Terror struck France once again after a series of Islamist terror attacks that took place in October 2020. First, a history professor, Mr Samuel Paty was decollated near Paris by a young Chechen man, after he showed cartoon images of Prophet Mohammad wearing a bomb instead of a turban, in a class on free speech. The image was published in Charlie Hebdo’s magazine, which stirred a good amount of unrest among Muslims across the world. Following this attack, three people were killed at a church in the southern city of Nice. The prime suspect of this terror attack is a Tunisian man who reportedly yelled “Allahu Akbar” at the police officers.

These attacks set in motion a chain of action. Minister of Interior Gérald Darmanin announced the elimination of people who spread hate through the internet. Baraka City which is a humanitarian NGO has been dissolved by the government because it took pleasure in such terror attacks. The government has additionally, threatened to ban Le Collectif Contre l’islamophobie en France, a nonprofit organization that claims to combats anti-Muslim racism: According to Mr Darmanin, the C.C.I.F.’s work is against the Republic of France.

After the attacks, Macron spoke in favour of Mr Paty by reaffirming the right to free speech, including the right to satire and blasphemes. President Emmanuel Macron believes that Mr Paty was killed for embodying the French Republic and vowed to hold “laïcité” up high. This has angered Muslims not only in France but all around the world. Thousands of people in Pakistan, Lebanon, and other Palestinian territories entered into a fury after Macron vowed to protect the right to caricature the Prophet Mohammad. The decision of the Charlie Hebdo magazine to republish the cartoon caricature has also been seen as an act of violence against Muslims. A crowd in Bangladesh was seen burning an effigy of Macron, while a rally in Pakistan resorted to throwing stones at the police who were trying to control the angry mob. France itself remains on edge after the attacks and Macron ordered 7000 soldiers to guard the schools and religious sites. Macron’s latest speech in favour of the caricature has skewered relations between Turkey and France further. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused Macron of Islamophobia and went ahead to question his mental health. Erdoğan has since then called on Muslim countries to boycotts all French goods.

Anti-France rally in Bangladesh
Anti-France rally in Bangladesh (Source: BBC)

Dalia Mogahed, a former advisor on faith for former US President Barrack Obama, now a research director of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding claimed that the President of France was wrong to support a cartoon caricature that “pits freedom of speech against blasphemy”. She said that the cartoons clearly showed how the country is suffering from Islamophobia. She said, “They are the equivalent of the N-word. They are equivalent of blackface. They are racial slur.” The cartoons “target a vulnerable, marginalized, disempowered and demonized community by a powerful institution, which is then further demonized, sometimes by the state, for protesting those slurs.”  

Before the attacks took place, Emmanuel Macron had spoken about the new government plans to combat separatism. In his Republic in Action: Speech, he differentiates between Islam and Islamic terrorism. He said, “Let’s not fall into the trap of conflating issues, set by polemicists and extremists, which consists in denouncing all Muslims. That trap is what the enemies of the Republic set us; it consists of making all citizens of the Muslim faith objective allies because they are supposedly the victims of a well-organized system. Too simplistic.”

“What we must tackle is Islamist separatism. A conscious theorized, the political-religious project is materializing through repeated deviations from the Republic’s values, which is often reflected by the formation of a counter-society as shown by children being taken out of school, the development of separate community sporting and cultural activities serving as a pretext for teaching principles which aren’t following the Republic’s laws. It’s indoctrination and, through this, the negation of our principles, gender equality, and human dignity.”

Therefore, we see that the President’s notion of separatism assumes that a minority of Muslims are setting themselves apart from French society and creating their societies in the suburbs. The problem here is that the speech portrays Muslims as being immature, which is far from true. Many studies have shown that the Muslim community is well integrated. According to a study in 2019, 70% of  Muslims claimed that they were allowed to practice their religion freely. 41% said that they should adopt some of the principles of laïcité as French citizens and 37% said that they wished laïcité to be more flexible. The Muslims do not criticize the age-old republic version of the 1905 law about the separation of the State and Church. They attempt to criticize the recent interpretations of the law that seems to blame the Islamic community for terror events.

 In his research, Vincent Geisser found that many Muslims called upon the mosque to pray for the preservation of France. Many others also grieved for non-Muslims who were victims of Islamist terror attacks. It has been observed by the Centre of Strategic and International Studies, a Washington DC-based think tank, which the US right-wing was responsible for 76% of the attacks but the Islamic extremists were blamed for them. Many argue that a vast majority of French Muslims are equally horrified by the terror attacks but feel the entire community cannot be stereotyped because of the actions of a few. However, many others in France now feel the urgent need to protect French secularism from what they see as a fundamentalist Islamist onslaught.  

The wedge between not only the Muslim community and the rest of the world but amongst every religious community is not new and has had a notorious effect on us. In Uttar Pradesh, renowned poet, Munawwar Rana was arrested by the police for spreading the already existing enmity between communities, when he said that he would kill whoever made an obscene cartoon of his father or mother, he would kill that person. He went on to say that he would feel like killing whoever made obscene and objectionable cartoons of Sita, Lord Ram, and other gods and goddesses. While anger revolving around the insult of one’s religion is understandable, the easy usage of the terms “killing” and actual murders for it is unacceptable and only shows how deeply religion is rooted in the minds of the people and the depths to which an individual, irrespective of his or her age, is willing to go.

Religion and actions based on religion have always been a hot topic of debate for women and men around the world and such terror attacks make one wonder how far this fight amongst the various communities will go.

Indrakshi Ghosh

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