When “Muhammad” kills he’s a “terrorist,” when “Mathieu” kills he’s just “unstable”

Police car and barricades on street in St Etienne du Rouvray in France

Hafsa KaraHafsa Kara-Mustapha is a journalist, political analyst and commentator with a special focus on the Middle East and Africa


Hafsa Kara-Mustapha argues that there are deep double-standards over how the West views terrorism committed by Muslims and non-Muslims.

The scenario has become repetitive these days: A violent act is perpetrated in a Western city or capital and everyone waits for the name of the culprit to emerge.

Should the attacker’s name be Muslim or Muslim-sounding then the crime is automatically dismissed as a “terrorist act.” ISIS, the organisation that appears to revel in the most violent acts, rapidly comes on board to claim the spoils of villainy, and hours of footage and gallons of ink are then devoted to analysing Islam, Islamism, theology and everything Islamic-related.

Of course should the crime be perpetrated by a non-Muslim the crime will be filed under the “lone wolf’,” “mentally unstable,” “psychopathic” categories that allow essentially white criminals and their entire communities to escape terror-related charges.

Today a priest was killed in an attack by two armed men at his church in a suburb of Rouen in northern France. Police later surrounded the church and French TV said shots were fired. Both hostage-takers are now dead.

President Francois Hollande said the men claimed to be ISIS. Speaking in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, he said the attackers had committed a “cowardly assassination” and France would fight IS “by all means.”

And last week, in a France still in a state of emergency, the annual fireworks displays on Bastille Day attracted its customary lot of holiday makers who congregated in the main avenue of the coastal city to enjoy the show.

What was a pleasant July evening with families gathering to celebrate turned into carnage when a man driving a 19 tonne truck rammed into the dense crowd killing 84 people and injuring scores of others.

Mohamed or a Mathieu?

As soon as news of the fateful night emerged everyone waited: Is the criminal a Mohamed or a Mathieu?

A Mathieu would be easy to handle: Mathieu will be depressed, perhaps because his wife left him and he’s stuck in a dead end job. Mathieu cannot come to terms with his confused sexuality in a Mediterranean city that still looks at gay men as depraved “pédés.” Mathieu who likes to drink and has no friends is on the brink of a breakdown. Mathieu will eventually break and like scores of US high school kids before him snap and go on a killing spree.

Once the dead are counted, France can move on.

Mohamed, however, will always be an “Islamic’ terrorist.” He may not be remotely interested in Islam, be fond of all that is illicit in Islam such as booze and pork, he may never have stepped inside a mosque or fasted during Ramadan and he may be a philanderer who enjoys extra-marital sexual relationships with men and women.

Mohamed Lahoudj-BouhlelBut his name is Mohamed and his act is undeniably linked to his family’s stated religion.

This is pretty much how events in Nice were presented. As soon as it emerged that criminal truck driver Mohamed Lahoudj-Bouhlel was indeed from a Muslim background, there was no time to waste to describe him as a terrorist. Almost two days later, having waited to hear confirmation of his Islamic-sounding name, ISIS then claimed him to be a soldier of theirs, carrying out his crime in the name of their movement.

Over a year ago a 28 year old German pilot locked himself in the cockpit of the plane he was flying and steered it straight into a mountain killing all 150 on board. The verdict was immediate: Andreas Lubitz was depressed.

Never mind that Germany is a hot spot for white supremacists who have never hesitated to resort to violence; that German Nazi ideology inspired the likes of Andres Breivik to carry out the worst terror act in Norway’s history; that small fascist groups routinely carry attacks against minorities they view as inferior.

Lubitz, unlike Bouhlel, was described as depressed and almost immediately coverage of his crime appeared to inspire empathy for a man said to have been “driven to such an act.”

White crimes

There is nothing new in this approach to white crimes.

Dylon Roof, the racist terrorist who entered a church full of black congregants and shot as many as he could, was taken to enjoy a nice American Burger and fries after his arrest while black men stopped over minor driving offences are gunned down like animals.

The white criminal is almost a victim of circumstances, the non-white Muslim is inherently evil.

As details emerge of Bouhlel’s past it has become abundantly clear he simply isn’t affiliated to an “Islamic terror” network. French authorities however, claimed he went through an “express radicalisation” process, that turned him into an ISIS killer in under two weeks. During Ramadan he would not even fast but in the past fortnight he grew a three day old beard clearly indicating that he no longer wished to emulate George Michael but rather turn into “Mohamed Bouhlel Al Nici.”

The sheer absurdity of the claims wasn’t lost on many French men and women who booed their prime minister Manuel Valls when he attended a ceremony honouring the victims.

Whatever motivated Bouhlel’s crimes does not appear to be religious zeal and a desire to impose through violence an Islamic caliphate. The man, who’d suffered from psychotic episodes and required serious medication, was clearly unstable. His circumstances appeared to add to his mental fragility.

French Muslim marginalisation

Unfortunately Muslims in France are increasingly marginalised, like black people in America, they are viewed as the “other” and deliberate efforts are made to sideline them. Admittedly the odd token “Muslim” will be appointed to a government position but they will have to join in the Muslim-bashing in order to acquire acceptance.

Najat Vallaud Belkacem is no doubt France’s star politician born into a Muslim Moroccan family and presented as the most successful example of French integration. A French husband, a reported extra-marital affair with a fellow government minister and a discourse that would at times make National Front’s Marine Le Pen blush with embarrassment .

When police entered a primary school and arrested an eight year old boy from a Muslim family who refused to say “Je suis Charlie” last year, Belkacem jumped to the defence of the school arguing that the child was deserving of the traumatising treatment he received.

She supported schools which forced Muslim pupils to draw the Prophet to instil “values of free speech.” All this turned Vallaud-Belkacem into the poster girl for “French integration.” Yet what does this say to all other girls or women who find her positions reprehensible?

For French women called Catherine or Lucy, that opposition is legitimate, for a Leila or Karima it becomes a discourse denounced as “extremist,” “dangerous” and “unhelpful.”

After the Charlie Hebdo killings last year, French politicians appeared to take stock. Valls himself, a virulent critic of the Muslim community and ardent supporter of Israel, admitted that France was rapidly turning into an Apartheid State. The media reacted violently denying claims that the ghettos in the French suburbs or banlieues are hot beds of segregations.

Yet the experiences of Muslims in France remains a difficult one. A Muslim-sounding name means that a CV will be 3 times more likely to be rejected. French Muslims looking to buy or rent property struggle to be considered in some cases unless they change their names. Cases of verbal and even physical abuse are an almost daily occurrence with police officers refusing to even acknowledge the gravity of the crimes.

France outlawed the niqab from all public areas in 2010 after banning the hijab from all state schools in 2004.
France outlawed the niqab from all public areas in 2010 after banning the hijab from all state schools in 2004.

However, when an ex Israeli soldier carried out a filmed experience claiming he was verbally assaulted in Paris for wearing a Yarmulke, his clip was headline news. There is no indication that the man was indeed assaulted at any time but media outlets picked up on it claiming France had an anti-Semitism problem yet when mosques get firebombed or women wearing the headscarf are routinely attacked or spat at, that is barely reported.

No doubt France’s Muslim community is abysmally represented. A six million strong community, French Muslims are yet to organise and demand rights they are denied. Taking to social media to share their daily woes has become their only outlet with French authorities realising that this community, presents neither a risk to its interest or a challenging political force.

In that respect it becomes a vicious circle in which French Muslims find themselves. Islamophobia fuels the sense of alienation. From this alienated group, terror networks can then easily recruit arguing that a France that is so deeply Islamophobic will never accept them – unless they score for the national Football team and give their children Christian names – and that ultimately terror becomes their only form of expression.

And so the cycle of violence continues.

France, which has openly stated that it funded Syrian anti government forces, has also provided these youths with the training they need to carry out acts of terror once back on French soil.

It is no surprise that France’s next potential president Marine Le Pen is the leader of the National Front, Britain’s equivalent of the BNP. It’s not surprising either that France is at the receiving end of so much home-grown terror.

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