French Muslim women lift the veil on Islamophobia in France
As evidenced by the country’s latest election cycle, public opinion and political rhetoric agree with their general distrust of French Muslims. This antagonistic environment has left Muslims feeling isolated, fearful and scared.
France has been home to Europe’s largest Muslim population for many decades, but it remains a hostile environment for them.
In particular, Franco-Muslim women who wear the headscarf or the hijab are immediately vulnerable to Islamophobia.
Anissa is a 28-year-old Franco-Tunisian teacher based in Tremblay-en-France. When she went on holiday with her husband to Picardy in northern France, she immediately felt uneasy. “Every time we went out and even to the supermarket, people kept staring at me.”
Eventually, she and her husband decided to leave, cutting their vacation short to just one night. “I decided to go back to my city, where there are a lot of Muslims and people of color, and I felt a lot more comfortable,” she said. The New Arab.
“How do you prove you were discriminated against because of your hijab… You just can’t”
Anissa is not alone in her experience. French Muslim women want to be seen and heard, but negative perceptions of French society make this an impossible dream.
Assia is a Franco-Algerian writer living in Bordeaux. She explains that her hijab poses the biggest challenge during job interviews, where she often faces discrimination. “I show up in my hijab at the job interview, and even though I have the best qualifications, I don’t understand.”
Her biggest frustration is that she can’t make any claims of Islamophobia. “How can you prove that you were discriminated against because of your hijab?” she asks. “You just can’t.”
Ironically, Picardy is the birthplace of French President Emmanuel Macron, who many recognize as fostering endemic Islamophobia in the country. In 2020, Islamophobic attacks in France increased by 53% and some see this as the result of his inflammatory comments towards Muslims and his anti-Islamic policies.
This includes the closure of 22 mosques across France over the past 18 months and a proposed ban on the wearing of the hijab by minors.
Macron justifies his actions by maintaining secular values in France. He spoke openly about the threat of “Islamist radicalism” in France, adding that Islam is “in crisis” all over the world.
Furthermore, the recent presidential election in April clearly demonstrated how Macron’s views have contributed to the country’s hostile stance towards minorities.
Macron faced far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Ally, formerly known as the National Front. She achieved an unprecedented 41.5% vote share, a significant increase from their previous presidential run-off.
These figures not only indicate the growing popularity of Le Pen and the extent to which the far right has grown in France.
Assia says, “I was recently called an Islamophobic slur in my neighborhood, which had never happened to me before.
She adds that it didn’t seem like a coincidence and that the example is “part and parcel of a growing normalization of openness and voice against hatred toward Muslims.”
It is therefore not surprising that many Muslims feel disillusioned with Macron and fear for their future in France.
For Bint, a 22-year-old student from Marseille, voting in the presidential election was choosing between “the lesser of two evils”, the experience leaving her hopeless.
“Since Macron’s presidency, I have lost interest in politics because I don’t think he is interested in us. It focuses mainly on the economic part of running the country, not on the day-to-day concerns of its people.
Anissa shares the same point of view: “The recent elections have revealed the extent to which French society considers us Muslims to be a threat. It shows how much people think we are the main threat in France.
But many, like Anissa, are resigned to the fact that the perception of Muslims will always be negative. “We have to step back and look outside of ourselves. We have to understand that we cannot be the defenders of Islam because people have already decided they don’t trust us,” she explains. .
“When there was a shortage of sunflower oil, many said it was because during Ramadan we used too much oil to fry the sheep. Anyway, it seems that the first target of concern in France is Islam.
Nevertheless, the French Muslim community has one saving grace in mind: Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a far-left candidate who came third in the presidential race.
Mélenchon has always expressed his support for the Muslim community. In 2020, he denounced the secularist policy of the state saying “there is hatred towards Muslims under the guise of secularism in this country”.
“The Muslim community wanted Mélenchon to win the presidency. He’s a trusted figure who can connect with everyday people like us,” Bint said.
Although he did not reach the last lap of the presidential race, his efforts are a beacon of hope for French Muslims who yearn for a president who truly sees and understands them. But for now, all they can do is hope.
Kushie Amin is a freelance writer. Her work has been published in Metro, Glamor (UK), Refinery29 and The Independent.