This is the second part to our first article on France’s legacy with racism.
The mainstream French society’s issue with Islam is very apparent – from individualized attacks on Muslims in public to institutional policing, Muslims in France are discriminated against.
The legacy of Islamophobia in France, and largely Europe, comes from centuries of orientalism, pseudo-science, and a perpetual lens of Muslims as an Other. From the Crusades to the Enlightenment era, Muslims have been viewed by Europeans in derogatory ways.
Perhaps one of the most interesting ways France’s Islamophobia persists is the French “secular” tradition. French secularism targets non-Christian religions. Muslims and other religious minorities are unable to practice their faith in public. French legislators have introduced bills to ban hijab and niqab, censor Islamic academic work, and overall police Muslims publically existed. These ideas are imposed on Muslims, yet French Christians are able to practice their faith in public. French secularism aims to curb non-Christian expressions of faith, especially in the post 9/11 era. An article in the Berkley Forum argues, “It is not French secularism but the global rise of Islamophobia that has led to discriminatory policies toward French Muslims.” French secularism has been used as a tool to implement Islamophobia in the country.
Islam in France is heavily intertwined with race. Because of French colonialism, many of the Muslims living in France are from North, West, and Central Africa. The London School of Economics reports, “An influx of North African immigrants materialized “banlieues” (slums), plagued with rampant crime, poverty, and unemployment. More than 4.4 million people of Arab or African heritage live in banlieues where they and Jews face extreme discrimination. From the beginning, Muslims and those of African and Arab heritage have been placed on the fringes of French society by the government and natives.”
Because of these aspects of institutionalized discrimination, French Muslims experience high levels of unemployment. There are studies that show that when a Muslim is considered a practicing Muslim in public, they are less likely to be called back for jobs than a secular-appearing Muslim. The European Network Against Racism published in a report about Muslim women who wear hijab, “When they get an interview and choose to present themselves with their headscarf, they take the risk of being refused for the position. Usually the headscarf monopolises the interview, employers only focus on the religious symbol and not on thecandidate’s skills. In France, as many employers think that neutrality applies to private companies, they do not hesitate to openly express the specific motive of the refusal and thus exposed themselves to condemnation in court.”
France’s Islamophobia is further tied into political figures. President Macron has consistently called for targeting “radical” Islam, and pushing for a “French” version of Islam. Marine Le Penn, a far-right politician, is known for her extreme Islamophobic statements. She was a contender for the French presidency, showing that these ideas are integral to mainstream French society.
Political rhetoric has created an environment where Islamophobic sentiments are on the rise, and individualized attacks occur. In 2020, Islamophobic attacks in France increased by 53%. Attacks on mosques increased by 35%.
The institutionalized Islamophobia in France has created a normalization of hatred against Muslims. This not only demonizes Muslims, but increases violence against them. When faith is intertwined with French colorblind racism, the systems of oppression continue on and on, cycling for years. To address the problem, France must first acknowledge their deep institutionalized issues.