As Muslim human rights defenders, we no longer feel safe in France

Paris mosque

The Collective Against Islamophobia in France says it no longer feels safe carrying out human rights work in France because of state targeting and demonisation.

It’s been a week since a terrorist took the life of professor Samuel Paty, a history teacher in Conflans-Sainte Honorine, near Paris. The killer claimed he wanted to take revenge after a video was disseminated on social networks claiming Mr Paty discussed Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of Prophet Muhammad in the classroom.

Since then there has been an unprecedented crackdown on Islamic organisations all over the country. Gerald Darmanin’s Interior Ministry conducted 53 raids on Muslim NGOs and mosques (which he admitted had nothing to do with the attack) within a few days. The state, he said, conducted these raids “to send a message.”

Our organisation, the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), whose work is to assist thousands of victims of hate crime and discrimination, has also been a target, designated by the government as an “Enemy of the Republic.” Minister Darmanin also announced that the government wants to dissolve the CCIF.

Why? Because we are one of the most prominent human rights organisations in the country, one of the most involved with international organisations at a global level, and the most widely supported by communities at a grassroots level.

We have shown how the state of emergency (enacted in 2015), while unfortunately failing to address terrorism, has infringed on fundamental freedoms for all citizens, as raids on thousands of Muslim homes have resulted only in stronger securitisation and stigmatisation of communities.

We challenged the “burkini ban” in 30 cities across the country in 2016. We supported victims of hate crimes and discrimination successfully, over the last 16 years, gaining momentum and support, nationally and internationally.

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We have raised awareness about the way Muslim communities are treated in France and how, through an exclusive and misguided use of “laïcité” (state secularism), a growing racism has targeted Muslims, criminalising and labelling moderate and orthodox religious practices as “signs of radicalisation” (praying frequently, growing a beard, increasing religious practice during Ramadan etc). This has resulted in violations of fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of religion or belief and freedom of association.

Through these cyclic controversies around Muslims (especially targeting women wearing a headscarf), we have exposed the way France upholds a double speech, between the image it wants to project at the international level (“the country of human rights”, “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité”) and the actual reality ethnic and religious communities have to go through, which is much less flattering, as reiterated by international observers and national equality bodies.

Paying the price

Today, as independent human rights defenders, we are paying the price for our work.

For the past seven days, since the French government has announced it wants to dissolve the CCIF, we have been targeted by tens of thousands of messages on social networks, mainly insults and death threats from the far-right without any intervention of the State to protect us.

We are used to handling some level of controversy on social networks, as any anti-racist organisation. But these levels are unprecedented and encouraged by the designation by the government as an explicit target.

No other human rights organisation has ever faced this level of hatred in France.

As there is no factual or legal ground to accuse the CCIF, this is a political attempt to destabilise us and intimidate us until we give up our work. Using fake news from the far-right, some political figures in the entourage of President Macron have even tried to pin last Friday’s attack on organisations which denounce Islamophobia, as if it was conceptually impossible to address both terrorism and contemporary forms of racism, including Islamophobia.

We have made a formal complaint to the UN Human Rights Council and have received over the last seven days massive support from our partner organisations internationally, as well as grassroots organisations and tens of thousands of sympathisers.

We call upon every human rights defender globally to raise awareness and conduct field missions in France, to assess independently the seriousness of the situation and see for themselves what Muslim communities have to go through.

As an organisation we no longer feel we can conduct our work in a safe environment, as our lives are threatened and the government designates us as an enemy.

For these reasons, whatever the outcome of the government’s attempt to dissolve CCIF, we have decided to extend our activities internationally to ensure continuity of our operations and protect our teams.

In the coming days, we will develop additional projects to complete our vision, including a reinforced legal response unit, a research centre with a data collection centre, as well as a media and cultural production centre. We hope this plan will help protect fundamental freedoms for Muslim communities in France and would like to thank all those who have expressed love and support, during these difficult times.

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