ISLAMOPHOBES CON­TEM­PLATE A CIVIL WAR IN FRANCE

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Opinion -

The es­ca­lat­ing vi­o­lence in French me­dia con­tin­ues to worsen ev­ery day. I am sur­prised that my fel­low cit­i­zens are en­cour­ag­ing a pos­si­ble civil war in France with calm­ness and seren­ity, as if it were a nor­mal sce­nario we should an­tic­i­pate in the short or long term. How can it be? How can French peo­ple and in­tel­lec­tu­als eas­ily de­bate a “war against Is­lam” with­out feel­ing shame or sense any trou­ble? Yes, we are used to re­oc­cur­ring de­bates about the “war on Is­lamic ter­ror” and “as­sim­i­la­tion prob­lems” in French me­dia, but now jour­nal­ists and politi­cians are coldly dis­cussing a “war against Is­lam” and a civil war. Their claim is ex­plicit, straight­for­ward and un­equiv­o­cal: Is­lam and Mus­lims as a whole are a na­tional threat, and France should tackle it.

On Sept. 15, the polemi­cist Eric Zem­mour warned France of a com­ing “civil war against Is­lam and its French col­lab­o­ra­tors” on the pub­lic ra­dio sta­tion France In­ter. On Sept. 27, jour­nal­ists Zineb El Rha­zoui and Jean-Claude Dassier re­spec­tively claimed, “Women wear­ing head­scarves be­long to and man­i­fest an ide­ol­ogy of rad­i­cal Is­lam that leads to ter­ror­ism” and “we are in armed con­flict against Is­lam,” on the pop­u­lar C News TV chan­nel. On Oct. 3, for­mer French In­te­rior Min­is­ter Ger­ard Col­lomb claimed in his res­ig­na­tion speech, “To­day we live side-by-side … I am afraid that to­mor­row we will live face-to-face,” por­tray­ing im­plic­itly French Mus­lims and French non-Mus­lims as en­e­mies. The list is des­per­ately long, and we could find many more ex­am­ples of such state­ments.

It seems that for those French jour­nal­ists and dem­a­gogues, any dis­play of af­fil­i­a­tion to Is­lam, such as head­scarves, ha­lal food or prayers, con­sti­tutes a re­jec­tion of French val­ues, iso­la­tion from the rest of the so­ci­ety and fi­nally, a call for ter­ror at­tacks. In other words, they in­trin­si­cally link the way of life of mil­lions of French Mus­lims with the ter­ri­ble ter­ror at­tacks that took place in the last years in France. As a re­sult, ev­ery Mus­lim has be­come the tar­get, the na­tional en­emy, the im­pure and the ones we should neu­tral­ize.

HOW CAN WE EX­PLAIN THIS DAN­GER­OUS SEMANTIC SHIFT?

It is true that a far-right mi­nor­ity has al­ways at­trib­uted all French prob­lems to Arab or Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties and ad­vo­cated ex­treme so­lu­tions. Yet, open and bla­tant hate speech to­ward Mus­lims has be­come the new norm in main­stream me­dia. One may ar­gue that this semantic shift re­flects the high de­gree of vi­o­lence sub­merg­ing French so­ci­ety af­ter ev­ery Daesh ter­ror at­tack. For sure, no one may eu­phem­ize the deep con­se­quences of these ter­ror at­tacks upon French so­ci­ety. They led to more re­sent­ment among French peo­ple in gen­eral and stigma­ti­za­tion of French Mus­lims in par­tic­u­lar. On June 2018, French po­lice even ar­rested 10 far-right mem­bers of a shad­owy cell that plot­ted to at­tack Mus­lims, in­clud­ing at­tacks on veiled women, imams, mosques and ha­lal gro­cery stores.

Yet, we should also rec­og­nize that hate speech against Is­lam and Mus­lims has deeper roots than Daesh at­tacks alone. There has been a struc­tural ap­proach to Is­lam since the col­o­niza­tion that sys­tem­at­i­cally refers to Is­lam as in­fe­rior, bar­baric and re­ac­tionary. We know for in­stance that French colo­nial au­thor­i­ties or­ga­nized hu­man zoos as well as anti-head­scarf cam­paigns in North African colonies. Many so­ci­o­log­i­cal stud­ies have al­ready re­lated the old French colo­nial pol­icy of Is­lam and the post-colo­nial dis­pos­i­tive to­ward North African work­ers and fam­i­lies es­tab­lished in France. I mean, here a range of seg­re­gat­ing dis­courses ma­te­ri­al­ized in law, ur­ban­ism and sym­bols that led to rel­e­gate Mus­lim pop­u­la­tions to sub­al­tern jobs, to the city’s sub­urbs, to limited so­cial rights and to poor civic par­tic­i­pa­tion.

IR­RA­TIONAL HATE SPEECH CAN HAVE TER­RI­BLE CON­SE­QUENCES

These al­lu­sions to civil war not only rep­re­sent the nor­mal­iza­tion of anti-Mus­lim dis­course but also the le­git­imiza­tion of hate at­tacks to­ward in­di­vid­u­als. These state­ments are ir­re­spon­si­ble since sim­i­lar rhetoric has led to mass de­por­ta­tion, mas­sacres and geno­cides in the past. Is this re­ally the al­ter­na­tive we want to op­pose the Daesh threat? Is it not time to tackle French chal­lenges through ra­tio­nal de­lib­er­a­tion and thought­ful speech? Is it not time for all of us to be re­spon­si­ble?

In a pe­riod of eco­nomic and so­cial cri­sis, it has be­come very dif­fi­cult to ad­vo­cate prag­matic and rea­son­able ap­proaches. Yet, there are some facts no one can deny. There are around 6 mil­lion Mus­lims in France, most of them born and raised in the coun­try; 6 mil­lion Mus­lims who work, study, vote and sim­ply live in France. We have no choice but to live to­gether, whether we like it or not. We have no choice but to find so­lu­tions to our com­mon prob­lems if we do not want to face the worstcase sce­nario. It is sim­ple: There is no other plan but to re­new re­spect­ful di­a­logue and com­mon un­der­stand­ing; oth­er­wise, we will be con­demned to watch our so­ci­ety sink into the bloody abyss of ha­tred, just a few decades af­ter the end of World War II and the Al­ge­rian War.

Let us learn from our his­tory.

* Re­search as­sis­tant in Euro­pean stud­ies at SETA, Is­tan­bul

Demon­stra­tors hold posters read­ing "I am against ob­scu­ran­tism" (L) and "I am against Is­lam­o­pho­bia" dur­ing a march in Paris fol­low­ing a bloody at­tack by Daesh mem­bers in the French cap­i­tal that killed 17, Jan. 11, 2015.

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