that they are taking all these steps to make Muslims more inclusive in French society, but in fact they are ostracising Muslims as an enemy. This argument gives oxygen to the racist far-right but also legitimises Muslim extremists’ arguments as well, causing the exact kind of problem they are claiming to solve.

Other European countries have had great success in their interactions with their own Muslim populations and the wider Islamic world. The question must be asked, why has France been such a failure?

The cartoons and the anti-Muslim slogans which follow cause Muslims to feel alienated and add fuel to the fire of far-right racist nationalism. These steps do nothing to integrate French Muslims, instead they seem designed to encourage Muslims to leave.

After the Macron government began their anti-Muslim rhetoric, France saw a 54% increase of Islamophobic attacks in 2019 with the number likely to increase even more in 2020. Lifting the lid on fascism has seen not just Muslims attacked but there was also a 27% increase in Anti-Semitic attacks too.

In 2010 allegations came to light as a result of a leak that billionaire heiress Liliane Bettencourt had made illegal payments to François-Marie Banier and members of the French government. The then-President of France Nicolas Sarkozy used laws passed for national security to force security services to identify the source of a leak. He was able to access the phone records of the journalist and serious questions have been raised over how corruption can ever be exposed with such manipulation of laws.

The laws being passed under the guise of tackling so called “radical Islam” have loosely defined bounds and empower the French government to crack down on whatever they feel threatens the Republic.

The boundaries of the laws are poorly defined. When fashion designer John Galliano was sentenced for using anti-Semitic words, the Judge read out the words used. While some clearly were abhorrent anti-Semitic racist words, the law is so loosely defined that along with these racist phrases, the Judge condemned him saying “He said ‘dirty whore’ at least a thousand times”.

Under the “apology for terrorism” law of 2014, four 10 year old children were recently detained for over 11 hours after the children felt upset when the degrading cartoons against the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) were forcefully shown to them in class. The 10 year olds were asked how often they pray in their homes, which mosque they attended, and absurdly asked “What do you think of the tense relationship between Macron and Erdogan”

Under the 2011 Anti-terror law concerns have been raised that the internet would be filtered for French citizens. The illegal downloading “Hadopi 2” law, raised concerns over the privatisation of censorship because private companies could use it to conduct online surveillance and filtering.

Conclusion

France is targeting Muslims and Islam specifically. The racism and Islamophobia is clearly hidden behind the veil of “freedom of speech”. A move away from militant secularism is needed in France and it is time that they practice the tolerance they preach.

France and many countries are now promoting an anti-Muslim approach. Panellists invited on TV are either from fringe groups including extremists or Muslims who don’t know the first thing about Islam. It is time the media took some responsibility and spoke to the many learned Muslims scholars of Islam from the mainstream who are fluent in English.

If the French government continues on this path, will it next demand the expulsion of Muslims as the expulsions which taint its history such as the French Huguenots? Or could we be treading the grim road that France saw within living memory, of Nazi ghettos and concentration camps, such as those that have recently surfaced in China. China is another country to attempt to control Islam and use the word “Islamic separatism”.

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About the author

Shoaib

CEO of Hujjaj.co | Director of the Organisation for the Conservation of Islamic Heritage | President of itiba.tv | Editor Muslim World Journal | Pharmacist | You can find me on Instagram and Facebook

shoaib@muslimworldjournal.com

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