The disturbing effects of freedom of expression and secularism on the Muslim community in France


France has struggled with a terrorism problem for many years, just look Charlie Hebdo attack to see that. More recently, three people were killed in an attack on a church in Nice, and one history teacher was beheaded in the suburbs of Paris. While these despicable acts must of course be condemned, France’s war on terrorism has an undeniably negative impact on its Muslim communities. French Muslims often seem to be viewed with the same contempt as the extremists who carry out these terrorist attacks behind the facade of Islam. At the same time, France’s emphasis on the importance of freedom of expression and its rigid secularism, known as the secularism, has also worsened its relations with its Muslim community and other minorities.

To better understand the extrinsic link between terrorism and the treatment of French Muslims, more details should be given about the attack on history professor Samuel Paty, who died at the hands of terrorism. In a lesson on the importance of free speech, Paty showed the students several caricatures of Muhammad, including one published by Charlie Hebdo. A caricature consisted of Mohammed showing a sign with the slogan “I am Charlie”, with another showing Mohammed naked on all fours with a star sticking out from his behind, accompanied by the slogan “a star is born”. The second caricature is blatantly offensive to Muslims, portraying Muhammad in such a crass way, but the first caricature, although less so, is still inherently offensive. For Muslims, it is simply blasphemous to try to paint a physical portrait of the prophet and therefore any presentation of Muhammad would probably be offensive to Muslims, let alone so obscene.

As foreigners to France, it is easier for us to condemn this offensive behavior towards Muslims and contempt for the authorities, because we do not live in a country where freedom of expression and secularism are pushed so vigorously.

In response to his lesson, Paty faced backlash from some Muslim parents, with a make a formal complaint to the police. However, other than his gruesome death later, Paty suffered no repercussions for his actions. Police defended their lesson, saying it was “appropriate‘- in line with the cultural values ​​of France – and’ correct ‘, especially since Paty had given a warning at the start of the lesson that students may be offended by pictures and may want to close their eyes. I think that as foreigners to France, it is easier for us to condemn this offensive behavior towards Muslims and contempt for the authorities, because we do not live in a country where freedom of expression and secularism are pushes as vigorously as in France. We simply see that the absence of limitations on freedom of expression in France contributes to hatred and discrimination against Muslims. However, for the French, it is a daily way of life, the right to freedom of expression and secularism being enshrined in their culture.

So it’s no surprise that following the events of Paty’s death, we saw the teacher celebrated as a martyr by the French public, representing the fundamental secular principles of France. The teacher was posthumously decorated with the Legion of Honor, the most prestigious award in France. The country has also chosen to place emphasize the importance of freedom of expression. Are included under this generic term the right to satire and to blaspheme.

Determined to better understand the problem, I spoke to two native French speakers. One of them said that they believe France’s approach to Muslims is divided between two opinions: the older generation generally advocates freedom of speech while the younger generation, still believing in freedom. expression, chooses to fight for respect for the religions of others. They said that in their view, the real problem is not the concept of free speech, but the fact that whenever terrorist attacks occur, Islam is linked to it, reflecting the biased point of view. that many have towards Muslims. They believe that Muslims should not be the poster child for terrorism and that they have a right to be angry at the constant mockery of their religion. Another student said that people with far-right views in France are the main problem, as most people are respectful of other religions. In France, the extreme right has significant power, with Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front-National party, garnering a large number of votes in the last elections. The popularity of the Front-National in France is arguably the main reason for the unfavorable opinion given to Muslims by many. It is time to fight such blatant political parties to pave the way for equality.

While there have been many seemingly positive responses to secularism and free speech, such as religion being completely separate from the state, we must recognize the falls. For example, measures surrounding secularism must be stricter to prevent discrimination against Muslims. An investigation revealed that 42% of Muslims in France have experienced discrimination at least once because of their religion, including 14% when trying to rent an apartment. It is also proven that the typical “Muslim” names make you less likely to be offered a job interview in France. This constant discrimination directed against Muslims serves to underline the lingering influence of France’s colonial past and its fear of “the other”. While many Muslims consider France their country of birth, they are still systematically marginalized by France’s conformist approach. This is evidenced by the controversy surrounding the ban on the burkini in France. In 2016, French police force Muslim women on Nice beach to undress. The burkini ban was implemented due to concerns surrounding religious clothing after recent terrorist attacks, but prohibiting people from practicing their religion is apparently unfair. This approach to religious symbols appears to be conformist in nature. Muslims have an ultimatum: to conform to the “French” way of life, or to go elsewhere.

This constant discrimination directed against Muslims serves to highlight the lingering influence of France’s colonial past and its fear of “the other”.

Unfortunately, in France, Islamism is often equated with terrorism, which partly explains the distrust of Muslims. The burkini ban perfectly sums up the link too often made between Muslims and terrorism. Rather, France must recognize that terrorist attacks are isolated cases of extremism and not representative of Islam as a whole. The problem is that these established links with terrorism lead to an inherently intolerant attitude towards Muslims. An Algerian journalist spoke of the stigmatization of French Muslims, saying that “freedom of expression has its limits” and that offensive cartoons ‘dress[] to blatant racism like satire.

In reaction to recent events in France surrounding the arguably shameful treatment of Muslim communities, many Muslim-majority communities boycotted French products, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declaring that Emmanuel Macron demands “Mental treatment”. In Bangladesh, 40,000 people took to the streets to protest against France’s unwavering support for Paty’s unpleasant actions. These reactions serve to represent the shock and horror experienced by Muslim communities at the way French Muslims are treated and perceived.

While it is of course important to condemn terrorism, it is necessary to be able to distinguish between extremism and the daily practice of Islam. Contrary to popular belief, Muslims are not terrorists. On the contrary, the extremists are, and therefore the Muslim community should not be treated as such. Although freedom of expression and secularism have many advantages, their disadvantages should be recognized and controlled to prevent the constant culture of hatred and discrimination that currently terrorizes the country. All French citizens should feel respected and supported by the state, regardless of their religion. The fight against terrorism must continue to be waged, but terrorism itself must not be directly linked to any religion.


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