by Tahir Mustafa (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 49, No. 11, Jumada' al-Ula', 1442)
With rapidly dwindling population and declining global influence, French secularists face a dilemma. While publicly proclaiming liberté, égalité, fraternité (freedom, equality and fraternity), in practice these do not extend to the Muslim citizens of France. First coined during the French revolution, these were adopted as the state’s official motto during the Third Republic at the end of the nineteenth century.
“Traditionally, French secularism requires the State to be neutral and calls for respect for religions in the public sphere, in order to avoid the rise of religious intolerance,” wrote Politico in a recent commentary. The US-based web portal added: “In modern times, however, it has become something much more extreme. The moderate secularism that prevailed as recently as the 1970s has been replaced by something more like civil religion.
“It is a belief system that has its own priests (government ministers), pontiff (the president of the republic), acolytes (intellectuals) and heretics (anyone who calls for a less antagonistic attitude towards Islam is rejected and described as ‘Islamo-leftist’).
“One of the defining characteristics of this new secularism is the promotion of religious blasphemy—and, in particular, its extreme expression in the form of caricatures like those of Muhammad [pbuh].”
While not new, French hostility toward Islam and Muslims went into high gear with President Emmanuel Macron’s recent direct attack on Islam. This was both to garner support of the French fascists as well as divert attention from his own policy failures by targeting a religious minority.
As part of the drive to tackle what the French regime terms “Islamist radicalism”, a draft law was unveiled on December 9. Macron, who supports the bill, has targeted Muslims accusing them of “separatism” that undermines the French nation. Schooling is being made obligatory for every child from age three with opt-out option for homeschooling available only for special cases. The aim is to end so-called “clandestine” schools run by hardliners.
Mosques are being called upon to register as places of worship, so as to better identify them. Many of the country’s more than 2,600 mosques currently operate under rules for associations. Foreign funding for mosques would have to be declared if more than 10,000 euros ($12,000) are received. This will be a major blow to Muslims since many of them live in run-down neighborhoods and unemployment due to racism and discrimination is high among Muslims in France. The French regime also has plans to expel some 300 Imams of Turkish, Moroccan and Algerian origin from the country. So much for liberté, égalité, fraternité and French secularism!
Under such circumstances, perhaps, the Muslim citizens of France might consider regional autonomy or outright independence. After all, there is renewed discussion of Scottish independence from Britain in the wake of Brexit.
Racially-inspired politics of “integration” in France—in reality forced assimilation camouflaged to fight so-called “Muslim separatism”—has created a vast pool of disenchanted, underprivileged, and marginalized ethnic and social groups of Muslims in France.
The Collectif contre l’islamophobie en France (CCIF) listed “1,043 Islamophobic incidents in 2019 (77 percent increase since 2017) - 68 physical attacks (6.5 percent), 618 incidents of discrimination (59.3 percent), 210 incidents of hate speech and incitement to racial hatred (20.1 percent), 93 incidents of defamation (8.9 percent), 22 incidents of vandalism of Muslim sacred places (2.1 percent), and 32 incidents of discrimination linked to the fight against terrorism (3.1 percent).”
Discriminatory policies against Muslims in France are not new, they are just getting much worse with time. Research from 2015 indicates that a practicing Muslim man is four times less likely to get a job interview in France than a Catholic counterpart, according to a study published by the Montaigne Institute think tank. Racial insults against Muslims are an accepted mainstream reality in France today.
Objective evaluation of constant discriminatory policies against Muslims in France clearly indicates that the French political establishment will not accept Muslims as equal citizens anytime soon. It should be remembered that Muslims never asked for independence from France, it was the French political caste which brought up this issue in order to paint Muslims as France’s bogeyman.
Since France prides itself on being a model of liberty and freedom, why not consider using that widely-flaunted freedom and liberty to seek political autonomy or independence from France, similar to what the Scots in the UK, Catalans in Spain and the Quebecois in Canada do?
Pew Research from 2017 says that Muslims make-up about 8.8% of France’s total population. Two of France’s biggest cities—Paris and Marseille—have a significant Muslim population. If politically organized, Muslims in these two cities can have a significant electoral impact on regional and municipal elections.
Political mobilization with political autonomy in mind can serve as a potential catalyst to force France’s supremacist political establishment to begin accepting Muslims as equals and not de-facto second class citizens. Muslim activists, scholars and intellectuals in France would acquire more rights and political weight if they courageously outline a political program which confronts France’s systemic Islamophobia head on, instead of wasting time and energy in seeking band aid solutions.
Pursuing a dual track political strategy of secession from Paris and increasing Muslim electoral and political participation at the national level can serve as political insurance against wider discrimination. France will be forced to accommodate its Muslim citizens if it sees that they can build their own future if racism and Islamophobia continue to be the primary policy tool against Muslims.
Nevertheless, political autonomy from France should not be used only as a stick to force the French political establishment to end its institutionalized racism and discrimination against Muslims, but as a realistic political goal. Electoral process is part of France’s political mechanism. Why shouldn’t Muslims utilize it?
True, the widely dispersed Muslim population and their political weakness makes the option of complete secession from France unrealistic at present. Nevertheless, this may change in the future and should not be taken off the table completely. There was a time when minimum wage or universal suffrage were also seen as unrealistic. Why can Scots, Catalans and Quebecois can ask for independence, but not the Muslims of France?