As Macron’s right-wing government is outflanked by the far-right, a bidding war is underway on who will crack down on Muslims more, say activists.
Protests in France are rarely, if ever, peaceful affairs. Unruly and chaotic, they are typically on-brand for a country where rulers have been beheaded and bouts of working-class insurrections demanding social change are a regular occurrence.
When pro-Palestinian marchers tried to organise protests against Israel’s bombardment of Gaza civilians and support the people of Sheikh Jarrah, who were being forced off their land to make way for Jewish settlers – the French state quickly moved to ban the marches.
The government of French President Emmanuel Macron cited “a serious disturbance of public order” and that the protests could harm “Israeli interests.” Organisers of the pro-Palestinian demonstrators condemned the attempt to stifle their rights as “politically motivated.”
For French Muslims, however, it also revealed an uncomfortable and increasingly oppressive reality.
“France is the only democracy in the world where protests supporting Palestine are forbidden,” says Elias d’Imzalene, a human rights defender speaking to TRT World.
But such actions follow a pattern in which Macron’s government has attempted to stifle Muslim voices in the country.
Earlier this year, Macron pushed for a “Charter of Imams,” a set of principles that would define an Islam of France, which amongst other things would regulate what Muslims could speak about in mosques.
“Imams and mosques have to sign the Charter of Imams, written by the French government,” says d’Imzalene adding that failure to do so could result in their mosques being shut down and worshippers left without a place of worship.
— Jean Beaman (@jean23bean) May 24, 2021
The Charter stops Muslims in mosques from discussing Islamophobia or international issues which the French government sees as a sign of extremism.
The aim of such measures is to create a “state of exception against Muslims living in France by limiting their civil and political rights, and the right to express their religion,” warns d’Imzalene.
For Muslims in France watching their political leaders back Israel in its bombardment of Gaza, which left more than 250 civilians dead, including 66 children, it was a galling double standard.
France’s right-wing Interior Minister told local authorities and security forces to take all necessary measures to stop pro-Palestinian marches from happening.
At the same time, French politicians were busy supporting Israel, but at home they are demanding Muslims in mosques neither talk about foreign policy issues nor protest about it.
The Charter of Imams, which has been “massively rejected by Muslims”, is one of the critical pillars of a broader attempt at silencing Muslims, says Marwan Muhammad, a high profile anti-racism activist in the country.
Macron’s government has attacked Muhammad for challenging it on its anti-Muslim policies, but he remains outspoken.
Whether in mosques or on the streets, French Muslims are increasingly suppressed by the state from speaking their mind https://t.co/cFQ0NvefM3
— TRT World (@trtworld) May 27, 2021
“The idea here is to politically silence Muslim leaders in order to control Muslim opinion,” says Muhammad speaking to TRT World.
“Meanwhile, the government itself and other groups do not hesitate to side with the oppressors of these minorities by supporting them politically or selling them weapons. This double stance only applies to Muslims,” added Muhammad.
As millions of people worldwide marched peacefully in solidarity with Palestinians in France, police aimed their water cannons and tear gas at largely peaceful protestors they had banned.
“This is the French paradox,” says Muhammad adding that the restriction is not only for Muslims, but any “person speaking up today to support Palestine is targeted.”
As Macron has seen his poll ratings plummet and military officers threaten the government with “civil war” if it doesn’t deal with Muslims, banning pro-Palestinian protests has also been a signal to the far-right that his government is willing to clamp down on the “hordes” a term used by officers.
“The impact is politically devastating in France,” says Muhammad “we now have a government that obeys and implements an agenda dictated by the far right.”