New report reveals state-sponsored persecution of Muslims in France

Editorial credit: GERARD BOTTINO / Shutterstock.com

A report by advocacy group CAGE has revealed the unprecedented crackdown on Islam and Muslims in France under the government of Emmanuel Macron.

The report, which is being launched at an event in Paris today, says the crackdown on Islam and Muslims amounts to “persecution” under international law, as well as institutionalised Islamophobia and repression.

CAGE says the pattern of behaviour exhibited by the French state towards Muslims is calculated to harass and humiliate Muslims, resulting in the intentional and severe deprivation of freedom of religion, of opinion, of association and right to property.

“We are beginning to spread Terror: The state-sponsored persecution of Muslims in France” draws attention in particular to the “Systematic Obstruction” policy – largely unknown outside the country and scarcely understood inside it – on its four year anniversary of being introduced.

Last year the French parliament approved a law to strengthen oversight of mosques, schools and sports clubs. The government says it was needed to safeguard France from radical Islamists and to promote respect for secularism and women’s rights. The law has been used to shut down multiple mosques and community groups.

The key points raised by the report are:

  • Hundreds of Islamic establishments, including mosques and Muslim schools, have been closed, tens of thousands have been investigated and millions of Euros have been seized.
  • The report outlines the methods of this persecution in French society, including through the sanctioning and forced dissolution of organisations by decree, as well as through the heavy-handed policing and criminalisation of Islam in social, religious and political spheres.
  • The report is the first detailed analysis of the sweeping “Systematic Obstruction” policy –  a form of maximum pressure policing whereby almost exclusively Muslim institutions are being systematically monitored, surveilled, investigated and sanctioned for minor infractions.
  • How this state Islamophobia is institutionalised through an infrastructure of enforcement and mass surveillance, with department cells spread across geographical units in France to enforce these policies.

Report author Rayan Freschi said: “The Systematic Obstruction policy has been shaped and implemented during most of Macron’s term. Its shocking results not only prove the intrinsic Islamophobic feature of the French state – it demonstrates the reality of a state-led persecution currently taking place in the heart of Europe.

“Four years ago, the French government initiated a secretive and draconian Islamophobic policy. This report documents how the French state has swiftly dismantled the foundations of the Muslim community’s autonomy through a calculated persecution, spreading terror among an entire religious community. 718 closures, 24,884 inspections and 46 million euros extorted by the state later; it is time to stop this witch-hunt against Muslims.

Emmanuel Macron Editorial credit: Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock.com

“This report highlights how the appetite for anti-Muslim action in France seems endless: despite the ongoing Islamophobic persecution, the entire French political spectrum still regards Islam and Muslims as issues that have not been sufficiently dealt with. Moreover, through its current presidency of the EU Council, France is well placed to actively project its influence and promote its draconian Islamophobic policies to its neighbours. If left unaddressed, the persecution facing Muslims in France is likely to be exported to the rest of Europe.”

He added: “In the hands of the French state, the Systematic Obstruction’s target of ‘Islamist separatism,’ is effectively an attack on normative Islam. The report proves that the French state is targeting Islamic beliefs by framing them as the seed of a social threat and by drastically restricting Muslims’ freedom of belief, opinion, association and property. Furthermore, it details how the French state is currently engaged in an effort to erase or reform these beliefs and replace them with its own religious and ideological worldview.”

Key recommendations of the report include:

  •  Scrap the Systematic Obstruction policy, related institutions created to support it and reverse the decisions stemming from it, including the dissolution of organisations.
  •  To establish an independent body investigating the consequences of the Systematic Obstruction measures, and provide reparations for damages and losses incurred by establishments/individuals as a result of such measures.
  •  To vigorously oppose any attempts by France to export its Islamophobic policies during its term as EU Presidency until June 2022.
  • Call for the repeal of Islamophobic policies such as the Anti-Separatism Law, the Imams Charter, as well as the 2004 Law on religious signs in schools and the 2010 Niqab ban.
  •  The report demands EU member states condemn France’s persecution of Muslims and its draconian policies.

Idriss Sihamedi, CEO of Baraka City, a charity closed as a result of the Systematic Obstruction policy, said: “France has decided to target community leaders and has put every kind of pressure imaginable on people who want to defend Muslims. The message to French Muslims is: We are going to colonise your religion and Islam in France will be controlled by the Interior Ministry using compliant institutions such as the Paris Mosque and the French Council for Muslim Worship.”

Farid Hafez, an academic researcher and expert on European counter terrorism policies, said: “What they want to create is basically a French Islam that submits to the French will of those in power that has not a unique, independent political agency to criticise the French government, but rather it is one that is silent upon oppression, that submits to the French will of what Islam should look like… I think this is really the project that is at stake currently, as we can see it in France.”

And Marwan Muhammad, former director of French NGO CCIF, which was closed down as a result of the Systematic Obstruction policy, said: “These attacks on the fundamental freedoms of belief and association have been rightly identified by human rights groups, equality bodies and European institutions, but the government couldn’t care less. They are part of Macron’s grand scheme to control Muslims on all possible levels, thus securing the far-right and neo-republican votes.”

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