France – Muslim Women Lift the Veil on French Islamophobia
Date: July 31, 2022
By Kushie Amin
As evidenced by the country’s most recent election cycle, both public opinion and political rhetoric are in agreement with their general distrust of French Muslims. This antagonistic environment has left Muslims feeling isolated, fearful and scared.
19 July 2022 – France has been home to the largest Muslim population in Europe for many decades, yet it remains a hostile environment for them to live in.
In particular, French-Muslim women who wear the headscarf or hijab are immediately vulnerable to Islamophobia.
Anissa is a 28-year-old French-Tunisian schoolteacher based in Tremblay-en-France. When she went on holiday with her husband to Picardy in the northern region of France, she immediately felt uncomfortable. “Whenever we went out and even in the supermarket, people kept staring at me.”
Eventually, she and her husband decided to leave, cutting their holiday short to just one night. “I decided to go back to my town, where there are many Muslims and people of colour, and I felt much more comfortable,” she told The New Arab.
“How do you prove you’ve been discriminated against because of your hijab… You simply can’t”
Anissa is not alone in her experience. French Muslim women want to be seen and heard, but negative perceptions held by the French society make this an impossible dream.
Assia is a French-Algerian writer who resides in Bordeaux. She explains that her hijab poses the biggest challenge in job interviews, where she often faces discrimination. “I show up with my hijab at the job interview, and even if I have the best qualifications, I don’t get it.”
Her biggest frustration is that she cannot make any claims of Islamophobia. “How do you prove you’ve been discriminated against because of your hijab?” she asks. “You simply can’t.”
Ironically, Picardy is the hometown of French president Emmanuel Macron, who many recognise as enabling the rampant Islamophobia in the country. In 2020, Islamophobic attacks in France increased by 53% and some see this as a result of his incendiary comments toward Muslims and his anti-Islamic policies.
Macron justifies his actions as maintaining secular values in France. He has spoken openly about the threat of ‘Islamist radicalism’ in France, adding that Islam is “in crisis” all over the world. Furthermore, the recent presidential election in April clearly demonstrated how Macron’s views have contributed to the country’s hostile stance towards minorities.
Macron faced far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Ally, formerly known as the National Front. She gained an unprecedented vote share of 41.5%, a significant increase from their previous presidential run-off.
These figures indicate not only Le Pen’s growing popularity and the extent to which the far-right has gained momentum in France.
Assia says, “I recently was called an Islamophobic slur in my neighbourhood, which has never happened to me before.”
She adds that it didn’t feel like a coincidence and that the instance is “part and parcel of a growing normalisation of being open and vocal about hatred towards Muslims.”
It is then no surprise that many Muslims feel disillusioned by Macron and fear for their future in France.
Anissa shares the same view: “The recent election revealed how French society sees us Muslims as a threat. It only shows how much people believe we’re the main threat in France.”
But many, like Anissa, are resigned to the fact that the perception of Muslims will always be negative. “We must step aside and look outside of us. We need to understand that we can’t be advocates for Islam as people have already decided they don’t trust us,” she explains.
“When there was a shortage of sunflower oil, many said it was because during Ramadan we were using too much oil to fry sheep. No matter what, it seems that the primary target of concern in France is Islam.”
Nevertheless, the French Muslim community have one saving grace in mind: Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a far-left candidate who came a close third in the presidential race.
Mélenchon has always been vocal about his support for the Muslim community. In 2020, he denounced the state’s secularist policies saying “there is hatred towards Muslims under the guise of secularism in this country“.
“The Muslim community were rooting for Mélenchon to win the presidency. He is a relatable figure who can connect with ordinary people like us,” said Bint.
Although he did not make it to the final round of the presidential race, his efforts are a beacon of hope for French Muslims who are yearning for a president who truly sees and understands them. But for now, all they can do is hope.