Everyday Islamophobia: Is France still a country of Human Rights?

As a child in France, you grow up with the patriotic idea that France is a great country doing all she can to protect human rights internationally.

Ever since our famous revolution, when we created the so-called universal declaration of Men’s rights, it is our universal duty to protect others. In this declaration, the word Men, Homme in French, was preferred to the gender-neutral Human, Humain, which in itself shows that the declaration in its essence was not made to be totally universal. 

After leaving France 5 years ago, I became disillusioned with this national propaganda. I truly believe that our poor human rights situation in France is deeply intertwined with the bad treatment of its Muslim population. This article will draw on the problems of French colonisation to explain the current climate of tension around the French Muslim community.

So let’s start with colonisation. It is useless to say that this was problematic, because of torture, oppression, repression and so forth. The decolonisation period was as brutal. Let’s take the most extreme example, the Algerian war, where French perpetrators of torture remain unpunished today. This war showed another facet of France to the world. It showed that France was able to torture and censor for the good cause of human rights. Films like the Bataille d’Alger, demonstrating the widespread use of colonial torture, remained censored in France until 2004. Is a country that tortures and censors a country of human rights? 

The consequences of the decolonisation wars in France were varied, including heavy flows of migrants to France from former colonies. These migrants who became French remain marginalised, in part because of insufficient integration strategies being implemented by the French government.

Consequently, migrants are relegated to colossal, precarious buildings on the city outskirts; the infamous banlieues.

This marginalisation of migrants, along with a deeply entrenched sense of injustice, appeared with the end of colonisation for some French, and many other factors led to an increase of racism.

A good example of the national rise of racism in the decolonisation period is the creation of the Front National (FN) in 1972. The party was conceived by Jean-Marie Le Pen, a former general of the Algerian war who was known to have used torture against Algerian freedom fighters. This party is known to be negationist, populist, extremist and to gather many racist, antisemitic and islamophobic members and supporters.

As stated in Hanna Uihlein’s piece, racism and Islamophobia are two distinct but often intertwined concepts. Islamophobia in France is inextricably linked to racism towards people originally from the Magreb. But Islamophobia is also problematically linked with our state, our laws, and our concept of secularism.

The legal separatism of Church and State in 1905 resulted in strict secular laws. In the French concept of laïcité, religion is strictly personal and should not be visible to others. It has resulted in the headscarves being banned in some public spaces such as schools, but also for teachers and journalists who have to choose between wearing their headscarf or practising their jobs.

This lack of religious freedom in the public sphere also creates a climate of tension and hate, as erasing Muslims women wearing headscarves from public spaces others them. This climate of otherness can also be felt by the rest of the population as it is a well-known fact that police heavily uses ethnic profiling when arresting people in the street.

Hence, when French Muslims express their view on caricatures being problematic, maybe displaced, they do not really complain about these cartoons, it is the general feeling of Islamophobia in French society that they decry.

They protest the systematic discrimination, their marginalisation, unequal violent police treatment. They complain about France being racist and Islamophobic.

This is an historical problem and the questionable situation of human rights in France is directly linked to the mistreatment of the Muslim population.

To the question of whether France is still a country of human rights, I respond: has it ever been one? Is a country that is sexist, racist, Islamophobic a country of Human Rights? Is a country that only considers white men’s rights as human rights able to claim the role of protecting human rights universally? 

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Imagining Home: Exploring the Politics of Space and Identity through Poetry

In Italo Calvino’s book, Invisible Cities, a fictional Marco Polo describes to Kublai Khan dozens of different cities he claims to have visited. Yet each distinct description in fact describes one city: Venice. Like Marco Polo’s Venice, the homeland of an immigrant is created and re-created many times in the imagination, shaped by what is remembered and what is forgotten, letters from loved ones left behind, news handed person to person. Each homeland is distinct to the immigrant who imagines it, and yet the vision of a single homeland connects all immigrants from a particular place.

Winner of the 2018–2019 International Migration and Diaspora Politics Poetry Contest, this poem draws from themes encountered during the course to explore the idea of imagined homelands in the context of immigration.

What time is it in Jo’burg?

You can never tell the time 

here, with the grey. 

It presses at windows, hugs cars,

seeks ill-cut doors, bathroom air vents.

You can never tell the time 

here, it’s either dark or grey, those are the only times of day.

What time is it in Jo’burg?

What time is it in Jo’burg?

Is it time for a calling to rise below the blood-streaked skies?

Is it time to be following the ants to their source,

and stopping up the hole?

Are you dusting off my photo

while you chip away at thickly sweet pap,

swallowing the lumps with your cup of tea?

What time is it in Jo’burg?

Is it time to be leaning out the car shouting into the tar?

Do lizards bake in the midday sun, 

alongside their beaded doppelgängers?

Is it time for you to go home?

Does the air thicken around your body

enfolding you, as I once did?

What time is it in Jo’burg?

Is the light turning without pity all across the city?

Bright within, dark without, 

shadows thrown carelessly across old scars and new.

And you, are you padding across the cooling ground

welcoming the shadows as lovers?

What time is it in Jo’burg?

Here. 

You can never tell the time 

here, with the grey. 

You can never tell the time 

here, it’s either dark or grey, those are the only times of day.

What time is it in Jo’burg?