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

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.


Bolsonaro takes on Norway for whaling, but bungles it

Updated 19 August 2019

Bolsonaro takes on Norway for whaling, but bungles it

  • Bolsonaro took to Twitter to criticize the Scandinavian country for its whaling practice and post spectacular — albeit misleading — images
  • Bolsonaro has been taking digs at Norway since the country announced that it was blocking €30 million of subsidies to Brazil, accusing it of turning its back on the fight against deforestation

OSLO: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Monday responded to Norway’s decision to halt its forest protection subsidies, taking to Twitter to criticize the Scandinavian country for its whaling practice and post spectacular — albeit misleading — images.
“Look at the killing of whales sponsored by Norway,” Bolsonaro wrote on Twitter.
The post includes a video and photographs of a spectacular whale hunt, where mammals in the shallow waters of a bay are slaughtered by people wading on shore, armed with hooked knives. The whales’ blood turns the waters red.
However, the images, reportedly taken on May 29 in Norway, illustrate a “grind,” a type of pilot whale hunt practiced exclusively in the Faroe Islands — a Danish territory in the North Atlantic.
Norway is one of the few countries in the world that authorizes commercial whaling, but the whales are hunted individually, at sea from a ship, and with grenade-mounted harpoons.
“We can confirm that the video/the photos are not from Norway,” the Norwegian fisheries ministry told AFP in an email.
“Our whale hunt takes place from ships at sea,” he said, arguing that the Norwegian practice was “sustainable.”
Bolsonaro was ridiculed on social media for the mix-up.
“Haha what a stupid president Brazil has! This is NOT from Norway! We don’t kill whales like that. Do your homework to get respected! ‘Fake news’ as Trump would have said,” wrote one Twitter user.
“False information is a crime Mr.President,” wrote another.
Bolsonaro has been taking digs at Norway since the country announced last week that it, like Germany, was blocking 30 million euros ($33 million) of subsidies to Brazil, accusing it of turning its back on the fight against deforestation.
Norway has been the single largest donor to the Amazon Fund for forest protection, giving almost 830 million euros since its creation 11 years ago.
Oslo said Brazil, under Bolsonaro’s leadership, “no longer wishes to stop deforestation” and said it unilaterally “broke the agreement” it had on the Amazon Fund.
Bolsonaro reacted immediately and angrily.
“Norway, isn’t that the country that kills whales up there, at the North Pole? And that produces oil too? That is not at all a role model to us. Let them keep their money and let them help Angela Merkel reforest Germany,” he said.