Islamophobia in France: Lessons for India

Paris Beheading

The gruesome beheading of a teacher in France has filled Muslim minority with fear of collective punishment. Communal reactionaries are spearheading hate against Muslims over Killings. The outpouring reactions of liberals and others have been on expected lines. More than 130 prominent Indians have also condemned killings. It has to an extent polarized Muslims and Majority religions across the world. Muslims countries are protesting on streets with boycott French products calls. And Hindutva forces have openly come in support of President Macron along with these liberals.

There is hardly mention of historical context behind such killings as if such acts are devoid of context and pop up from nowhere. Rightists made no mistake in cashing on this God sent opportunity to launch a smearing campaign against the entire Muslims community and Islam per se. Majority of critics have also equated these killings with Islamic Terrorism. Many of non-Muslims sections including a fraction of educated Muslim elites have come to believe that such killings are inspired from Islam. This is perhaps the best time for Islamophobic fear mongers to reap the harvest of hate which they have been sowing for decades.

It is useless to question communal right wingers as they are trained and pleased to spew hate against minorities particularly Muslims all across the world. These questions must be posed to the liberals and unfortunately a section of left liberals who ultimately end up serving the right wing hate euphoria in this spree of condemnation. By doing so, we all end up in further alienating Muslims and lose their confidence irrespective of how much we may pretend to feel for them.

These killings are just symptoms of larger malice of French society if when look at it from historical and present-day treatment of Muslims by French State and its deliberate policy of targeting its Muslim citizens. Media has also played a most reactionary and Islamophobic role across the world. France had been a colonial occupier in Muslim dominated Africa and Middle-East. Algeria was forcefully integrated into French State and subjected to immense Islamophobic discrimination in all spheres of life ranging from job discrimination, institutional otherness to hate crimes. Such discriminatory behavior transcends even after the independence of Algeria from France in 1962. Four millions Algerian Muslim migrants continue to be treated as second class citizens who don’t fit in the schemes of ‘French modernity’.

French State has been a declared offender of criminalizing Muslims for decades just like Indian State does with its Muslims. President Emmanuel Macron talks about “enlightened French Islam”, “reforming Islam”, “French Islam”, “reorganize Islam” and the need to liberate French Muslims from the influence of Arab countries so and so forth. Mocking of Prophet, Islamic symbols and criminalizing Muslims in political and social sphere have become so common and French State emboldens it in the name of ‘freedom of expression’. Earlier Macron had also brought politically motivated controversial Anti- Separatism Bill on the pretext of enforcing secularism and liberating French Islam from foreign influence. The proposed law intends to impose strict financial control over mosques, imams and their schoolings.

It has also launched a scathing attack on anti-racist organizations such as the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) much like BJP government has been framing Muslims and other anti-CAA protestors. All this is being done to hide its failures on all fronts and to polarize majority against French Muslims ahead of elections in 2022.

For many mocking of Prophet may be a non-issue but for a person with faith who doesn’t harm anybody it is an issue. French State has been guilty of violating their fundamental freedom of expression. One may say mocking by making cartons is also a freedom of expression. For this, it must be said vocally that no freedom is absolute. Freedom of expression is practiced in given situation which is advanced with the advancement of society. We should be critical of only those aspects of religion which perpetuate oppression and hinder true democratization of the society. Mocking one’s religious symbols certainly do not hinder any democratization process. And, mocking of prophet is just one incident, there are many social and political actions which are being used to further marginalized French Muslims for decades. 9/11 attack gave big flip to islamophobia world over. French Muslims were started dubbing as Fifth column. Like communal Modi government is leaving no opportunity to criminalize Muslims, French President Macron is also desperately stigmatizing its Muslim citizens. It is accumulated pent up suffocation of alienation which often results in such manifestations.

What is disturbing is the liberals’ attitude who don’t lose no time to condemn killings while conveniently keep mum over the nature of Islamophobic French State and everyday discrimination by its institutions. They deliberately failed to acknowledge the simple fact that every phenomenon is always a product of its material social, political, religious and ideological conditions. Radicalization of minorities is also a product of its socio-political material conditions. It is not like that someday someone wake up and resort to killings. It is certainly a by-product of socially depressive, discriminatory and exploitative eco system which alienate its minority citizens. It is this pent up of depressive, discriminatory and feeling of otherness which propels individuals to resort to killings. Holding solely religion responsible is nothing but reductionist analysis. State and its alienating policies must be held responsible for stigmatizing its Muslim minorities. We are apparently in denial mode to find out the true causes of radicalization.

One more serious blunder committed by liberals and other alike in such cases is that of equating majority-minority religious fundamentalism. Both are politically different, therefore, must be treated differently. For example we should simply not equate Hindutva extremism with Islamic fanaticism in India. Both can’t be treated equally because Hindutva forces hold political power. They want to erect Hindu Rashtra by abandoning secularism on the dead bodies of minorities. Whereas minorities’ radicalization of Muslims if it emerges at all India, would emanate from insecurity psychosis foisted by right wing extremism. Hindutva forces not only openly flaunts its intension to galvanize minorities but they execute their professed intentions with the help of State and non-State actors. Due to political power and social structure of Indian society, the majority has the primary responsibility of keeping India secular by shedding its Islamophobic character. It is true for any other country which follows conscious policy of alienating its minority. This is one very important lesson India should learn from French experience.

The most determining factor in the making of an Islamophobic State is the silence of majority. Such killing is, unfortunately, the price of our collective silence against Majoritarianism. Until we do not collectively rise against the social, political and other structures responsible for Islamophobia, we can’t simply hope to live peacefully and harmoniously.

Therefore, we should categorically point out that merely diagnosing symptoms won’t lead us to correct understanding of such type of outburst. The root cause of the problem must be addressed concretely. If someone wants to condemn killings without analyzing the reactionary and Islamophobic role played by French State and its institutions, than, it is a superficial analysis. One can’t squarely put all blame on symptoms instead of root cause which many of us are unwilling to understand. When any communal state polarize society, such reactions are bound to happen. This is in no one’s hand. It is not a security issue. It is a political issue. Condemning such spontaneous killings without condemning Islamophobic French State tantamount to Islamophobia.

Sandeep Kumar, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Public Administration, Panjab University, Chandigarh [email protected]



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