‘J’n’ai pas peur de l’écrire: La France est islamophobe’ … but so is America
AN INDEPENDENT RESEARCH ARTICLE BY LAWYERS WITHOUT BORDERS (DURHAM STUDENT DIVISION)
In 2012, the French rapper Kery James sang ‘J’n’ai pas peur de l’écrire: La France est islamophobe’,1 translated as ‘I am not afraid to write it: France is Islamophobic’. In 2016, his claim is stronger than ever. The dreadful terrorist attacks perpetrated on French soil since January 2015 shocked the consciences of the Old Continent. This prompted France’s Prime Minister to declare, and then prolong, a state of emergency. In addition, France saw a considerable rise in episodes of hatred towards the French Muslim population, the largest in Europe. This article will explore Islamophobia in France whilst discussing the simultaneous surge in anti-Islamic rhetoric, violence and acts of hatred inflicted upon the Muslims in America, problems that have arisen following terror attacks, the election campaign and subsequent victory of Donald Trump.
In France, ‘incidents of Islamophobic nature’ seem to have almost tripled.2 What is even more worrying is that this appalling trend of Islamophobia is not only reflected in physical or verbal acts, but also in its normalisation and mainstreaming in media and political discourse. Indeed, it has been described as different from ordinary racism in that it appears ‘liberal and progressive, attacking Islam in the name of secularism and free speech’.3
Some of the most concerning episodes, the latest of which is the tagging with Islamophobic insults of the Mosque of Mérignac in the region of Gironde,4 will thus follow chronologically.
In the three weeks following the Charlie Hebdo attack in January 2015, 120 episodes of racism against Muslim were reported by the CCIF (Collective Against Islamophobia in France) – ‘never so many in such a short period’5 – 16 of which in the first 48 hours.6 The incidents reported included the throwing of firebombs and pigs’ heads into mosques, the insulting of veiled women, and the spreading of hatred across the Internet. Regarding the media, renowned journalist Philippe Tesson openly declared on one of France’s biggest radio stations, that Muslims were threatening the secularism of the country, stating that “it’s the Muslims that bring the s**t to France these days”. However, his acts of inciting racial hatred on such a large scale go unpunished.7
The month of March then saw a number of episodes of hatred against Muslim women, the most disheartening of which was in Toulouse, where the victim, an eight month pregnant woman, received several blows to the belly.8 In July, the government set out an anti racism plan with a budget of one hundred million Euros – with little success. Amnesty International for instance, has reported on the manifest abuse by the police, of their mandate and the powers conferred upon them by the state of emergency in raids and home searches, unsurprisingly targeted at the Muslim population.9
One of the deadliest terrorist attacks in France was the November 2015 Paris attacks, in which 130 people were killed across the city.10 In the aftermath of the attack, stories emerged of the passport of a Syrian asylum seeker being found next to one of the suicide bombers which sparked fresh fears of an Islamophobic backlash against refugees, especially in the camps in Calais.11 The Islamophobic reaction in Calais has had far reaching effects beyond France, with the Brexit Leave campaign latching onto this fear, spreading hatred within the UK.12 The camps are dangerous enough without the additional Islamophobic backlash, with the Refugee Rights Data Project reporting that 75% of refugees experienced police violence in the Calais ‘Jungle’.
Looking to America, stark parallels can be drawn between the treatment of Muslims in the two countries. Much of President Trump’s election rhetoric was centred on Islamophobia, playing on the fears of the American population, steadfastly committing to tackle the threat posed by the Islamic state. The 2016 Presidential Election vividly proved that Islamophobia is alive, potent, and politically resonant as ever. This was demonstrated when Trump made outrageous comments about Muslims such as ‘Islam hates us’ and that radicals are ‘trying to take our children’. 13 However, instead of being criticised, he received resounding support for such comments.
Trump’s anti-Islamic rhetoric reached new heights in December 2015 when two Islamist shooters killed 14 people. It occurred in San Bernadino, California, and was significant because it was preceded by the Paris attacks a month before. It was as a result of these attacks that he announced the infamous and hugely controversial policy calling for ‘a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until [the] country’s representatives [could] figure out what [was] going on.’14 According to a poll by Morning Consult, a shocking 71% of Republican voters supported the temporary ban on Muslims, whilst 50% of all American voters supported this stance.15 This was followed by Trump’s endorsement of a Muslim registry, which tracked individuals based on their religion and required all Muslims to carry identification which would note their religious beliefs. This is an idea that seems all too familiar when we think back to the treatment of the Jews in Nazi Germany.
The culmination of extremism and anti-Islamic rhetoric towards the end of 2015 was mirrored by a concurrent spike in the number of attacks on the Muslim community in America. According to recent analysis based on reports from the media and civil rights groups, the rate of suspected hate crimes against Muslims tripled,16 as has been the case in France. Aggressive anti-Islamic verbal abuse, violence, vandalism, arson attacks on mosques, and most shockingly, numerous murders of members of the Muslim community, are all examples of the hate crimes which are becoming ever more present across both countries. Without question, it is clear that Islamophobia is spreading like wildfire. For example, in the US, the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes rose from 154 incidents in 2014 to 257 last year, an increase of 67% which is the highest since 9/11.17 This remains true within ostensibly Muslim-friendly places such as New York and Michigan, home to some of the largest Muslim populations in the US. It is evident that Islamophobes across America are inciting hatred and violence towards the general Muslim community and are tarring all Muslims with the same brush, wrongly associating the horrific acts of a minority group of radical Muslims with the general Muslim population.
The prejudice and hatred towards the Muslim community in the US has undoubtedly been fuelled and heightened by Trump’s anti-Islamic rhetoric and planned proposals for his forthcoming Presidency. Shockingly, the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) has found that since the election night, there have been 437 hate crimes against members of the Muslim community.18 With the elections in France planned for next spring, the presence of Islamophobic rhetoric in political discourse is only expected to increase, and the situation for Muslims living in France likely to worsen. There is now a clear, potent, political force across the world that is Islamophobia, a previous taboo topic that has now been brought to the forefront of politics. It is evident, across the world, that Islamophobia is an issue that now fundamentally needs to be addressed – not only for the protection of Muslims but also to preserve the vision of a functioning, pluralistic and democratic society.
By Daisy Wootten, Costanza Danovi, Cordelia Griffith and Emily Greene
1 James K, ‘Lettre à la Republique’
2 Chazan D, ‘Hate crimes against Muslims and Jews soar in France’ The Telegraph (Paris, 30 December 2015) <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/12075018/Hate-crimes-against-Muslims-and-Jews-soar-in-France.html> accessed 1 December 2016
3 Harle J, ‘Islamophobia(s) in the aftermath of the Nice attack’ (IPR Blog, University of Bath, 28 July 2016) <http://blogs.bath.ac.uk/iprblog/2016/07/28/islamophobias-in-the-aftermath-of-the-nice-attack> accessed 1 December 2016
4 Libération, ‘Gironde: des inscriptions hostiles aux musulmans sur la mosquée de Mérignac’ (Libération, 27 November 2016) < http://www.liberation.fr/societe/2016/11/27/gironde-des-inscriptions-hostiles-aux-musulmans-sur-la-mosquee-de-merignac_1531294> accessed 2 December 2016
5 Collective Against Islamophobia in France, ‘Report 2015’ (Collective Against Islamophobia in France) < http://www.islamophobie.net/sites/default/files/CCIF-Annual-Report-2015.pdf> accessed 30 November 2016
6 The Associated Press, ‘Charlie Hebdo terror spawns anti-Muslim attacks in France’ Daily News (13 January 2015)
7 Abunimah A, ‘France begins failing people for ironic comments’ (The Electronic Intifada, 19 January 2015) <https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/france-begins-jailing-people-ironic-comments> accessed 7 December 2016
8 Gee O, ‘Pregnant Muslim woman attacked in France’ (The Local, 27 March 2015) <http://www.thelocal.fr/20150327/pregnant-muslim-woman-assaulted-in-france> accessed 5 December 2016
9 Amnesty International, ‘DES VIES BOULEVERSÉES L’IMPACT DISPROPORTIONNÉ DE L’ÉTAT D’URGENCE EN FRANCE’ (Amnesty International, 2016) <https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0ahUKEwjs7ZeH9dzQAhWmIsAKHQt0DOcQFggdMAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.amnesty.org%2Fdownload%2FDocuments%2FEUR2133642016FRENCH.pdf&usg=AFQjCNGFq01nf0jUeYcPQfihj8UMQDzcTA&sig2=FkEEYaSkR_Ps_D1mWacgzQ> accessed 30 November 2016
10 BBC News, ‘Paris attacks: What happened on the night’ (BBC News, 9 December 2015) <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-34818994> accessed 5 December 2016
11 Davidson C, ‘Calais refugees greive for Paris while dreading Islamophobic backlash’ Al Jazeera America (16 November 2015) <http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/11/16/calais-refugees-mourn-paris-fear-islamophobia.html> accessed 4 December 2016
12 Staufenberg J, ‘Brexit: BBC journalist called a ‘P**i*’ as Muslim Council warns of rising Islamaphobia’ Independent (27 June 2016) <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-bbc-journalist-muslim-council-rising-islamophobia-racism-eu-a7106056.html>
13 Bayoumy Y, ‘Trump’s Anti-Muslim Rhetoric is Fueling Islamophobic Incidents’ (The Huffington Post, 20 June 2016) <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-islamophobia_us_57687474e4b015db1bca5fb4> accessed 1 December 2016
14 Diamond J, ‘Donald Trump’s shifting positions on Muslim ban’ (CNN, 25 June 2016) http://edition.cnn.com/2016/06/25/politics/donald-trump-muslim-ban-terrorism/ accessed 1 December 2016
15 Wong K, ‘Poll: Half of American voters backTrump’s Muslim ban’ (The Hill, 29 February 2016) <http://thehill.com/policy/defense/274521-poll-half-of-american-voters-back-trumps-muslim-ban> accessed 1 December 2016
16 Stack L, ‘American Muslims Under Attack’ The New York Times (15 February 2016) <http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/12/22/us/Crimes-Against-Muslim-Americans.html?_r=0> accessed 1 December 2016
17 FBI, ‘Latest Hate Crime Statistics Released’ (FBI, 14 November 2016) <https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2015-hate-crime-statistics-released> accessed 1 December 2016
18 Holpuch A, Pilkington E and Goyette J, ‘Muslims in Trump’s America: realities of Islamophobic presidency begin to sink in’ The Guardian New York and Minneapolis, 17 November 2016) <https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/17/muslim-americans-donald-trump-hate-crimes-surveillance> accessed 1 December 2016