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.


Retired Indian general urges caution against Pakistan strike

Updated 26 min 46 sec ago
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Retired Indian general urges caution against Pakistan strike

  • India has threatened a “crushing response” against deadly suicide bombing in Kashmir that it blamed on Pakistan
  • Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda, a veteran in India's war against Kashmiri rebels, urged all sides in the conflict to take a step back

SRINAGAR, India: As India considers its response to the suicide car bombing of a paramilitary convoy in the disputed region of Kashmir that killed dozens of soldiers, a retired military commander who oversaw a much-lauded military strike against neighboring Pakistan in 2016 has urged caution.
A local Kashmiri militant rammed an explosive-laden van into a convoy bus on Thursday, killing 41 soldiers and injuring two dozen others in the worst attack against Indian government forces in Kashmir’s history. India blamed the attack on Pakistan and promised a “crushing response.” New Delhi accuses its archrival of supporting rebels in Kashmir, a charge that Islamabad denies.
The retired commander, Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda, told The Associated Press on Saturday that while “some kind of limited (military) strike (against Pakistan) is more than likely,” he hopes for “rethinking and reconciliation” from all sides in the conflict.
The former general, who was in charge of the army’s northern command at the frontier with Pakistan in Kashmir and counterinsurgency operations, oversaw India’s “surgical strikes” in September 2016 after militants attacked a military base in the frontier town of Uri near the highly militarized Line of Control.
Nineteen Indian soldiers and three assailants were killed in that attack. India instantly blamed Pakistan for supporting the attackers, who New Delhi alleged were Pakistani nationals.
At the peak of a 2016 civilian uprising triggered by the killing of a charismatic Kashmiri rebel leader, Hooda called for all sides to take a step back from the deadly confrontation, suggesting that political initiatives be taken instead. It was a rare move by a top Indian army general in Kashmir.
Later that year when the attack on the base in Uri happened, Hooda commanded what New Delhi called “surgical strikes” against militants in the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir — which India said involved the country’s special forces killing an unknown number of insurgents. Pakistan denied that the strikes ever occurred, demanding that India produce evidence to back up the claim.
Hooda has since said that the constant hype of “surgical strikes” was unwarranted.
Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua rejected India’s allegations about Pakistan’s involvement in the attack, saying Saturday that it was part of New Delhi’s “known rhetoric and tactics” to divert global attention from human rights violations. According to foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal, Janjua called for implementation of UN resolutions to solve the issue of Kashmir.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989, demanding Kashmir be made part of Pakistan or become an independent country. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.
A pre-recorded video circulated widely on social media showed the purported attacker, Adil Ahmed Dar, in combat clothes surrounded by guns and grenades claiming responsibility for the attack and calling for more such measures to drive India out of Kashmir.
Since 2016, soldiers from India and Pakistan have often traded fire along the frontier, blaming each other for initiating the skirmishes that have resulted in the deaths of dozens of soldiers and civilians on both sides in violation of a 2003 cease-fire accord.
Hooda said that considering the state of affairs in Kashmir, he wasn’t surprised by the bombing.
“I just hope this all leads to some introspection, some deep thinking and engagement to do everything afresh and rethink what we all should be doing to settle issues once for all,” he said.
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Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.