Islamophobia in France; Analysis of Latest Cartoon Incident


Islamophobia is one of the emerging trends circulating in western media, particularly, France after publication of caricature cartoons by Charlie Hebdo magazine in France in September 2020. The term Islamophobia literally means fear of Islamic faith nonetheless; it fails to properly elucidate the whole phenomenon. Initially, the term Islamophobia was coined by the politicians and representatives of different NGOs but later became part of academia for analyzing discriminatory attitude towards the Muslims. The definition of Islamophobia is varying from place to place and it has still been evolving. Some scholars even call it as religious intolerance towards the community practicing Islam. Islamophobia is prevailing in France due to pre-existing cultural values, French national identity and biased attitude of media for having negligible exposure to the true spirit of Islam.

When First Republic of France was established (in post 1789 French Revolution era), secularism was predominantly emphasized in its constitution in order to break an unholy alliance between the Church and Monarchy. Consequently, it is not only promoted cultural homogeneity but paved way for instigating prejudices against other religious communities particularly Muslims. Unlike the US constitution that emphasizes on protection of Individual Rights, the French constitution is giving more credence to collectivism. In majority, the people of France are Catholic Christians or Atheists. The behavior of Christians and Atheists are altogether different to Muslim community as the former are comparatively more prejudiced to them, especially the Christians residing in rural areas of France.

Islamophobia is seldom causing terrorist incidents like the series of attacks carried out by Islamic radicals in France in 2015 and 2020 respectively; however a correlation exists between Islamophobia and occurrence of such attacks. These terrorist incidents generally occur as a reaction to irrational publication of blasphemous cartoons and the Islamic radicals can only succeeded when Islamophobia is prevailing in any society. Furthermore, publications of such satirical content that violates sanctity of Holy personalities; on debatable grounds of freedom of expression is not only instigating protests across the Muslim world but promotes unnecessary religious extremism in addition of denting harmony among various religions of the world.

Background of the Study:

 Background of this study is limited to rising trend of Islamophobic acts in France, especially after publication of sacrilegious cartoons by Charlie Hebdo magazine and subsequent reactive attacks by Islamic radicals on its office in 2015. The magazine is not only disrespectful to the most revered personality of Islam on the pretext of freedom of expression but is attacking Islam itself. It completely overlooks the sentiments of the Muslims being attached to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and claims that it is only disapproving the political Islam. As per Islamic teachings, visual depiction of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is forbidden even if the content is not objectionable. This study would highlight various causes behind rising trend of Islamophobia in France in addition of exploring correlation between Islamophobia and occurrence of terrorist incidents.

 Statement of the Problem

Islamophobia is seldom the cause of provoking terrorist incidents in the West, particularly, France. Instead, it legitimizes and magnifies the already prevailing discriminatory attitude towards religious minority i.e. Muslims. A correlation exists between Islamophobia and occurrence of terrorist incidents or inclination of Muslims for recruitment in Jihadist outfits. This research paper analyzes this phenomenon in the context of recent cartoon incident in France.

Significance & Scope of the Study

The purpose of this individual research paper is to highlight the multifarious causes of Islamophobia in France, specifically in the context of latest cartoon incident. It will discuss historical prospective of the phenomenon besides making an argument that Islamophobia does not generally cause terrorist incidents instead they occur as a consequence of the discriminations being faced by the Muslims in Western Europe in general and in France in particular.

Objective of the Study

The objective of this study is to explore reasons and causes behind Islamophobia in France particularly in the context of caricature cartoon incident by Charlie Hebdo on 1st September 2020.

Research Questions

The study poses various research questions that would be addressed in the foregoing paper such as: what are the reasons and causes behind Islamophobia in France? How Islamophobia is actually defined? Is there any correlation exists between Islamophobia and occurrence of terrorist incidents? Why the Muslims across the globe are expressing anger and lodge protests against publication of caricature cartoons? Do Islamic teachings allow visual depiction of the Holy Prophet (PBUH)? In addition, why Islamophobia has been on higher side in the government of President Emmanuel Macron?

Review of Literature

There are rarely any adequate studies have been undertaken so far on the phenomenon of Islamophobia especially in France as it is forbidden to utilize religion as variable for conduct of some kind of survey or polling. Instead the researchers usually rely on the data regarding discriminations being faced by Muslim community on basis of ethnicity in France. Moreover, the topic is contemporary in nature and further research work is principally required to be carried out to have a holistic idea about enormous sentiments of Muslims being attached with personality of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Nonetheless, Islamophobia has widely been in discussions in western media since 2915 whenever intermittent incidents of publishing caricature cartoons, militant attacks by Islamic radicals and Islamophobic acts took place in France and other western countries. In one of the earlier studies, various causes of Islamophobia are discussed by highlighting pre-existing discriminations in France vis-à-vis French identity, Christian nationalism and epistemic racism. The concept of Islamophobia is also narrated in detail by presenting its definition and other scholarly approaches (Jeanpierre, 2019, 3-12). In one other study, a debate is initiated about freedom of expression and freedom of religion in addition of denouncing Charlie Hebdo’s satirical approach to Islam on the pretext of laïcité and called it as attack on people’s right to religious freedom (Oboler, 2015, 07). In another study, it is deliberated that the people in France perceives Islam as intolerant religion and its followers have been striving to impose their way of life on the society that welcomes them. Moreover, the concepts of Islamophobia and Islamophilia are also deliberated in detail and considered them as prejudicial concepts coined by the west due to their Oriental’s view towards Islam (Kaya Luger, 2017, 2-4). The core French value “Laïcité” is explained in one of such studies by making an argument that either it is facilitating freedom of expression or a threat to freedom of expression besides given historical prospective behind the idea (Le Coz, 24 May 2019). Due to short comings in previous studies particularly failing to explain prevalent prejudices to Muslim community in France, the 2016 report of CCIF is made part of this study (CCIF Report 2016, 18-19). As the incident of caricature cartoons by Charlie Hebdo recently unfolded media reports have also been consulted, in which one of the articles an Islamic view is given that visual publication of Holy Prophet (PBUH) is strictly forbidden in Islam (Abdulla, EzelSahinkaya, Mehdi, et al, 31 Oct 2020). In other news article, Charlie Hebdo calls its publication being part of history and emphasizing its publication on the grounds of laïcité (Al-Jazeera, 02 Sep 2020). Besides, in other article the satirical magazine is claiming that they have been targeting political Islam only but the writer termed it as an attack on Islam itself (Charlton & Hinnant, 29 Oct 2020). In protest against publication of caricature cartoons, huge gatherings have been observed across the Muslim world including Pakistan that were duly covered by prominent international media houses including Al-Jazeera, BBC, VOA in their respective reports (Al-Jazeera, 30 Oct 2020 & Rosman, 22 Oct 2020), (BBC, 1 Sep 2020) & (VOA, 27 Oct 2020). Indian media had also given coverage to anti-French protests lodged by TLP in its latest gathering in Islamabad (Farooq Khan, Time of India, and 18 Nov 2020) & (Clarion India, 27 Oct 2020). In few news articles, rising tendency of Islamophobia and grievances showed by the Muslims in France are highlighted, especially when Emmanuel Macron became French President in 2017. (Daily Sabah, 02 Oct 2020) & (McAuley, Washington Post, 23 Oct 2020).

Delimitation of the Study

The earlier studies available on Islamophobia are mainly limited to explain the phenomenon until 2015 and there is hardly any full pledged research studies exist to elaborate Islamophobia afterwards.  Besides, it is forbidden in France to take religion as variable to conduct survey or polling, which further compels researchers to predominantly rely on data describing anti-racial discriminations with regard to Muslims instead religious prejudices. Moreover, the French government has recently banned “CCIF” the only organization that has been recording and collecting data about anti-Muslim threats and attacks in France. However, its 2016’s report is made part of this study in order to present view point of Muslim community. Besides, latest cartoon incident as occurred in the month of September 2020 is yet to be researched properly.

Research Methodology

In making of the Individual Research Paper (IRP), a combined method is adopted by employing qualitative and quantitative data. Due to currency of the topic, major part of the paper is relying on qualitative data; however, statistical data as gathered by Pew Research Center and CCIF is utilized. Moreover, research techniques including descriptive, analytical and explanatory have been employed to explain various sections of this study paper, especially narrating causes of Islamophobia, Islamic perception of visual depiction of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and increasing tendency of anti-Muslim hatred  in France under the regime of President Emmanuel Macron.

Organization of the Paper

 As the title suggests, the research paper is largely organized into two major sections vis-à-vis Islamophobia in France and Occurrence of the latest cartoon incident. In first section of the paper, a detailed descriptive and analytical approach was adopted with regard to the phenomenon of Islamophobia besides giving its multifarious causes and its historical prospective. Moreover, sufficient space was also assigned for explaining the correlation between Islamophobia and occurrence of the terrorist incidents in western countries, particularly France.

Second section of this study is mainly focusing to critically analyze the rising trend of Islamophobia in France, especially after the election of Emmanuel Macron as President of France in 2017. Furthermore, visual depiction of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is also deliberated in the paper as per parameters set by the Holy Quran, Hadith and Islamic Jurisprudence. At the end of this section, fears expressed by the Muslim community against expected crack downs and other aggressive actions by the French government and observance of huge protests in response to publication of blasphemous cartoons are made part of the paper. Moreover, findings, conclusion and recommendations are given to bring an end to the paper.

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