France: Muslims fear for safety as far-right normalizes racist speech, violence
France has recorded a 38% increase in anti-Muslim attacks in 2021, but many went unreported due to a lack of faith in the legal system.
According to the rector of the Paris mosque, an increase in anti-Islam rhetoric in the French presidential election campaign risks producing a "spiral of hatred," scapegoating law-abiding Muslims in a manner comparable to the speech against Jews in the 1930s.
“I’m extremely worried,” said Chems-eddine Hafiz, the rector of Paris’ historic Grande Mosquée. “We’re in a society that is fractured and searching for itself, a society that is weakened and fearful after the pandemic. The fact of looking for a scapegoat – there have been precedents to that: in 1930 when the finger began to be pointed at Jews who became ‘the problem of a whole society’ … Today it’s no longer Jews, it’s Muslims … I thought in the 21st century we’d be safe from that type of discourse.”
With All Due Respect, We're Children of the Republic, a book published this month by Hafiz, was written to address what he saw as increased anti-Muslim sentiments from the French right during the election campaign.
While Emmanuel Macron leads the polls, likely to win re-election next month, some rival candidates have focused on Islam and immigration.
Eric Zemmour, a far-right outsider candidate with convictions for inciting racial hatred, frequently refers to the discredited conspiracy theory of the "great replacement", in which he claims local French populations could be replaced by newcomers, turning France into a majority Muslim country on the verge of civil war.
After declaring his candidacy, Zemmour called for Muslims in France to renounce their religious practice in a TV interview. During a TV discussion last month, he told a voter that he was running to "rescue France from Islam" and against the "replacement" of the French people.
Le Pen intends to ban the Muslim headscarf
Polls indicate Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate who wants a referendum on immigration and a ban on Muslim headscarves in public places, as the most probable candidate to face Macron in the final vote on April 24.
Valérie Pécresse, a candidate for Nicolas Sarkozy's traditional right party, Les Républicains, has been chastised for mentioning the big replacement hypothesis at a Paris rally. She has promised to restrict the wearing of the Muslim headscarf in public places, including by athletes at sporting events.
All right-wing contenders have mentioned the dread in France following the Islamist terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015, as well as the horror of the decapitation of a French secondary schoolteacher, Samuel Paty, in 2020.