In late 2020, the French government’s decision to dissolve two of the most prominent and respected Muslim NGOs in the country, Baraka City, and the CCIF (Collective Against Islamophobia in France) by decree, shocked both French and European Muslims. While unknown at the time, this decision was to be the opening salvo for a draconian crackdown on Muslims and Muslim civil society in France.
Two years on, last month, France’s Interior Minister announced that he is banning two Palestine solidarity organisations- Palestine Vaincra (Palestine Will Win) and Comité Palestine Action (Palestine Action Committee)-at the request of French President, Emmanuel Macron.
They are the latest examples of state sponsored crackdown on Islam and Muslims that has been accelerated under the Presidency of Macron. A total 718 Muslim organisations have been closed or dissolved by the French State (including schools, mosques and businesses). As much as €46,000,000 ($51,089,670) millions of pounds worth of property has been seized, indicating the stringent restriction of Muslims’ right to assets.
Just how draconian is France’s crackdown on Muslims and what does it say about the Republic founded on the principal’s liberty and equality? According to CAGE, an independent advocacy organisation that seeks to empower communities impacted by the War on Terror policies worldwide, it fits the definition of “Persecution” under international law, as set out in Article 7 of the Rome Statute.
The startling conclusion was made by CAGE in its latest report: “We are beginning to spread Terror”: The state-sponsored persecution of Muslims in France”. Accounting for the upsurge in Islamophobia ploughing through French society, the report looks in detail at the many policies targeting Muslims, the country’s colonial history as well as the ideological underpinnings of the Republic.
Commenting on laicité, the report explains that it is an “exclusionary” form of secularism that is unique in Europe and even in the world. The French model is designed to vigorously exclude from the political arena any semblance of religion. Though organised during its founding in opposition to the Catholic Church, the brunt of State’s hostility, under the dogma of laicite, is now directed at Islam and Muslim institutions.
Explaining the underlying flaws of the French system that has made Muslims an easy target, CAGE examined the position of minorities within the French Republic. Contrary to most liberal democracies that recognise national “minorities” when addressing communities with linguistic, cultural, ethnic or religious groups amongst their nations, the French Republic does not recognise the political and legal existence of minorities on its soil.
The consequence of this non-recognition is the absence of normative legal defence against “majoritarian tyranny” says CAGE. Legal protection of minorities serves as a bulwark against the suppression of minority groups. France demands its colonial subjects to be “Francised”, abandon their identity so as to blend into the French community.
“Life for Muslims in France over the last 5 years has been a series of burning injustices and bitter indignities” said the report, citing a long list of draconian measures including the dissolution of Muslim organisations, a series of laws targeting Muslims, such as the hijab ban. The encroachment on the civil liberties of Muslims, says the report, is taking place under a political discourse “simmering with contempt for Muslims.”
Through an analysis of the current French legal and executive framework, and information gathered from the French Muslim community itself, the report demonstrates how Muslims in France are being subject to state-led persecution on an industrial scale.
Driving the state state-sponsored persecution of Muslims is the “Systematic Obstruction” policy, under which Muslim organisations and businesses are placed on a secret blacklist and strict monitoring. Prominent Muslim advocacy organisations have been treated as organised criminals and dissolved by order of the government. Hundreds of establishments, including mosques and Muslim schools, have been closed and, in what CAGE says can only be regarded as state-sponsored extortion, millions of Euros have been seized. “Cells” have been planted across the country by the State to implement its draconian policy, creating a “full-blown harassment apparatus monitoring and targeting Muslim institutions”.
Alarmingly, the Macron government has sought to promote and export France’s state-sponsored crackdown on Muslims to neighbouring countries. “Left unchecked, governments across the continent will copy the lessons from Macron’s France, and seek to use the Muslim minority as a means to acquire centralised power to quash dissent and liquidate political foes” says CAGE. Apparently, France is already collaborating closely with Belgium, Austria and Denmark on matters of counter-extremism and terrorism, and applies diplomatic pressure to European institutions to prevent the promotion of freedom of religion.
CAGE warns against the global anti-radicalisation narrative. Since the 9/11 terror attack, governments the world over have been instituting repressive policies on a scale once thought inconceivable, in the name of countering “terrorism” and “extremism”. Many of these governments, from Chinese Communist Party to liberal democracies in the West, deploy a familiar language of Muslim “terrorists’ and latent ‘extremists”, states have often tapped into their own specific cultural histories and vocabulary to help cement and normalise their policies.
In what is now an all too familiar discourse, “Islamism”, “Political Islam”, “extremism”, “radical Islam”, “radicalisation” have been used to serve as linguistic diversion attempts, says CAGE, which when operationalised in policy, target widespread, normative Muslim beliefs. In the moral panic created by this discourse, growing a beard, praying or increasing one’s religiosity during the month of Ramadan are seen as “weak signals” (i.e. early signs) of “radicalisation”.
These terms are amorphous and malleable, and changes to suit the needs to the super State that is erected on the back of the “War on Terror” CAGE argued. “Today it may be Muslims, a disenfranchised and improvised minority community, but tomorrow it will be any section of society that poses an organisational or ideological challenge.”
In its recommendations, the report calls on international organisations and actors, particularly those within Europe, to exert pressure on the French government and their respective governments and help create the space for French Muslims to assert their own demands.
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