French Muslims have become the target of a marked increase in Islamophobic violence and actions, as well as incendiary statements by politicians, over the last two years, according to a report by a leading anti-racism observatory.
The number of racist acts against Muslims in France is increasing “alarmingly”, according to the country’s National Observatory of Islamophobia, whose president has called for overt Islamophobia to be taken as seriously as anti-Semitism, which is a criminal offence in France.
According to a report by the Observatory, which claims to fight “all forms of racism and xenophobia”, “in 2011 the number [of anti-Muslim attacks] was up 34% on the previous year … but what is happening in 2012 is alarming. Between January and the end of October there were 175 reported Islamophobic acts, a 42% increase compared with the same period in 2011.”
The report highlighted the occupation of a building site of a new mosque in Poitiers, near Paris, by 74 members of the extreme-right splinter group “Generation Identity”, who chanted hostile “warlike” slogans against Islam and Muslims.
The Observatory’s President Abdallah Zekri told France 24 that the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in France could be partly explained by “the tense socio-political atmosphere in France being driven by a resurgence of the far right”.
This resurgence was demonstrated in the 2012 presidential election, when Marine Le Pen, leader of the anti-immigration and anti-Europe National Front (FN), won 17.9% of the vote in the first round, a record for the party.
“This tension has also contributed to a radicalisation of the political rhetoric of some mainstream politicians who exploit racial tensions for populist political gains,” Zekri said.
Zekri also blamed the debate on “national identity that was launched by former president Nicolas Sarkozy and the law (pushed through under Sarkozy’s government) banning the wearing of face-covering Islamic veils.”
He added that the killings of seven people, including a young rabbi and three Jewish children in and around Toulouse in March by an al-Qaeda-linked French gunman, “had been seized upon by political figures to target the Muslim community, the vast majority of which condemned these murders.”
Furthermore, Zekri explained that the figures in the Observatory’s report only include “actions or threats against French Muslims that are directly linked to the fact that they are Muslims and when those people or their property are physically threatened.”
The report stipulates: “The figures do not include acts of discrimination against Muslims or Islam generally, such as the rhetoric and declarations of certain politicians and their parties who openly stigmatise the Muslim faith, or in protests by ‘Identity’ groups chanting slogans that are openly hostile to Islam.”
“All forms of racial and religious intolerance are contrary to the values of the French Republic and should be dealt with accordingly,” said Zekri.
Zekri told France 24 that he had asked President François Hollande to create a parliamentary commission to study the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in France and to make it an issue of national importance “to bring Islamophobia in line with anti-Semitism, which is punishable under French law.”