“Muslims, with their headscarves, burqas [and Islamic appearance] in France render visible the identity crisis of French people, who have adopted the most orthodox version of secularism,” said Ferhat Kentel, a sociologist at İstanbul Şehir University and columnist for the Taraf daily, to Sunday’s Zaman.
European modernity, which sees the world through the lenses of secularism and national identity, has entered a state of crisis as Islamic movements in other parts of the globe have risen and created alternative paradigms, said Kentel. “The modernity paradigm which emerged with the French Revolution is seriously shaken, and French society is reacting to this crisis by creating fear against Muslims,” Kentel added.
The latest anti-Islamic incident took place in the suburb of Trappes in August. A 16-year-old Muslim girl was attacked for wearing the Muslim headscarf by a pair of skinheads who threatened her with a box cutter before ripping off her veil. Subsequently, the teenager attempted to commit suicide and was in critical condition at a hospital in the French capital.
According to media reports, this latest attack on a Muslim citizen is one of many anti-Muslim incidents in France, which have risen by 60 percent in recent months.
“Muslims in France are perceived as those who exploit the financial resources of the country and pose a threat to national security, and there is a rising racist attitude against Muslims in France,” Ayhan Kaya, the director of the European Institute at Istanbul Bilgi University, told Sunday’s Zaman.
Stating that rising anti-Muslim sentiments do not originate from religious or cultural differences, Kaya maintained that social and economic concerns about Muslim immigrants living in France are the main source of Islamophobia in French society.
In July, a 21-year-old Muslim woman, who was four months pregnant, was physically attacked by two men in the Paris suburb of Argenteuil. The attackers first tried taking her headscarf off and later cut her hair and tore her clothing. After she screamed out that she was pregnant, one of the attackers started kicking her in the abdomen. Despite all medical efforts, the woman suffered a miscarriage and lost her baby.
Another incident took place, also in the suburb of Trappes in Paris. The town suffered three nights of violent clashes in July following an altercation when the police questioned a woman who was wearing the full-face veil. The woman’s husband, a converted Muslim, intervened and was subsequently restrained and arrested, sparking an outcry from locals who then besieged the local police station.
Emphasizing the role of the government and media in stigmatizing Muslims, Kaya said that in France, starting with the Sarkozy government, there has been an Islamophobic discourse in politics that causes anti-Islamic sentiments to diffuse through the public sphere.
In past years, France passed several laws that stifled public displays of the Islamic faith. The French ban on wearing the burqa in public was enacted in April 2011. Under the terms of the legislation, anyone wearing the headdress in public will face a 150 euro fine or be forced to take lessons in French citizenship. The act drew harsh reactions and led to debates in France when it was first adopted.
In 2004, lawmakers passed a law banning “ostentatious” religious symbols in public schools, a measure widely felt to have been directed at Islamic headscarves. In a report set to be delivered to the government later this year, the official High Council for Integration proposed extending the 2004 ban to universities. It said the measure is aimed at defusing a “growing number of disputes” caused by students wearing religious garb and demanding prayer space and special menus at universities.
There have been several other anti-Islamic incidents recently that raise concerns about increasing Islamophobia in France. On May 1 two men physically assaulted a 21-year-old Muslim woman in Argenteuil and ripped her veil off. The French police raided the home of an individual who was allegedly preparing to stage an armed attack on Muslims on June 19 in Argenteuil.
On May 24, Jean-Claude Boistard — the mayor of Montsoult, a suburb in northern Paris — refused to allow a woman to enter the municipal building since she was wearing a veil. Boistard defended himself by stating that because the municipal building is a public place, no-one can enter the building with religious symbols.
A 17-year-old Muslim girl, Rabia, was accosted by two people in the street in Argenteuil on May 20. The assailants tore her veil off and assaulted her. Speaking about the incident, Rabia told Le Parisien that the assailants shouted “dirty Arab” and “dirty Muslim” during the attack.