The limits of France’s proud liberalism, typified by its tradition of openly welcoming and integrating immigrants of all backgrounds, were highlighted on the occasion of Eid al-Adha by vicious attacks on the country’s Muslim community.
As usual, these were led by the former film star Brigitte Bardot, widely recognized as eccentric at best. But the extent to which her position reflects the general French attitudes were shown also in recent election results, in which Jean Marie Le Pen’s fascist and racist National Front (NF) again made gains, and an Amnesty International report published on April 4 which accused French authorities of unlawful killings and unnecessary brutality in its fight against ‘terrorism’ in France, a euphemism for Islam.
It is clear, therefore, that France’s policy of welcoming outsiders applies only to European and Jewish immigrants but not to Muslims. The growing popularity of the National Front and the antics of Brigitte Bardot are exploited to mask the fact that French Muslims are under attack from mainstream France, not just from fringe extremist groups. This is the only possible explanation for the entrenched practice of guaranteeing political, economic and social rights to the any non-Muslims, while systematically denying them even to French Muslims.
French police routinely round up Muslims and lock them up indefinitely on the pretext of fighting terrorism; racist thugs bomb mosques and attack Muslims and their property with impunity since the authorities routinely look the other way or block criminal investigation; and foul- mouthed fascists defame them and their faith without fear of the consequences the law prescribes but the system chooses not to impose.
Brigitte Bardot, who clearly believes that animals should enjoy more rights than Muslims, regularly uses the occasion of the Eid al-Adha to attack Islam and Muslims. In a statement issued on April 16, she declared that the ritual of slaughtering sheep ‘will bathe France’s earth in blood.’ And, in a clear reference to Algerian Islamic activists, she said: ‘they have slit the throats of women and children, of our monks and our tourists and our sheep. They will slit our throats one day and we will deserve it.’
Bardot also warned that unless appropriate steps were taken, the country would become ‘a Muslim France.’
Bardot’s statement was not only an unacceptable libel of Islam and Muslims, but also a clear incitement to violence. But she knew she could get away with it as she has done in the past. After her comments before Eid al- Adha last year, in which she accused Muslims of turning France into a ‘bloody, violent land’ and threatened to emigrate unless Muslim immigration was stopped, a complaint of racism was registered against her. It was dismissed after only the most perfunctory procedure.
This was in sharp contrast to the experience of French Muslims, who are routinely rounded up on the spurious grounds of fighting terrorism and stand no chance of a quick and just trial. Even western human rights organizations, which are inherently anti-Muslim, appear shocked by the brutal way French Muslims are treated by the authorities.
Delays in the French judicial system feature largely in Amnesty International’s recent report on France. Of 29 cases which an Amnesty reported highlighted in 1994, more than half are still under investigation three years later. And since an examining magistrate has the right to lock up any suspect, seemingly at will, the Muslims under investigation can routinely be held for years on end.
France has one of the highest rates of preventative detention in Europe. Of some 55,000 inmates in French jails, nearly 40 percent are awaiting trial. Even so, the average time spent on remand is less than eight months. But for those accused of ‘serous crimes’ - such as terrorism - the average jumps to 39 months.
The system suits the suthorities, for whom a legal mechanism for the indiscriminate and indefinite imprisonment of Muslims without trial is a useful form of pressure and oppression. It is noteable that ‘terrorist’ cases are handled by a special, government-appointed examining magistrate. At least several thousand Muslims rounded up in the last three or four years during ‘anti- terror’ swoops are still languishing in jail.
Amnesty also alleges that the French courts drag their feet when it comes to prosecuting French police officers accused of unlawful killings and unnecessary brutality. It took more than five years to sentence one police officer for beating up an Senegalese boxer, and two years to sentence another for the rape of a Tunisian woman.
The difference: police officers accused of brutality are not left to rot in jail while awaiting their trials. The can also be assured of lenient treatment in the unlikely event of their trials ever taking place; most investigations into police brutality never reach trial stage.
Another source of injustice and indignity to French Muslims is the practice of dismissing them all as recently-arrived immigrants, and thus outsiders who should be grateful to be in France at all rather than citizens with equal rights. In fact, about half of France’s 4-5 million Muslim inhabitants - nearly a tenth of the population - are citizens. Yet the recently arrived immigrants from eastern Europe are treated better than the children of French Muslims who fought loyally (if misguidedly) for France in both world wars and in Algeria.
French attitudes are regularly revealed in polls. One recent one found that two-thirds of the French associate Islam with religious fanaticism. Another has 45 percent of French people admitting ‘antipathy’ towards Maghrebians; two-thirds say there are ‘too many Arabs’ in France.
Clearly hatred of Muslims is not limited to supporters of Le Pen’s National Front party, but is pervasive throughout French society. The NF won its fourth seat in February’s local elections and its xenophobic rhetoric was used by the government to introduce strict new immigrations laws. But the anti-Islamic xenophobia which is clearly inherent in state policy cannot be blamed on Le Pen and other fringe extremists alone.
Muslimedia - May 1-15, 1997