“Islamophobia on an industrial scale”

By Mike Phipps

The French government continues to head into a culture war with the country’s Muslims, with its announcement of a “crackdown” on 76 mosques that the government suspects of “separatism” and encouraging extremism.  Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said the mosques would be inspected and any found to be “breeding grounds of terrorism” would be shut.

This latest measure is part of the government’s response to October’s brutal murder of a schoolteacher by an Islamist terrorist. Darmanin also officially announced the dissolution of the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, which the government accuses of spreading Islamist propaganda.  Amnesty International condemned the move as “shocking”.

This follows the closure of Muslim humanitarian NGO BarakaCity, which delivered aid to two million people in 26 countries, before being shut down by the government. Opponents say the government is pandering to the far right.

Darmanin has previously questioned why supermarkets have aisles for halal food. And President Macron, as we reported last month, criticised town mayors who had allowed “sectarian menus” – without pork and including halal dishes – in school canteens.

The crackdown on mosques follows Macron’s demand that the French Council of Muslim Worship draw up a charter of “republican values”, within two weeks, which its member organisations and affiliates will be expected to comply with. On this basis, certain imams would receive official accreditation. The fate of those who refuse to comply is unclear.

In practice, studies show there is no link between 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 to Roy’s recent piece published in the Financial Times on 7th November, “Rather, most were radicalised among small groups of friends and relatives, often in a milieu characterised by petty crime and delinquency.”

Sabby Dhalu concludes: “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.”

Yasser Louati, a human rights advocate in France, agrees. He accuses the government of “Islamophobia on an industrial scale” to cover up for its intelligence failings over recent terrorist attacks, as well as other government failures – spiralling poverty, unemployment and inequality. He says a headscarf-wearing Muslim woman in France had a 1% chance of getting a job.

The government’s offensive has been widened to include a supposed bias in academia. As Labour Hub previously noted, “Even the teaching of communitarian approaches and intersectionality is deemed by the Education Minister as not ‘compatible with republican values’.  This goes hand in hand with France’s prime minister saying the French public should no longer be making a critique of France’s colonial history, something the country has never really started doing.”

As academic Musab Younis noted: “It might seem bizarre to blame the murder of the French schoolteacher Samuel Paty on a nebulous conspiracy of leftist academics, given that the perpetrator, Abdoullakh Abouyedovich Anzorov, was an 18-year-old who had never been to university. But earlier this month in Le Monde, 100 French academics gave their backing to Jean-Michel Blanquer, the education minister, when he responded to the murder with a flood of invective against universities. ‘Islamo-leftism is wreaking havoc,’ he said. Paty’s murderer had been ‘conditioned by people who encourage’ a type of ‘intellectual radicalism’ and promote ‘ideas that often come from elsewhere’.”

Blanquer’s outburst had the President’s full backing. “Academia is guilty,” Macron said in June, because “it has encouraged ethnicisation of the social question”, leading to the spread of “secessionist” views.

Macron’s attack on ‘Islamo-leftism’ is part of a broader authoritarian offensive, which includes a clampdown on protests – in the context of rising unprovoked police violence on demonstrations. France’s new security law, which undermines press freedom by making it illegal to photographically identify police in the course of their duty, has been criticised by five UN special rapporteurs for breaching international law and human rights.

It has also fuelled spontaneous demonstrations of opposition across France. In November, thousands marched in Pau, Chambéry, Rennes, Tours, Montpellier, Nantes, Toulouse and an estimated 200,000 in Paris. Many secondary school students and people from poorer neighbourhoods took part.  And this month, police responded brutally to a Paris demonstration against the new law.

Macron’s move to the right began with his Cabinet reshuffle this summer. One commentator concluded, “Far from a renewal of politics, the new government is the rightful heir of Nicolas Sarkozy and his presidency (2007-12), which marked a decisive step in the normalisation of far-right politics.”

Before the murder of Samuel Paty, the teacher who showed Charlie Hebdo’s controversial cartoons of Mohammed to a civics class as part of a lesson on toleration, Macron had spoken of the city suburbs where the rate of youth unemployment runs at 40%. “We have created our own form of separatism,” he said.

He promised a plan of action to bring “profound changes” to the inner suburbs — especially for younger Muslims. Without this, these areas would remain a “fertile soil” in which extremist, Islamist propaganda would grow.

That promise has been abandoned in the wake of the latest attacks. Now the emphasis is no longer on social causes: the enemy is in the universities.

At the end of October, the French Senate approved a new law on academic research which contained the addendum, ““Academic freedoms are exercised with respect for the values of the Republic.”

In lockstep, the academics who wrote to Le Monde agreed, lamenting the “decolonial” ideologies that are “feeding a hatred of ‘whites’ and of France”.  Thus the French revolutionary principle of secularism is corralled to support the most right wing and nationalist sentiments, referenced to highlight a highlight a pseudo-identity crisis and wage a culture war.

There has been some pushback against the allegation that intellectual non-conformism paves the way for Islamic extremism. In a response to the Le Monde letter, a group of international academics issued a statement, arguing that the “claim is deeply disingenuous, and in a context where academics associated with critical race and decolonial research have recently received death threats, it is also profoundly dangerous.”  It was reminiscent of McCarthyism and “the anti-Semitic ‘Judeo-Bolshevism’ accusation in the 1930s which blamed the spread of communism on Jews.”

The statement, signed by over seventy professors, notes: “This is part of a global trend in which racism is protected as freedom of speech, while to express antiracist views is regarded as a violation of it.”

Internationally, this is true.  In September, US President Donald Trump issued a directive to stop federal organisations delivering anti-bias training that drew on ‘critical race theory’ which was ‘un-American propaganda’. A month later UK Conservative women and equalities minister, Kemi Badenoch, claimed in the House of Commons that teaching “elements of critical race theory’ in schools” was illegal.

The outlook chimes with those Tory MPs who have denounced “cultural Marxism,” a term challenged by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, for its links to a conspiracy theory associated with the far right and antisemitism.

All of this feels like a huge distraction in a society – similar to France – which is racked by Islamophobia, where the Prime Minister belittles Muslims, where attacks against Muslims are on the rise and where surveys show over half of Conservative Party members have a negative attitude to Muslims. As Zarah Sultana MP argues, these attitudes have found their way into public policy.

Labour too has some way to go, with 29% of respondents cited in a new report by the Labour Muslim Network saying they have experienced Islamophobia in the Party. 44% of those consulted said that they did not believe the party takes the issue seriously.

Mike Phipps is editor of the Iraq Occupation Focus e-newsletter, available at https://lists.riseup.net/www/info/iraqfocus. His book For the Many: Preparing Labour for Power was published by OR Books in 2018.

Image:  The French president Emmanuel Macron, Source: http://www.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/54617/photos,  licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

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