Paris-based journalist Ramin Mazaheri says the recent wave of Islamophobia in France, which has including a mosque shooting and contentious public debates about the hijab, is being used as a cover by the French government to try to pass right-wing economic and social reforms.
France’s Muslims are French, we must remember: unlike their English-speaking counterparts they are not prone to publicly dividing themselves from others via “identity politics.”
The French model of assimilationism – as opposed to multiculturalism – instantly pounces on “communitarianism,” and we must admit that both models have their virtues and their flaws.
But the latest wave of Islamophobia in France is hardly news to those who follow Islam: They are Muslims, and that’s an unchangeable fact, and the French state has antagonised and scapegoated them for decades, and that’s another unchangeable fact.
On October 27 I covered a demonstration in Paris to denounce the increasing Islamophobia, and there were maybe 1,000 people there. That’s a pretty small turnout considering 5-10% of the nation is Muslim.
The ambiance was typical for a pro-Muslim protest: a mixture of fear, hurt pride and true pride.
Fear, because who knows if the cops or a far-right group will start attacking; hurt pride, because France instills a fear that open displays of faith – especially Islamic – are somehow wrong, and to succumb to such a false idea is naturally shame-inducing; and real pride, because one eventually realises that they are surrounded by a vibrant, loving and strong community which can never be extinguished.
But every day seems to produce new poll fodder for the media regarding France’s feeling towards Islam: I imagine the next poll will be: “Which colour hijab makes you the angriest?”
The “latest wave” of Islamophiobia includes a list of racist absurdities, insults, and provocations which are too long to mention here, but there’s a half-dozen links for you. I think the most telling incident is this one.
Then President Emmanuel Macron made a nonsense speech – aimed at keeping Islamophobia in the media cycle – where he called on Muslims to do more in the fight against “Islamic separatism.” Laughable, considering France’s role in arming terror groups and the billions they make selling weapons to the reactionary Persian Gulf monarchies.
Hours later a man in southwestern France, who recently stood as a candidate for the National Front, tried to set fire to a mosque and shot two Muslims.
Only a fool doesn’t believe in the law of cause and effect: when the President, his ministers, and the men and women on TV spend weeks spreading lies and hate about Islam then already-hateful people will feel empowered to commit hate crimes.
Nothing could be clearer from history.
Decrying Islamophobic incidents is futile – the question to ask here is: “Why?”
The answer was succinctly given to me at the anti-Islamophobia demonstration by Yasser Louati, formerly the spokesperson for the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, which is generally regarded in France as a radical organisation merely for having the gall to empower those victimised by anti-Muslim racism.
His answer was simple: “It’s Islamo-diversion.”
The entire administration of President Emmanuel Macron is incredibly unpopular, outdoing even his previous one-term predecessors Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande. All three have forced through far-right economic measures which ultimately aim to destroy the French social model in favour of the far more unequal model exhibited by the US, UK and Germany.
But Macron has gone the furthest in his Americanisation of France’s economic and workplace culture. His 2.5 years in office has seen one radical reform after another, and also one violently repressed protest after another. Yet the only public opinion poll Macron seems to pay attention to are those which involve Islam or immigration (on which he has become nearly far-right).
But now he may be reaching his radical reforms limit… so out comes the “Islamo-diversions” card.
Macron is in the middle of forcing through, despite widespread public opposition, a hike to the retirement age.
Absurdly, his pension “deforms” also include a one-size-fits-all universal plan. Not even the UK or Germany are dumb enough to try this: how can someone who works physically be compared with someone who sits in an office? Are garbage men supposed to be hoisting bins from age 18 all the way to 64? You try it first and tell me how that works out for you….
In response, public transport workers, truckers, students and other groups appear united for the largest general strike since 1995, starting on December 5. A general strike is the only way to really get an obstinate, out-of-touch government to stop their aristocratic machinations because it hurts the pocketbooks of the 1%.
But wait, there’s more: Macron has promised similarly radical changes to the unemployment system next. Macron’s reforms are touching two enormous groups – 15 million pensioners, 6 million unemployed (though the real number is at least double that) – with nothing left to lose.
And it’s not as if such changes are coming in times of plenty: France and the Eurozone have both seen an (underreported) Lost Decade and huge rollbacks to social and workers’ rights – these are the atrocious results of economic austerity, banker bailouts and Quantitative Easing policies.
So Macron and his “1%-class” wants to force through even more inequality-generating changes and they are willing to throw Muslims under the bus to do it.
The idea that French secularism is neutral, and not in favour of Christians and Jews is laughable. I’ve never heard any French commentator dare to insist that Hasidic Jews change their appearance, even though their dress is clearly religiously-inspired. And I’d like to get some things done today but it’s All Saints’ Day, a national holiday in Catholic countries, so everyone is forced to take the day off in observance.
Macron’s neoliberalism is forcing Muslims to suffer, as Muslims and also as French citizens. Perhaps the only positive is that this shameful scapegoating – which will almost certainly prove deadly for innocent Muslims before long – proves that he’s no “centrist” as so many Muslim commentators foolishly claimed in 2017, but on the far-right culturally as well as economically.
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the U.S., and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. He is the author of the books I’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China and the upcoming Socialism’s Ignored Success: Iranian Islamic Socialism.