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France's EU presidency stirs fears of greater anti-Muslim campaign

05:31 05 January 2022 Author :  

With France having taken over the rotating European Union presidency for the next six months, the country's Muslim population is concerned. They fear that French President Emmanuel Macron and several right-wing candidates' use of Islamophobic rhetoric will intervene in EU policymaking by further promoting anti-Muslim sentiment across the 27-nation bloc, putting the lives of the ethnic minority at risk.

France will go to the polls in April to elect a new president. While Macron is expected to run for a second term, his right-wing rivals have already adopted an anti-Muslim electoral strategy that is causing outrage among Muslims and human rights advocates. The strategy is a result of Macron's yearslong campaign that stoked tensions with Muslim countries and created disputes with EU leaders.

Poisonous discussions about Islam and Muslims, mixed with scathing crosscutting attacks on race and migration, are becoming increasingly venomous in France.

The harassment of Muslims is no longer the domain of the far-right anti-immigration candidate Marine Le Pen, but the lever for manipulations for another candidate for the presidency, firebrand Eric Zemmour, whose rhetoric on Muslims and immigrants – despite being an immigrant himself – has given him a dramatic entrance into French politics since September last year. Another candidate for the Gaullist Les Republicains party, Valerie Pecresse is also strongly anti-immigrant.

France launched a major crackdown on its Muslim minority more than a year ago. Macron and his current government are shutting down mosques and Islamic centers on the pretext of "radical propaganda," in a move that promotes hate speech and Islamophobia within the nation and abroad.

The country's Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin announced last year that France would step up checks against places of worship and associations "suspected" of spreading "radical propaganda." However, critics say the French authorities use the vague and ill-defined concept of "radicalization" or "radical Islam" to justify the imposition of measures without valid grounds, which risks leading to discrimination against Muslims and other minority groups.

The crackdown came after the October 2020 murder of teacher Samuel Paty, who was targeted following an online campaign against him for having shown insulting cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo during a class. Macron defended the publication of caricatures that offended Muslims and said he will not prevent the publishing of the cartoons under the pretext of freedom of speech, sparking outcry among the Muslim world.

While French Muslims have accused him of trying to repress their religion and of legitimizing Islamophobia, several Muslim-majority countries, including Turkey and Pakistan, have condemned Macron's attitude toward Muslims and Islam.

Critics say French laws that target Muslims, their worship places, educational and other centers violate religious freedom and unfairly target France's 5.7 million Muslim minority, the largest in Europe. Although France's controversial "anti-separatism" law does not specifically mention the word "Islam," French Muslims have protested against it for months, claiming the measures are aimed at the country's Muslims.

Adding credence to their claims, however, according to the country's interior ministry, 99 mosques and Muslim prayer halls out of France's total number of 2,623 have been investigated in recent months because they were suspected of spreading "separatist" ideology. Of the total, 21 were currently shut for various reasons and six were being probed with a view to closing them down under the guise of French laws against extremism and separatism./DS

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