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Is there really a Muslim problem in France?

umm Abdillah, Radio Islam Programming | 2015.11.19 | 06 Safar 1437 H

 Racial slurs on the walls of a mosque in the town of Saint-Etienne, central France.Racial slurs on the walls of a mosque in the town of Saint-Etienne, central France.

France places a premium on national identity, pressing their population to put “Frenchness” before any religious or national background. The expressed conviction, by politicians and intellectuals alike that the greatest problem in the country is Muslim minorities. Is it fair or merely convenient to blame the most disenfranchised members of French society for the instability of the present and the uncertainty of the future? Have the recent terrorist attacks on Paris been a case of chickens eventually come home to roost? Umm Abdillah analyses Immigration and Muslims in France.


What Foreign Policy?


The weekend’s tragic rampage across Paris still dominates news headlines. With no other cause or suspects to blame, mass hysteria and Islamophobia made ISIS and Muslims the immediate culprits. Both ISIS and Assad have apparently blamed the Paris attacks on French foreign policy. What foreign policy?


France has long weaponised and financed ISIS (or prior rebel organisations) to oust the embattled Assad regime in Syria and Iraq. It could thus be said that France fed the foetus from which this terror attack mutated. That they complain now and exercise such abuse toward their own Muslim population is misplaced tyranny. As early as 2012 France admitted delivering weapons to the Syrian rebels, aka groups who morphed into ISIS. This too during a period of EU embargo. France began earnest airstrikes in Iraq in September of 2014. This year they commenced airstrikes not only Iraq, but wanton flying missions in Syria as well. In their booty-driven attacks, they haven’t differentiated between Assad and ISIS. Civilian targets haven’t been spared.


Further, France’s military deployments in Africa are well documented. France’s former colonies in Africa still pay a tax to their jailer for releasing their shackles. France retains an exclusive right to supply military equipment and train the country military officers in Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, and the Ivory Coast.


An unequal history


Equality, égalité, is one of the virtues on which the French Republic was founded. Critics of the Enlightenment philosophy behind the French Revolution have long noticed a double standard.


‘For the French, when equality is invoked, it is understood that this is equality among equals,’ writes Justin Smith, a professor of the history and philosophy of science at a university in Paris. ‘For most of the history of the French Republic, the boundary between the equal and the unequal was determined by the dynamics of empire: equality within continental France was in principle absolute, while in the colonies it was something that had to be cultivated: only if a colonial subject could demonstrate full embodiment in his manners and tastes of the French identity was he to be considered truly equal.’


France’s conviction towards their ‘immigrant problem’ is typically expressed without any acknowledgment of the country’s historical responsibility as a grotesque colonial power for the presence of former colonial subjects in metropolitan France, nor with any willingness to recognise that France will be ethnically diverse from there on out, and that it’s the responsibility of the French as much as of the immigrants to make this work.


The Immigrant Problem: Paris Riots of 2005


Statistics give a different picture of immigration in France from those one may imagine. Almost a tenth of France’s population is made up of immigrants: 8.8 percent to be exact. Nearly half of all new immigrants in France are European, not African or Middle Eastern!


In October and November of 2005, a series of riots occurred in the suburbs of Paris and other French cities involving the burning of cars and public buildings at night. The rioters were the children of immigrants from North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. Some French and foreign observers interpreted the riots in poor, largely Muslim neighborhoods throughout the country as a clash of civilisations. Yet, the strife had little to do with yearnings for a ‘worldwide caliphate’ and much to do with domestic socioeconomic problems. For those youth, Islam was an inseparable component of their self-identity, which strengthened their sense of solidarity, gave them the appearance of legitimacy and drew a line between them and the French.


Way back in 2005, European academic Professor Tariq Ramadan said in an interview with the SPIEGEL:


“The concepts of unity and equality, which are idealised to the point of excess in France’s political rhetoric, are nothing but myths and blatant lies at the social level. The main purpose of the public debates over Islam, integration and immigration is to stir up fear. In a sense, politicians use these debates as ideological strategies, as a way to avoid confronting reality.”


“French citizens are treated as second-class citizens, if not the leprous members of the national community. Their children are sent to ghetto schools and taught by inexperienced teachers, they are crammed into inhumane public housing developments, and they are confronted with an essentially closed job market. In short, they live in a bleak, devastated universe. France is disintegrating before our eyes into socioeconomic communities, into territorial and social apartheid. The rich live in their own ghettoes. Institutionalized racism is a daily reality.”


Islam with its overt religiosity, a way of life that is communal, a worship that is not just unilateral is strategically scapegoated as the biggest challenge to the country’s secular model of the past 100 years. While Muslim alarm is created, France’s Muslim ghettos are not hotbeds of separatism, and the suburbs are full of people desperate to integrate into the wider society. France makes integration more difficult for Muslims because it apparently forcesMuslims to choose between two alternatives: self-abandonment or self-isolation.


Critics have long said the ban on face veils and the headscarf had little to do with female emancipation, rather a political ploy to garner right wing votes. Changes in France will only take place when the residents of the disenfranchised suburbs are treated as fully entitled Frenchmen, as part of the solution, not an expression of the problem.

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