Islamophobia and Racism in France
Shocking Indifference

Attacks on Muslim establishments are on the increase in France. Most recently, the Grand Mosquée in Paris was daubed with racist slogans. Islamophobia and xenophobia are also featuring more prominently in the public discourse. Bernhard Schmid reports

A shockwave – or just a ripple of surprise? On 23 November the French news agency AFP published a report stating that the number of "Islamophobic acts had risen again". The report is based on data from the "National Monitoring Centre for Islamophobia" which claims that attacks on Muslims and Islamic establishments in the first nine months of this year have increased by 11.3 percent on the same period last year.

Attacks such as this one, among others: On 19 November, the walls of the Grande Mosquée de Paris – the capital's oldest mosque established in 1927 – were sprayed with abusive statements. The warden of the mosque, Dalili Boubakeur, expressed his most profound regret at this expression of what he called "racist violence and hostility".

This is no isolated incident: Recently in the southern French town of Lesparre-Médoc near Bordeaux, police arrested two men aged 24 and 39 alleged to have been responsible for daubing swastikas on the walls of the local mosque last summer. Both men confessed the following day.

New quality of racism

As though that were not enough: In early November the news broke that two mosques in Besançon had also been daubed with inflammatory slogans. The perpetrators had scrawled statements such as "Arabs Out!" and "France for the French!" on the walls, as well as swastikas. Similar slogans had been painted on the walls of a mosque in the southern French town of Carpentras two weeks previously – along a total length of 30 metres.

Abschiebung von Angehörigen der Roma in Frankreich; Foto: dapd
Racism and violence not just against Muslims: The French government is currently facing huge criticism for its policy of deporting Roma people

Racially motivated, anti-Islamic vandalism such as this is not the only cause for concern at the monitoring centre set up some time ago by the French "Representative Council of Muslims" (CFCM). An increase in physical attacks on Muslim women wearing a veil or other head covering is also "a new phenomenon", as the centre ascertains in its latest report.

Attacks on Muslim women

The first incidences of this nature emerged in early 2013 in the satellite town of Argenteuil, northwest of Paris. There, unknown attackers beat up several Muslim women; a 19-year-old suffered a miscarriage in June as a direct result of her ordeal. Two protest rallies then took place in Argenteuil.

But because it was Salafist groups, among others, that tried to capitalize on the sense of outrage and took to the streets in protest, the demonstrations attracted little national interest. This meant that any sense of solidarity among elements of the population failed to emerge, to the chagrin of many of those affected, but also of anti-racist groups – even though the victim who had suffered a miscarriage was given the opportunity to present her complaint in person to the interior ministry in late June 2013, as a gesture of sympathy.

The monitoring centre has documented a total of 14 cases of physical violence against women wearing a Muslim headcovering in the Paris suburbs of Argenteuil, Trappes and Reims. The wave of attacks occurring in the Parisian banlieus is probably attributable to rightwing extremist skinheads, although police have so far been unable to apprehend any perpetrators.

Frankreichs Justizministerin Christiane Taubira; Foto: Reuters
The French Justice Minister as the target of racial attacks: Christiane Taubira has been described as a "monkey" several times by her opponents. The minister recently complained publicly about increasing indifference in France to racist behaviour.

But in the meantime, cases are being observed of acts of violence committed against Muslim women by people with no rightwing extremist background. Last July, the trial began in Orléans of a motorist who attacked three Muslim women following a traffic dispute. The man was accused of hurling racist taunts at the three women – a woman from the Maghreb region, her 15-year-old daughter and her sister – and pulling them out of their car. He was eventually sentenced to two months in prison.

At the annual national rally against violence against women, held on 24 November, for the first time Muslim women wearing headscarves formed their own bloc. They said they were taking a stand against domestic violence perpetrated by men, as well as expressing their growing fear of being attacked in the public sphere.

Dashed hopes

Many believed that the waves of outrage connected to the public perception of Muslims had been primarily incited by campaigning in the run-up to the French parliamentary and presidential elections in early 2012. During the campaign, the rightwing extremist "Front National", but also elements of the conservative camp, had voiced objections to the "increased presence of halal meat in school canteens", sometimes openly portraying this as evidence of the fact that the nation was being overrun with foreigners. Many people believed that the public debate over Islam would die down after the elections. But they were very wrong.

But assertions that the racism prevalent in French society is first and foremost taking on "culturalising" forms and being mainly directed at symbols and expressions of the Islamic faith have not been borne out. This is because racism against Romany communities in France has increased, as well as racism against black politicians such as the French Minister of Justice, Christiane Taubira, who was repeatedly and publicly insulted by her political opponents who called her a "savage" and a "monkey".

In the meantime, this increase in racist violence has triggered a counter movement: Large-scale protest events against racism and xenophobia are expected to be held in France at the end of this year. These are to mark the 30th anniversary of the spectacular "March for Equality and Against Racism", when from October to December 1983, the sons and daughters of Maghreb immigrants marched on foot from Marseille via Lyon to Paris, to demonstrate for better rights and more foreigner-friendly policies.

Bernhard Schmid

© 2013

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

Editor: Lewis Gropp/

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AMINA, a Muslim women's resource centre, has visited 100 classrooms around Scotland after a Dundee school contacted them concerned that their pupils had a racist view of Islam.
WHEN the children in a ­Scottish school were asked to write down their thoughts on hearing the word Muslim, their responses were illuminating.

Among them were “terrorist”, “9/11”, “scary” and “curry”.

Collecting the answers, Safa Yousef reads them out to the class and says her mother would approve of the curry reference.

Over two years, the project run by Amina, a Muslim women’s resource centre, has visited 100 classrooms to demystify Islam.

These children are in the second year at Castle milk High in Glasgow.

Their answers are typical of all the schools visited by project officer Safa and Samina Ansari, the charity’s development officer.

The women are both wearing the traditional hijab.

Safa tells the children the 9/11 terrorists hijacked her religion.

She said: “What they did was nothing to do with Islam. There are dafties in every religion.”

The children laugh when they hear this Muslim woman trot out “dafties” in her Glasgow accent.

She said: “When the children hear us talk to them in a down-to-earth way, they appreciate that we are just like they are.

“We want them to see that we are assertive women with jobs. They see the human side to Islam.

“Even just our presence in the classroom, talking with a Scottish accent, has a positive impact.”

The idea for the project came after a Dundee school contacted Amina, concerned that their pupils had a racist view of Islam.

Safa tells the kids that when she first decided to wear the hijab, her father was concerned.

She said: “A lot of you will think that I wear this because I am oppressed. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It was my choice.”

The children are given photos of women in headscarves, including the Queen and Mother Theresa.

They are asked to put them in two piles – Muslim women and other religions. Broadcaster Lauren Booth, who converted to Islam, is placed in the pile of Muslims and it comes as a shock to the children that the white woman is a convert.

Safa, 24, said: “A lot of them don’t realise they have probably mixed with Muslims, that they come in all nationalities and cover all races.”

They ask the class to tell them the five pillars of Islam.

The children can name each one, even using Arabic terms.

They know the academic side but what the women are trying to do is put a face to the religion.

Safa said: “I tell them how I pray. They may know the textbook answer but there is a difference.

“I tell them I might do it when I am out shopping, that it is my conversation with God.

“It brings me back down, boosts my energy and positivity.”

The children are shocked to hear the women spend less time praying than the pupils do on Facebook.

The children are fascinated and, long after the bell has gone, they are bombarding the women with questions. Many ask what they have been called in the street.

Samina says thugs rounded on her when she was in her car.

They ask the children what proportion of the Scottish population is Muslim and the answers range from 35 per cent to 75 per cent.

They are shocked it is a tiny 1.4 per cent minority.

Safa said: “We want to build bridges to make children see we are not that different.”

At the end, the children seem reluctant to leave.

Robyn, 12, said the women had opened her eyes.

Gemma, 13, said: “You shouldn’t judge anyone because of what religion they follow.”

Iftikhar Ahmad29.11.2013 | 17:30 Uhr