by Hichem Karoui

When a government’s views on secularism contradict democratic principles, when it restricts the free expression and practise of the country’s most significant minority religious beliefs while allowing the Far-Right’s hatred of immigrants, Muslims, Arabs, Africans, and Asians to flourish, is this government still democratic, or should we rather speak of a new breed of fascism? That country, unfortunately, exists – a shame for real democracy – and it is called France, or at least Macron’s France.

As a political doctrine, secularism argues for separating government institutions and those charged with representing the state from religious institutions and dignitaries. A secular state is one in which public activities and choices, particularly political ones, are not influenced by religious ideas and/or practices.

Democracy, on the other hand, is a governing system in which citizens exercise power through voting. The government is chosen by the people in a democratic society, and it is supposed to respect and preserve the rights and liberties of all citizens, including religious minorities.

When a government’s ideas on secularism contradict democratic values, such as when it inhibits the free speech and practice of the country’s most significant minority religious beliefs, it raises questions about its democratic nature. This is especially true if the government appears to favour far-right beliefs that incite hostility against immigrants, Muslims, Arabs, Africans, and Asians.

Fascism, as a political ideology, is defined by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and strict social and economic regimentation. It frequently has aspects of nationalism, racism, and xenophobia.

It is debatable whether a government that restricts religious freedoms and encourages far-right ideology can still be deemed democratic or is on the verge of fascism. It is critical to remember that democracy is about more than just majority rule; it is also about defending the rights and liberties of minorities. It could be argued that a government is not honouring democratic principles if it restricts religious freedoms and promotes hatred against specific groups.

However, on the one hand, while there may be components that resemble fascism, such as the promotion of far-right ideas and the oppression of specific groups, other traits of fascism, such as dictatorial authority and the suppression of political opposition, must also be considered.

But I argue that everything changes in society, including ideologies. Fascism also evolves, alters, and self-adapts. It is not required for a government today to duplicate Mussolini’s fascism as it was in all aspects. It would be foolish to do so without jeopardising one’s credibility in the European Union, among democratic countries, and worldwide. Other ways are used, giving birth to a new brand of fascism: “à la française”!

By restricting the freedom of belief of more than 10% of its population, the French government resorted to an erroneous interpretation of secularism, where instead of protecting equally all religious minorities, the government declared a “holy” war against the Muslim population. All this to fight Islamism, which is considered an excessive misinterpretation of the Islamic faith! The problem is that the French government uses the same plague it claims to combat: excessive misinterpretation of secularism. Macron fights an extremism by another no less harmful.

 By consistently implementing anti-Muslim policies, The French administration has developed a new breed of fascism. We will name it “neo-fascism.” While claiming to be a centrist and liberal – he has even served as a minister in a socialist government before turning his jacket – Macron is speaking on behalf of the far-right. What is this “liberalism” that would make Voltaire turn in his grave? It is a mixture of political opportunism with ingredients like American pragmatism and far-right hatred. No wonder the French president felt close to his American uncle, Donald Trump!

Macron’s anti-Muslim, anti-Arab (the majority are Muslims, right?), anti-African (so many Muslims in the former colonies just revolting against him), and anti-Asian policies (in short, anti-migrants) pleased the entire far-right community, except for Marine Lepen, who objects to his hunting in her area. What do we draw from this?

How Macron Harmed France’s Reputation and Prestige

Emmanuel Macron’s presidency has been defined by a series of anti-Muslim policies, prompting some critics to label his government as neo-fascist. Under Macron’s leadership, the French government has enacted a variety of anti-Muslim laws, notably the “anti-Separatism” law. Macron has asserted that Islam is a “religion that is in crisis all across the world today,” and he frequently asserts that violent activities by French Muslims are exceptional. Many observers and experts believe Macron used Islamophobia as an electoral strategy ahead of the presidential elections in April 2022. Critics have detected a shift in Macron’s political stance, with some claiming he has shifted to the far-right. Macron, a former member of the centre-left Socialist Party of France, created La République En Marche! (LREM) in 2016 and ran for president against Marine Le Pen of the National Rally. His policies and rhetoric, however, have been perceived as increasingly aligned with far-right ideas, notably towards Muslims.

The Country of Human Rights?

Several human rights organisations have accused France of continuing systematic racism, making it an appropriate subject for our analysis.  These are some of the associations:

Amnesty International: This is a global movement of over 10 million individuals who advocate for a society where all people have equal access to human rights. Amnesty International has filed a class action lawsuit against the French government alleging pervasive racial discrimination by police. It has also released a report on the prevalent and illegal practice of ethnic profiling by French police.

Human Rights Watch is an international non-governmental organisation that monitors and reports on human rights violations all over the world. Human Rights Watch has joined the class action lawsuit against the French government and has called for an international investigation of police racism. In France, it has also documented examples of disproportionate use of force, biased identity checks, and abusive police behaviour.

Open Society Justice Initiative: An Open Society Foundation’s programme that provides expert legal assistance for human rights litigation and advocacy worldwide. The Open Society Justice Initiative also participated in the class action case against the French government and called for reforms to abolish ethnic profiling by French police. It has also funded strategic litigation and research in France on racial discrimination and police violence.

A Police State in France

 Now, do you know how Macron’s government responded?

 The French government simply introduced a bill that would make it illegal to film or publish images of police officers during a police operation. That’s equal to giving a free hand to police brutality – the last frontier before establishing an authentic Police State.

The bill, known as the Global Security Law, was passed by the National Assembly in November 2020. However, it faced strong opposition from human rights groups, journalists, and protesters because, of course, it would undermine the freedom of information on the responsibility of the police.

Given this, one would wonder, what do we learn from Macron’s tenure? What distinguishes France from any Third World autocracy that despises human rights? Can France still set an example as a model of humanist and democratic values? We don’t even need to answer these questions, so evident the answer appears.

Following Macron’s remarks about Islam and his public defence of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, several Muslim-majority countries launched an international boycott of French goods. Amnesty International has also criticised Macron’s government for its response to the murder of French teacher Samuel Paty, pointing out that while the government declared its support for free expression, it simultaneously began a smear campaign against French Muslims.

Examples of Discrimination Against Muslims in France

According to numerous research and publications, there are several incidents of Muslim discrimination in France.

    Employment Discrimination: Muslims in France are less likely to get called back for a job interview than Christians with comparable qualifications. According to an IZA Institute of Labour Economics study, Muslims in France endure occupational discrimination, particularly if they are religious. According to the report, the callback rate for Muslim job candidates was 6.7 percentage points lower than that of their Christian counterparts.

Discrimination in Education: According to a study conducted in France, persons with a Muslim name and surname who apply to graduate programmes face more discrimination than those with ethnically French names. Those with Muslim names were 12.3% less likely to receive a response to each of their graduate programme emails.

Discrimination in Public Places: Since 1989, the French legal system has permitted various restrictions on Muslim religious expression. For example, the French Senate enacted a ban on facial coverings on 14 September 2010, while the National Assembly passed one on 13 July 2010. The law went into effect on 11 April 2011, and it outlaws wearing any face-covering headgear in public places, including masks, helmets, balaclavas, niqabs, and other veils, save in certain instances. Although the law does not mention Islam or religion, it is surely perceived as targeting Muslim women who wear the full-face veil as a religious practice. Human rights organisations, journalists, and protestors have criticised the ordinance for violating free expression and religion and stigmatising and marginalising Muslim women.

Discrimination in Housing and Interactions with the Police: Discrimination against Muslims exists in France, from housing to jobs to dealings with the police. According to government statistics, 42% of Muslims say they have faced prejudice because of their faith, a proportion that climbs to 60% among women who wear a headscarf.

Discrimination in Media Representation: French media portrayals of Islam frequently depict mainstream anti-Islamic beliefs. There have been numerous reported examples of workplace Islamic discrimination against individuals.

Government Surveillance: The French government is monitoring at least 75 mosques. This monitoring has been criticised as prejudice against the Muslim community.

These examples highlight the various forms of discrimination that Muslims face in France. However, it’s important to realise that experiences can vary greatly depending on factors such as location, financial background, and personal circumstances.

The current state of discrimination against Muslims in France

First, consider the conclusions of research conducted by The Ballard Centre for Social Impact (USA), which cannot be accused of bias against France. Ballard’s paper published in 2023 confirms our previous findings (See Part 2 of this series).

Discrimination against Muslims, according to the study, is a big issue in France, with 42% of French Muslims experiencing discrimination. This hostility is ascribed to France’s particular approach to secularism (Lacité), the aftermath of recent terrorist acts, and public discourse stereotyping of Muslims. As a result, the Muslim population in France faces significant economic disadvantages and a lack of representation at all levels of French society. For example, Muslims are less than half as likely as Christians with the same qualifications to receive a callback for a job. According to a 2017 research, only 39% of French citizens saw Islam as compatible with French society. This is terrible! It shows how mainstream French media and the anti-Muslim political elite persuaded most of their compatriots that Muslims are essentially anti-democratic. Who will then remember, after long and deep daily brainwashing, all the dictators received in the Elysee with due honours by the French official hypocrisy? Who will remember that if those dictators were able to rule millions of Muslims, it is well thanks to the French state and its alike among the  Western democratic friends, sponsors and protectors of autocrats and tyrants?

The French government is monitoring at least 75 mosques.  Despite this, in recent years, there has been a rise in hate crimes against the Muslim community across the country, particularly in the aftermath of terrorist attacks. In France, only in 2020, there were 235 attacks on Muslims, a 53% rise from the previous year. No wonder! The peace guardians were just looking the other way.

The French government has faced criticism for its policies and rhetoric regarding Islam and Muslims, including President Emmanuel Macron’s October 2020 declaration that Islam is “in crisis” and the proposed “anti-separatism” law, which would put broad limitations on the Muslim community. Several observers said the bill was politically motivated to prepare for the French elections in 2022. According to international law, the French government’s anti-Muslim activities have reached the level of persecution.

The international community’s response to France’s anti-Muslim policies

The international community’s reaction to France’s anti-Muslim policies has been mixed, with some accusing the “Enlightenment country” (is it still a credible label?) of targeting and stigmatising Muslims. Under President Emmanuel Macron, the French government has implemented obscure legislation that provides authorities additional powers to monitor and disband religious organisations and groups they deem to be propagating views opposed to “French values.” A major question concerning “French values” arises: Are they the same that prompted and propelled France to invade, colonise, ravage, loot, and dispossess dozens of countries worldwide? If these are the values Macron wanted to protect from Muslim Barbarians, he is undoubtedly right there: on the extreme right. France should be allowed to rampage as it used to do many years ago. Ah, but voilà! The problem is that the new generation of Africans and Asians living in France do not adhere to the same values. That’s why the French are now out of business in Africa.

 People of common sense contend that, while these regulations do not directly name Islam, they are intended for Muslims and were initially proposed to combat “Islamist communautarism.” That sounds weird! But France is the only “democracy” that fights self-organised communities. You won’t see these anti-communities “values” in the UK, Canada, Australia, or the United States.( Have a look at the US Department of State’s  2021 report on France here.)

In addition, the French government has disbanded various Muslim organisations and closed numerous Muslim institutions, including mosques, accusing them of “inciting hatred, violence, and discrimination”. (Department of State Report on France 2022).

These acts have drawn criticism and alarm from various sources, including religious groups and non-governmental organisations, who say that they endanger fundamental freedoms such as freedom of religion and association. (Both previously cited US reports).

France’s policies have received major international criticism. For example, a coalition of thirty-six organisations from thirteen countries filed a document with the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) stating that France’s recent actions and policies violated international human rights law.

Furthermore, some critics believe these rules have worsened Muslim prejudice in France, which is already common in housing, employment, and encounters with the police. According to government statistics, many Muslims in France have reported religious discrimination. The number of anti-Muslim incidents registered in France has increased.( US Dep. 2021 Report).

In sum, while the French government claims that its policies aim to uphold French values and combat extremism, these policies have received significant domestic and international criticism, with critics claiming that they stigmatise and discriminate against Muslims.

Human Rights Degree Zero

When the administration can’t figure out why there’s a ravine and no bridge to reach a substantial portion of the people, it’s easy to accuse the Imams of plotting against the state…just like in any totalitarian regime. Macron’s France has clearly become a model for autocrats! The French government has disbanded many Muslim organisations and deported several imams accused of “inciting hatred, violence, and prejudice.” Under the same statute, it has closed specific institutions and restricted homeschooling for religious reasons. (2022 US Dep. Report).

The administration failed to recognise that the evicted Imams were just reacting to what they and their community perceived as official oppression. If there are wise people in government, they should have advised Macron to invest in the impoverished outskirts of major cities and in creating jobs for young people rather than investing millions of Euros in the African desert, sowing discord in countries where they have no business, and reaping storms and coups de pied au cul!

These policies have been criticised for stigmatising France’s Muslim community, which is the largest in Europe. The French concept of lacité, or secularism, completely diverted and perverted, has been increasingly exploited to intrude into Muslim individuals’ private lives. This has resulted in conflicts around public displays of religion, such as wearing hijabs and burkinis, which are not limited to right-wing populist groups but span the French political spectrum. The French government’s measures have been perceived as a wrong response to a string of terrorist incidents in the country. President Macron has advocated establishing a “French Islam,” a state-regulated spiritual practice. So, if we understand well, the state can interfere in religious affairs without allowing people to practice their religion the way they understand it! Et Voilà! C’est pas bien joué, Monsieur Macron! Now, we all know.

Note of the Editor: The papers published on GEW’s Website represent the opinions of their authors and not necessarily those of GEW R&A. Only the papers published without signature represent the views of GEW R&A.

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