by Hichem Karoui
When a government’s views on secularism contradict democratic principles, when it restricts the free expression and practise of the country’s most significant minority religious beliefs while allowing the Far-Right’s hatred of immigrants, Muslims, Arabs, Africans, and Asians to flourish, is this government still democratic, or should we rather speak of a new breed of fascism? That country, unfortunately, exists – a shame for real democracy – and it is called France, or at least Macron’s France.
How Macron Harmed France’s Reputation and Prestige
Emmanuel Macron’s presidency has been defined by a series of anti-Muslim policies, prompting some critics to label his government as neo-fascist. Under Macron’s leadership, the French government has enacted a variety of anti-Muslim laws, notably the “anti-Separatism” law. Macron has asserted that Islam is a “religion that is in crisis all across the world today,” and he frequently asserts that violent activities by French Muslims are exceptional. Many activists and experts believe Macron used Islamophobia as an electoral strategy ahead of the presidential elections in April 2022. Critics have detected a shift in Macron’s political stance, with some claiming he has shifted to the far-right. Macron, a former member of the centre-left Socialist Party of France, created La République En Marche! (LREM) in 2016 and ran for president against Marine Le Pen of the National Rally. His policies and rhetoric, however, have been perceived as increasingly aligned with far-right ideas, notably towards Muslims.
The Country of Human Rights?
Several human rights organisations have accused France of continuing systematic racism, making it an appropriate subject for our analysis. These are some of the associations:
Amnesty International: This is a global movement of over 10 million individuals who advocate for a society where all people have equal access to human rights. Amnesty International has filed a class action lawsuit against the French government alleging pervasive racial discrimination by police. It has also released a report on the prevalent and illegal practice of ethnic profiling by French police.
Human Rights Watch is an international non-governmental organisation that monitors and reports on human rights violations all over the world. Human Rights Watch has joined the class action lawsuit against the French government and has called for an international investigation of police racism. In France, it has also documented examples of disproportionate use of force, biased identity checks, and abusive police behaviour.
Open Society Justice Initiative: An Open Society Foundations programme that provides expert legal assistance for human rights litigation and advocacy worldwide. The Open Society Justice Initiative also participated in the class action case against the French government and called for reforms to abolish ethnic profiling by French police. It has also funded strategic litigation and research in France on racial discrimination and police violence.
A Police State in France
Now, do you know how Macron’s government responded?
The French government simply introduced a bill that would make it illegal to film or publish images of police officers during a police operation. That’s equal to giving a free hand to police brutality – the last frontier before establishing an authentic Police State.
The bill, known as the Global Security Law, was passed by the National Assembly in November 2020. However, it faced strong opposition from human rights groups, journalists, and protesters because, of course, it would undermine the freedom of information and the accountability of the police.
Given this, one would wonder, what do we learn from Macron’s tenure? What distinguishes France from any Third World autocracy that despises human rights? Can France still set an example as a model of humanist and democratic values? We don’t even need to answer these questions, so evident the answer appears.
Following Macron’s remarks about Islam and his public defence of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, several Muslim-majority countries launched an international boycott of French goods. Amnesty International has also criticised Macron’s government for its response to the murder of French teacher Samuel Paty, pointing out that while the government declared its support for free expression, it simultaneously began a smear campaign against French Muslims.
Examples of Discrimination Against Muslims in France
According to numerous research and publications, there are several incidents of Muslim discrimination in France.
Employment Discrimination: Muslims in France are less likely to get called back for a job interview than Christians with comparable qualifications. According to an IZA Institute of Labour Economics study, Muslims in France endure occupational discrimination, particularly if they are religious. According to the report, the callback rate for Muslim job candidates was 6.7 percentage points lower than that of their Christian counterparts.
Discrimination in Education: According to a study conducted in France, persons with a Muslim name and surname who apply to graduate programmes face more discrimination than those with ethnically French names. Those with Muslim names were 12.3% less likely to receive a response to each of their graduate programme emails.
Discrimination in Public Places: Since 1989, the French legal system has permitted various restrictions on Muslim religious expression. For example, the French Senate enacted a ban on facial coverings on 14 September 2010, while the National Assembly passed one on 13 July 2010. The law went into effect on 11 April 2011, and it outlaws wearing any face-covering headgear in public places, including masks, helmets, balaclavas, niqabs, and other veils, save in certain instances. Although the law does not mention Islam or religion, it is surely perceived as targeting Muslim women who wear the full-face veil as a religious practice. Human rights organisations, journalists, and protestors have criticised the ordinance for violating free expression and religion and stigmatising and marginalising Muslim women.
Discrimination in Housing and Interactions with the Police: Discrimination against Muslims exists in France, from housing to jobs to dealings with the police. According to government statistics, 42% of Muslims say they have faced prejudice because of their faith, a proportion that climbs to 60% among women who wear a headscarf.
Discrimination in Media Representation: French media portrayals of Islam frequently depict mainstream anti-Islamic beliefs. There have been numerous reported examples of workplace Islamic discrimination against individuals.
Government Surveillance: The French government is monitoring at least 75 mosques. This monitoring has been criticised as prejudice against the Muslim community.
These examples highlight the various forms of discrimination that Muslims face in France. However, it’s important to realise that experiences can vary greatly depending on factors such as location, financial background, and personal circumstances.
Stay tuned… More to come
Part (3): the current state of discrimination against Muslims in France.