The gathering of a diverse set of French people to combat racism should have been a cause for celebration, but instead, it has demonised by France's intelligentsia.
As Islamophobia gains momentum and normalises in French society, tens of thousands of Muslims and allies of the cause descended on the streets of the French capital on Sunday, on the eve of the commemorations of November 11th, Armistice Day.
Protesters gathered at the meeting point at Gare du Nord in the 10th Arrondissement in Paris at to march to the Porte de La Nation. Several famous people and organisations such as the CCIF, the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, the NPA, the New Anticapitalist Party and the UJFP, the French Jewish Union for Peace, were present.
An appeal was initially launched on November 1st in the leftwing newspaper Libération, four days after the attack on a mosque in Bayonne, in South West of France at the time where the media cacophony stifled the public opinion.
During the demonstration, one could read on signs "to live together, it is urgent", "yes to the criticism of the religion, not to the hatred of the believer" carried by demonstrators in the middle of many French and Palestinian flags. "Solidarity with hijabi women" was chanted by the protesters.
In the crowd, side-by-side, men, women and children walked with smiles on their faces in a serene calm. A common goal: peace. One could see influential Muslim personalities in the likes of the community activist Marwan Muhammad or the Imam of the mosque of Arrahma in Roubaix, Abdel Monaim Boussena.
Since the attack perpetrated by Mickael Harpon, a white French man, who converted to Islam a few years ago — in which four policemen were killed and two wounded – a new form of liberalisation of Islamophobic speech has appeared, sharper and unapologetic. On prime time television, journalists and 'experts' compete for the worst wickedness targeting French Muslims.
The event followed Mrs Fatima E., a hijabi mother who was asked to remove her veil by an elected representative Julien Odoul of Marine Le Pen’s party, the Rassemblement National (former Front National), while on a school trip at Regional Council of Bourgogne-Franche-Comte in the Centre of France.
More than eighty TV and radio debates centred around the question of whether the wearing of the hijab was an attempt to undermine secularism. Out of all of these programs, only twice were veiled Muslim women invited, Sarah El Attar and the journalist and YouTuber, Nadiya Lazzouni, who were called twice on two separate occasions on CNews, a TV channel known for its right-wing political agenda.
Alone against all. Their opinions were too often analysed often, questioned or laughed at. Everyone except Muslims too often explains the 'problems' relating to Islam. Reasoning and arguments are devoid of substance. Even French feminists and traditional anti-racist organisations have disengaged with the French Muslim community who are left isolated and marginalised day by day.
At the end of June 2019, Imam Rachid El Jay was the victim of an assassination attempt in front of his mosque. The imam was one of two victims who were shot. The story was portrayed as banal even though rare. Some journalists were apologists for the attempted crime.
In 2018, 676 Islamophobic acts were registered by the CCIF. Seventy percent of those targeted by these acts were women. Individuals commit acts, but institutions commit 55 percent of these acts.
At the end of the historic march, the French media and its heavyweight news channel BFM TV continued to criticise and discredit this ‘’controversial’’ march and its participants. The French MP and founder of La France Insoumise, Jean-Luc Melenchon, trade unionists and leftist activists have been sharply criticised by parts of the Socialist Party, PRG (Party of Extreme Left) and the Rassemblement National (National Rally).
Interviewed on French radio Europe 1, Gabriel Attal, the Secretary of State in charge of Youth, described the demonstration as "unbearable."
"You have in this demonstration, not only those who will go on the street, but also those who signed the call to demonstrate, people who embody Islamist communitarianism," he said. "France Insoumise and executives of EELV are caught in the pot of jam clientelist and communitarian," lambasted Gabriel Attal.
A march in Marseille, in the South of France, was also organised where hundreds participated.
The French Muslim community has shown boldness and unity in a toxic environment. The tens of thousands who marched on the streets of the city of lights showed that now it is their turn to tell their story.
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