New book puts France at center of anti-Muslim backlash

Women hold signs reading ‘Is it not a provocation, just my freedom of conscience’ during a ‘headscarf march’ organized by the Collective against Islamophobia ‘Respect Equality Dignity’ on Sept. 3, 2016, in Avignon, southern France. (AFP)
Updated 14 February 2018
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New book puts France at center of anti-Muslim backlash

LONDON: Islamophobia in France is being fueled by state-backed efforts to encourage secularism, according to a new book that puts the country at the heart of a growing intolerance toward Muslims in Western societies.
In “Republic of Islamophobia: The Rise of Respectable Racism in France,” Jim Wolfreys, a British academic and author, argues that French politicians have given discrimination and racism a veneer of respectability in their response to a wave of Daesh attacks that hit French towns and cities in the last three years.
The bloodshed has left innocent Muslims facing unprecedented scrutiny of what they wear, eat and say in a society polarized by inequality, he claims.
Wolfreys, a senior lecturer in French and European Politics at King’s College London, told Arab News there is a “danger of confusing understandable fear of terrorism with fear of Muslims.”
France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim community, with estimates of its size ranging from 2.1 million to about 6 million, out of a total population of 66.9 million. Many of these Muslims can trace their roots back to the country’s colonial rule in North and sub-saharan Africa during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Secularism is one of the guiding principles of the French political and legal systems and questions around immigration and integration have long been a subject of debate in the country. But rhetoric once considered taboo has entered mainstream political discourse in recent years, according to Wolfreys.
In 2011, even before the recent wave of militant attacks, France became the first European nation to ban women from wearing full-face veils in public.
Then, as gun battles and suicide bombings rocked the country in a series of attacks claimed by Daesh, local authorities in several towns outlawed women from wearing burkini swimwear. Officials said the clothing, which covers the female head and body in keeping with conservative Islamic custom, was a security threat and flouted the nation’s secular principles.
France’s highest administrative court subsequently overturned the restriction imposed by one resort, with three judges ruling that it was “clearly illegal” and in violation of “fundamental liberties,” but the ban heightened concerns among many Muslims that they were being made scapegoats for the Daesh-inspired violence.
Islam and immigration went on to become two of the central issues in the 2017 presidential election, when Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front party, won almost 11 million votes in the second round of polling.
Le Pen campaigned on an openly Islamophobic ticket, denouncing mosques for allowing worshippers to pray in the streets and warning of the danger of living “under the yoke of the threat of Islamic fundamentalism.”
She lost convincingly to her liberal rival, Emmanuel Macron, but mainstream political concerns about Islam have not gone away.
On Sunday, President Macron told the French weekly newspaper “Le Journal du Dimanche” that he planned to reorganize the structure of Islam in France to help “preserve national cohesion.” He provided no details about how he hoped to do this.
Wolfreys’ book, “Republic of Islamophobia: The Rise of Respectable Racism in France,” looks in detail at the causes and consequences of state-fueled discrimination.
He reports the results of an opinion poll conducted by a French human rights institute that found 45 percent of National Front supporters do not consider “dirty Arab” a reprehensible phrase. In the same survey, nearly three-quarters of respondents said they do not regard Muslims as fully French.
However, Wolfreys accuses mainstream parties from both the right and left of the political spectrum of adopting increasingly intolerant interpretations of secularism.
He writes that the problem became particularly acute after two masked gunmen attacked the Paris offices of the satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” on Jan. 7, 2015, in retaliation for a series of cartoons defaming the Prophet Muhammad. Twelve people were killed, with Al-Qaeda in Yemen and Daesh issuing contrasting claims of responsibility for the carnage.
On Nov. 13 that year, Daesh militants also carried out a coordinated assault across the French capital, with three suicide bombers blowing themselves up outside the Stade de France and gunmen killing 89 people attending a rock concert at the Bataclan theatre.
This was followed in July 2016 by an attack in the southern city of Nice, in which a cargo truck was driven into a crowd of revelers celebrating Bastille Day, killing more than 80 people.
Wolfreys’ book warns that the French government’s response to the bloodshed has been disproportionate and risks further marginalizing innocent Muslims, pushing them into the arms of extremists.
“The renewed emphasis since the 2015 Paris attacks on inculcating respect for ‘republican values’ in schools, punishing those alleged to defy them, fast-tracking those accused of ‘apology for terrorism’ through the courts, and increasing surveillance and ‘vigilance’ is unlikely to prevent such atrocities from happening again,” he writes.


Four charged over MH17, Russia slams ‘unfounded allegations’

Updated 19 June 2019
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Four charged over MH17, Russia slams ‘unfounded allegations’

  • Investigation team said in May 2018 that BUK anti-aircraft missile which hit Boeing 777 had originated from 53rd Russian military brigade
  • One of the accused Girkin, who is thought to be living in Moscow, denied the separatists were involved

NIEUWGEIN: International investigators on Wednesday charged three Russians and a Ukrainian with murder over the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, the first people to face justice over the tragedy five years ago in which 298 people were killed.
The trial of the four men with military and intelligence links will start in the Netherlands in March next year, although they are likely to be tried in absentia as neither Russia nor Ukraine extradites their nationals.
Moscow slammed the “absolutely unfounded accusations” over the downing of the plane, which was traveling between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur when it was hit by a missile over part of eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian rebels.
The Dutch-led inquiry team said international arrest warrants had been issued for Russian nationals Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko, all of whom are suspected of roles in the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic.
Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said the four were to be held responsible for bringing the BUK missile system from Russia into eastern Ukraine “even though they have not pushed the button themselves.”
“We won’t demand their extradition because Russian and Ukrainian law forbids the extradition of their nationals. But we ask Russia once more to cooperate — many of our questions remain unanswered,” he told a press conference.
The same investigation team said in May 2018 that the BUK anti-aircraft missile which hit the Boeing 777 had originated from the 53rd Russian military brigade based in the southwestern city of Kursk.
Relatives of those killed aboard MH17 welcomed the news.
“It’s a start. I’m satisfied,” Silene Fredriksz, whose son and daughter-in-law were killed in the disaster, told reporters. “I am happy that the trial is finally going to start and that the names have been announced.”
Asked if she personally blamed anyone for the crash, Fredriksz said: “Mr (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. Because he made this possible. He created this situation. He is the main responsible person.”
Piet Ploeg, president of a Dutch victims’ association who lost three family members on MH17, told AFP that it was “very important news.”
“The relatives of the victims have been waiting for this for nearly five years,” he said.
Girkin, 48, is the most high-profile suspect, having previously been the self-proclaimed defense minister in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine before apparently falling out with the Kremlin.
Girkin, who is thought to be living in Moscow, denied the separatists were involved. “I can only say that rebels did not shoot down the Boeing,” he told Russia’s Interfax news agency.
Dubinskiy, 56, who was formerly in the Russian military intelligence agency GRU, was head of the intelligence service of the Donetsk People’s Republic, while Pulatov, 52, an ex-soldier in the GRU’s Spetznaz special forces unit, was one of his deputies.
Kharchenko was a military commander in Donetsk at the time, the Dutch prosecutors said.
During the press conference by the investigators, number of telephone intercepts were played that they said showed the four were involved.
Russia vehemently denied all involvement, and complained that it had been excluded from the probe.
“Once again, absolutely unfounded accusations are being made against the Russian side, aimed at discrediting Russia in the eyes of the international community,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on its website.
Russia insisted last year that the missile was fired by Kiev’s forces, adding that it was sent to Ukraine in the Soviet era.
Despite claims by Ukraine’s government and Dutch media that senior Russian officers would also face charges, none were named by the prosecutors on Wednesday.
The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing the attack includes Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine, representing the countries hardest hit by the disaster.
The Netherlands and Australia said in May last year that they formally “hold Russia responsible” for the disaster. Of the passengers who died, 196 were Dutch and 38 Australian.
Australia said Wednesday’s announcement was a “significant step” toward achieving justice, while NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said it was “an important milestone in the efforts to uncover the full truth.”
Ukraine’s foreign ministry urged Russia to “acknowledge its responsibility,” while the office of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s said he hoped to see “everyone who is to blame for the murder of innocent children, women and men” go on trial.
The war in eastern Ukraine and the MH17 disaster continue to plague relations between Russia and the West.
Since 2014, some 13,000 people have been killed. Kiev and its Western backers accuse Russia of funnelling troops and arms to back the separatists. Moscow has denied the claims despite evidence to the contrary.