Islamophobia: A new French plague?

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Racist acts against Muslims has taken the French press by storm. After the defilement of gravestones at the military cemetery of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, in Northern France, it is now the turn of the Saint-Priest mosque, situated in the suburbs of Lyon. A part of the Muslim holy grounds has been partially damaged by arson. This act, which has been widely criticized, reveals a growing trend of islamophobia in the French society.

Meanwhile, anger is mounting in the French Muslim community. Thousands of Muslims, including Christians and Jews, Sunday, demonstrated in front of the Saint-Priest mosque, to express their anger and confusion over the fresh upsurge of islamophobia in the country.

The mayors of Lyon, Gerard Collomb and Saint-Priest, Martine David were both present at the demonstration to protest against the arson at the mosque.

They both denounced the act as ‘racist’ and ‘heinous. In a communiqué, Martine David urged the authorities to ‘act quickly to bring the authors of the crime to book’.

Stigmatization of Muslims

In a speech, the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, ‘firmly’ condemned the crime, however, not a single member of his government went to Saint-Pierre to observe the state of affairs. Their absence has been deplored by, Azzedine Gaci, the regional Islamic head. According to him ‘Nicolas Sarkozy should have been present to make the masses aware of the seriousness of these islamophobic acts’.

The arson brought back vivid memories of the December 8 defilement of Muslim gravestones at the Notre Dame de Lorette military cemetery, in the north of France. Kamel Kabtane, head of the Lyon mosque said ‘he was outraged and appalled’ indicating that the acts have become an object of a mainstream political rhetoric, which stigmatize Muslims. ‘Politicians refer to people who slaughter sheep in their bathing tubs and talk of radical Islam. This is very far from the truth’.

12 racist acts since 2004

According to the report Du respect des morts à la mort du respect, (respect of the dead to the death of respect) under the supervision of two MP’s from the ruling government, UMP, André Flajolet (Pas de Calais) and Jean-Frédéric Poisson (Yvelines), there is a gravestone defilement in every 2 to 3 days. Says Azzedine Gaci. ‘I have reported 12 acts of islamophobic gravestone defilement since 2004 only in the Rhone-Alps region. Islamophobia is now palpable. Since 9/11 some people have confused extremists with normal Muslims who fight for neighborliness and sharing’.

To prevent such abominable acts from taking place in the future, Azzedine Gaci is advocating for a number of measures: ‘the introduction of CCTV, the creation of a watch-dog program and a follow-up of islamophobic incidents as well as a strong action against all formes of racism’.

France is not racist

At the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA), the term islamophobia is not not used. The chosen description is ‘racist acts against Muslims’. ‘Islamophobia is described as an attack on dogma, whereas the mosque arson targets Muslims’, confirms, Richard Ferrero, president of LICRA. According to him, people who belong to the extreme right perpetrated the acts. ‘France is not racist; it is only a small minority who commit these acts. They believe that Arabs and Jews are dangerous and therefore target them as scapegoats as a result of their fear’.

Racism is the product of ignorance and stigmatization, a fact, which Nicolas Sarkozy is quite conversant with. Is he not the same man who once talked about ‘those average French people who slaughter sheep in their bathing tubs and circumcise their daughters’…?

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