Macron’s crackdown on Muslims is to scapegoat & distract from his disastrous response to Covid-19

By Sabby Dhalu, Stand up to Racism Co-Convenor

On 9 December French President Emmanuel Macron unveiled draft legislation with the aim of supposedly curbing the influence of Islamist “separatism.” The legislation follows the expulsion of hundreds of Muslims from France, controls on Mosques and severe repression of Muslim, anti-racist and human rights organisations including the banning of Collectif Contre l’Islamophobie en France (Collective Against Islamophobia in France [CCIF]). 

There is no evidence linking the CCIF with terrorism and its banning is a frightening and grotesque attack on the right to challenge racism and Islamophobia. 

These measures along with Macron’s defence of the right to blaspheme the Prophet Mohammed, led to international protests in many countries with large Muslim populations including Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Qatar, Kuwait, Bangladesh and Somalia. Kuwait has boycotted French goods. 

Insulting and attacking poorer, smaller, more marginalised and discriminated Muslim communities is not freedom of speech or satire. It is racism and exploitation and has no place in any free and fair society. 

All this has been in the name of France’s ultra secularism – l’aicite – and to curb terrorism. In reality the measures undermine the very freedoms Macron is claiming to defend, stir up racism and Islamophobia and create yet more fertile ground for Marine Le Pen and the far right National Rally who recently predictably stated the measures did not go far enough and called for the banning of the hijab for Muslim women. 

Indeed studies show there is no link between Islam, Mosques and terrorism. French Sociologist Oliver Roy in his study “Jihad and death: the global appeal of Islamic State,” found that terrorists were not radicalised by organised Islam in Mosques or schools. According Roy’s recent piece published in the Financial Times on 7 November 2020:

“Rather, most were radicalised among small groups of friends and relatives, often in a milieu characterised by petty crime and delinquency. They used the internet to find texts and inspiration, and made little or no reference to the tenets of sharia law. They came from the margins of Muslim life in France, not the centre. Could the measures now being proposed have prevented any of the terrorist attacks carried out in France since the bombing of the Paris Metro in 1995? The answer, it seems to me, is no.”

Indeed other studies show very little difference between the aspirations of Muslim communities and other communities in France. According to the survey conducted by Institut Montaigne and Ifop in 2016, Only 5 per cent of Muslims belong to a Muslim organisation. There are only ten denominational schools for 1.3 million Muslims younger than 15. In addition, day to day concerns resemble the rest of the French population with 93 per cent stating their main priority is to have a stable job, 88 per cent wanted to get a decent degree and 65 per cent wanted affordable accommodation. 

It seems the real motivation for this crackdown on Muslims was the need for a scapegoat and distraction from his disastrous response to Covid-19. The measures introduced by Macron have often been justified and reported as a response to the brutal beheading of teacher Samuel Paty, and the knife attacks in the Nice church. 

However Macron’s recent attacks on Muslim communities in France began at the very beginning of October, before the Paty and Nice attacks, where he announced the new legislation and accused Muslim communities of “separatism” and creating a “parallel” society. Macron’s announcement on 2 October coincided with a sharp rise in coronavirus deaths and cases and the start of France’s second wave. France along with Spain, Italy and the UK, have one of the highest case and death rates in Europe, higher than the EU average. 

Unlike Western Pacific countries such as New Zealand, Australia, China, Vietnam and South Korea – France other EU countries and the US failed to adopt a Zero Covid strategy and as a result – have had not only the worst levels of coronavirus in the world, but also the worst hit economies. The countries that pursued a Zero Covid strategy have got their economies back on track. 

Whipping up racism in times of major crises is nothing new and just like Donald Trump clamped down on the Black Lives Matter movement, the Boris Johnson government stirs up hostility towards refugees, Macron’s chosen target of attack is the Muslim community. 

Of course this is not the first time in French history that Islamophobia has been stirred up. Following Jean Marie Le Pen’s shock second place in the 2002 Presidential election, in 2004 President Jacques Chirac banned religious symbols in schools, which was widely understood as an attack on the Muslim community although it impacted on all faiths. 

In 2011 President Nicholas Sarkozy banned the Niqab (full face veil). Both these measures were a concession to the far right that led to a growth in support for racism and fascism. They also led to a growth in violent racist and Islamophobic attacks on Muslim women – around 80 per cent of attacks are on women. 

We must be clear – whether it is a Niqab or a mini skirt – it is a woman’s right to choose what she wears. Racism and Islamophobia must be challenged not conceded to. These rights must be fiercely defended.

Events in France hold crucial lessons for the left and progressive people in Britain. There is no room for complacency on Islamophobia, racism and antisemitism in Britain. Racist attacks including Islamophobic attacks increased once again this year and as in France the majority were on women because of the negative discourse on the Hijab and Niqab. Fascist and far right Islamophobes like Tommy Robinson and Nigel Farage have been defeated, for now. 

However the present Tory government is one of the most racist in history. In the three weeks after Boris Johnson’s article comparing Muslim women wearing the Niqab to bank robbers and letter boxes, Islamophobic attacks increased by 375 per cent. France illustrates the importance of standing up to racism, Islamophobia, antisemitism and all forms of racism and bigotry. It also highlights that celebrating our multicultural society and defending freedom of religious, cultural, political expression are crucial. These are the real cornerstones of liberty and freedom and this is how we defeat Isis terrorism and the fascist far right.

This article originally was published by Labour Outlook