Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité – except if you are Muslim

By ISMAEEL YAQOOB

As a Muslim who has spent all my life in Europe, although not always fully knowingly, I have been aware of the branding issues my faith has in this part of the world. Much in the same way as many of you would have probably picked up your early understanding of ‘Muslims’ and ‘Islam’ through the lens of so-called ‘Islamist extremism’, ‘Jihadis’, and ‘terrorists’, these words would commonly frequent my mind as a child. Only later on in my life was I able to draw the clear and necessary distinctions, despite what I saw on TV being so far removed from my personal reality.

I have early memories of my mum switching the channel whenever there had been another attack, not wanting to endanger our internal narrative for a religion which had always been a source of positivity and warmth. I had, however, always been too curious for my own good, already deep into that day’s Evening Standard edition looking for those same arabic words that I’d uttered earlier in my Zuhr prayer. ‘Before launching his rampage on,’- I could already feel the lump in my throat as I prepared myself for the coming days’ attacks on my identity, and what would become a constant need to justify my existence.

The concept of ‘racism’ is currently something most, usually white, people are hell-bent on distancing themselves from. In practise, however, it is clear that there is a very selective approach to anti-racism, which seems to be denied to the 6,000,000 Muslims living in France. Following the beheading of school teacher Samuel Patty by a so-called ‘Islamist’ extremist a few weeks ago, President Macron was quick to throw French Muslims under the bus in his interestingly chosen and deliberately coded messaging. ‘Islam is in crisis all over the world,’ a need to create a state approved ‘Islam of France,’ and of course the doubling down of extremely offensive and unnecesarily provocative charicatures of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), a figure highly respected in the Islamic tradition. It was clear that Macron, in all his talk of ‘la fraternité, nous la vivons avec intensité,’ no doubt knowingly excluded the French Muslim community which has become the target of an alienating and dehumanising national discourse. Just two weeks ago, Minister of the Interior Gerad Darmier attended an interview where he blamed ‘communautarisme’ on the visible presence of halal meat in supermarkets. Education Minister Jean Michel Banquer a few days ago accused universities of spreading ‘Islamo-Leftism’ and proclaimed that theories of ‘intersectionality’ are responsible for so-called Islamism and the ‘fragmentation of French society’. It was only a matter of time before anti Muslim sentiment manifested itself in an act of violence; in Paris, two women wearing hijabs were stabbed whilst being the subject of an onslaught of racist verbal abuse, and in Avignon a Maghrebin shop owner was shot by a far right extremist from the terrorist organisation ‘Generation Identitaire.’

Whilst Muslims are walking through streets plastered with posters of Marine Le Pen, being fined more for wearing a burqa than they would for not wearing a mask, policemen holding a gaze at us whilst we are just getting on with our day, being stopped for ‘random’ document checks and raising suspicion when a European nationality is coupled with a Muslim-sounding name. This all became my new normal when I moved to France. As someone who has as much to do with what happened to Samuel Patty as you reading this, it is clear that the republic is making a mockery out of its founding principles — clearly there is no Liberté, no Egalité, no Fraternité for the Muslims. 

It is incumbent on all of us, as members of an esteemed academic and social community, to not just stand up in defence of a white, Europeo-centric freedom of expression when the French Muslim’s relative rights are restrained to a sphere defined by the white man. French Muslim women have their literal bodies policed by the state in this country in the name of an ideology that is meant to see everyone as an equal, whilst the privilege of the white man is vindicated in their ability to use ‘creative license’ to pit minorities against the majoritarian culture and put Muslims in harm’s way. 

Only a few months ago we were posting black squares to show our commitment to anti-racism and reposting infographics on critical race theory and white supremacy. Clearly this commitment was short-lived and suspicions of performativity have been confirmed because a basic understanding of the reality of existing as a minority still lacks. The truth is that race and therefore racism doesn’t have any empirical backing, and exists off the back of a world order and power dynamic informed by the ‘scientific’ European conception of the human species stemming from the Enlightenment. Thus, when it is refuted that Islamophobia is a form of racism, it is difficult for me to understand how, when, and who defines the parameters of this social ill, as in many ways I have felt it operate much in the same way as the racism I experience as a result of the colour of my skin. Those looking for a more informed definition of Islamophobia I would direct to the All Party Parliamentary Group (UK) on British Muslim’s definition: 

“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”

The definition in full, as well as examples relevant to contemporary Islamophobia, particularly pertinent to a western setting can be found at: https://www.islamophobia-definition.com

If you are looking for some good journalism concerning the subject of Islamophobia France I would recommend @MyriamFrancoisC and @RimSarah.

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