Islamophobia in France; Analysis of Latest Cartoon Incident

Occurrence of Latest Cartoon Incident: An Analytical Approach

The decision by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to reprint caricature cartoons of the Holy Prophet (PBHU) considers by Muslims as a whole an attack not only on most revered personality of Islam but also taking that action as attempt to link Islam with terrorism. Depiction of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is strictly forbidden in Islam even if the visual content is not objectionable. The magazine on the other hand in its editorial carrying the cartoons stated, “The drawings belong to history, and history cannot be rewritten or erased”.[29] The caricature cartoons were earlier published by Danish newspaper “Jyllands Posten” in 2006 before publication by Charlie Hebdo in 2015. Charlie Hebdo while upholding its commitment to freedom of speech once again published them on Tuesday 1 September 2020, purposefully a day before long awaited trial of the culprits who were allegedly abetted the attack in 2015. The editors of the magazine stated that ‘it was unacceptable to start the trial without showing the pieces of evidence to readers’.[30] Added, that non-publication of caricature cartoons would be equal to “political or journalistic cowardice” if not published them again.[31]

Opinion of the French people who were favoring republishing of blasphemous cartoons enhanced after terrorist incident orchestrated in the offices of Charlie Hebdo in 2015. According to IFOP, a polling firm, and the Jean Jaurès Foundation, a French think tank, 59 percent of respondents said that the magazine was “right” to publish the caricatures in the name of free speech — up from 38 percent in 2006.[32] The Muslim representative organizations in Western countries including France are considering ignominious depiction of the holiest personality of Islam as offensive in addition of strongly condemned violent response by the Islamic radicals. The President of the French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM), Muhammad Moussaoui “urged people to ignore the cartoons, while condemning violence”.       The appended below image would further sums up back-to-back incidents in Europe and France revolving around the issue of caricature cartoons. [33]

2.1           Correlation Exists between Islamophobia and Occurrence of Terrorist Acts:

Islamophobia is seldom causing occurrence of terrorist acts by the Islamic militants however, correlation exists between the rise of Islamophobic acts and occurrence of terrorist incidents in France. Specifically, negative attitude and perception towards the Muslim community had increased after gruesome attack carried out by the militants on the office of Charlie Hebdo in 2015. The rise of Islamophobic acts in response to terrorist incidents sometime falsely confuse and even leads to link Islam with terrorism despite of the fact that the representatives of Muslim community are themselves vehemently denouncing such terrorist acts. Given below figures would further elaborate its correlation:

As recorded by CCIF (Collective against Islamophobia in France), a sharp increase has been observed in French society regarding Islamophobic acts since 2013 particularly after the occurrence of well-known terrorist attack on the office of Charlie Hebdo magazine in January 2015. In 2014, the Islamophobic acts recorded as 764 which subsequently increased to 905 in 2015which was almost 18.5% as shown in figure 1.[34] Moreover, the general public of French society had a negative perception about the people of Muslim community e.g. only 26% of people were having some positive views about Islam from total 47% people who were questioned in that connection. Similarly, the Islamic practices such as prayer or consumption of Halal meat were considering barrier to the concept of “living together” as 52% and 40% respectively. [35]

As shown by figure 2, the Islamophobic acts increased in 2015 as compare to 2014 in all its forms including both physical and symbolic violence. Around 150% increase was reported with regard to physical attacks e.g. 22 cases in 2014 and 55 in 2015. [36]

Likewise increase of physical attacks in 2015, symbolic violence also went-up to 140% as compare to 2014 e.g. 60 cases were reported in 2015 against 25 cases in 2014.[37] These figures are alarming which clearly show the discriminatory attitude of French people towards Islam which was attacked, targeted and rejected.

The CCIF while regretting the pessimistic data as shown in figures 1, 2, & 3 blamed that the republican institutions like in the case of freedom of speech did not similarly protect freedom of religion. Though, it is also one of the fundamental democratic rights[38].

2.2           Rise of Anti-Muslims’ Hatred in France under the Regime of Emmanuel Macron:

Since the elections of Emmanuel Macron in 2017 as President, discrimination and hatred to Muslim community in France have been increased many times which was subsequently not only enacted anti-Muslims laws but provoking attacks on the symbols of Muslims across the country which is having the largest Muslim minority (Estimated to be five million out of 67 million populations) in Europe.[39] The French President Macron recently announced in post Paty’s killing incident that the government would table “a bill in December, 2020” to further strengthen1905’s law that actually destined to limit religious freedom of Muslims.[40] He even called Islam as a ‘deathly ideology’ on the pretext of terrorist acts carried out by the militants of Al-Qaeda and ISIS in France and such attacks though strongly rejected by the Muslim community itself.[41] He intended that the country’s bans on Muslims emblems particularly on Hijab & Burkini (a full body swimming costume for Muslims women) would extend to those private sector’s employees who are giving public services.

The incumbent President also has expressed his support for latest publication of controversial cartoons besides showing concerns about anticipated violence and anger would be shown by the Muslims across the globe including those in France. He was of the view that he had expected strong reactions from the Muslims nations by mistakenly taking publication of cartoons as a step sponsored at the state level. His remarks came as a reaction to the killing of three individuals in a knife attack on a Church in Nice, Paris. He further stated that his role being a president of the state should also be understood which were to do two things “to promote calm and also to protect these rights (while referring to the value of freedom of expression)”. He added that there were people distorting the image of Islam in order to kill or slaughter people for its defense or in other words extremists’ movements and individuals have been practicing violence in the name of Islam.[42] President Macron while expressing anger on boycott of French goods as a reaction to publication of controversial cartoons stated that it was “unworthy” and “unacceptable”.[43]

2.3           Visual Depiction of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) in the Light of Islamic Jurisprudence:

There are two predominant schools of thoughts prevailing in Islam about illustrations and paintings of living things, some experts are in favor of its complete ban however, few considering them as acceptable until these are not being worshiped. The Muslim jurists who are in support of its complete ban quoting the Hadith of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) which says alike “Those who draw pictures will be punished on the Day of Resurrection and it will be said to them Breath soul into what you have created”.[44] Nevertheless, a consensus has already been developed among different schools of Islam with regard to non-depiction of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).The most prestigious and thousand’s years old University of Islam “Al Azhar University of Egypt” in its response also strongly denounced both publication of cartoons and subsequent violence committed by Islamic radicals. The grand Imam of the Institution namely “Sheikh Ahmed Al Tayyab” while reproaching killing of Samuel Paty the French teacher and the knife attack claiming the lives of three people in Nice, Paris called them as “heinous terrorist attacks”  in addition of terming them as contradiction to Islam.[45] Moreover, he was also not allowing someone to insult religions on questionable grounds of free speech and was taken it as “invitation to hatred”.[46]

The Holy Scripture of Islam “The Quran” is silent on the issue of visual depiction of living things; however, Hadith and Fatwas are available in support of both schools of thoughts. Insulting the Holy personality of Islam in verbal and non-verbal means are widely considering by Muslims as blasphemous and the countries  such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have laws of capital punishments for blasphemy of Holy Prophet (PBUH). Due to this sensitivity of the issue, the artists and film makers are avoided to show the image of the Holy Prophet (PBUH)for instance “in a movie in 1976 called “ar-Risalah” (or The Messenger), Muhammad was shown only as a shadow”.[47]

Charlie Hebdo is prominent to satire and to highlight different bold subjects including Neo-Nazis, Bishops, Jews leaders and other political leaders besides disrespecting the Islamic holiest personality. It has widely been believed that the magazine is not only disrespectful to the Holy Prophet (PBUH) but also attacking Islam itself. However, the staff working for the magazine says that they are calling out intolerance, oppression and a political form of Islam that threatens democracy.[48] Due to publication of such satirical content, the magazine has been pressing hard to remain safe from invoking anti-hate speech laws in addition of inviting unnecessary violent attacks against the magazine in France.

2.4           Publication of Blasphemous Cartoons Invokes Protests in Muslim Countries:

Huge peaceful protests and in some countries agitations have been observed across the Muslim world when controversial cartoons were published by Charlie Hebdo just a day before commencement of a prolonged delay trail in France on Tuesday 1st September, 2020.  The protests held in various cities of Muslim states including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Turkey etc. and there were pressing demands to boycott purchase of French products and to shut down embassies of France in respective Muslim countries. In Jerusalem, a huge protest took out against Macron in front of Al-Aqsa Mosque (the third holiest place for Muslims) and they were raising slogans such as “with our souls and with our blood we sacrifice for our Prophet, Muhammad”.[49]

Moreover, protests were also registered in Arab countries such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Palestine, Bahrain, Libya and Tunisia. Saudi Arabia condemned the controversial cartoons and slightly desisted from highly echoing demand by the Muslim states to take practical steps against sacrilegious publication of content. In its official statement the country denounced terrorist acts resulted from such publications (while referring to beheading of French teacher) and stated freedom of expression and culture should meant to promote tolerance and peace in the society besides rejecting such acts that might instigated violence and might be detrimental for peaceful coexistence.[50] Saudi Arab daily newspaper while giving the statement of Muhammad Al Issa (Head of Saudi based Muslim World League) warned, “an over-reaction is negative and goes beyond what is acceptable”.[51] Further, some of the Muslim countries including Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Yemen, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco and Jordan issued official statements regarding publication of caricature cartoons and the supportive statements given by President Macron.

 2.5           French Muslims Fear about Rising Trend of Islamophobia in Post-Violent Attacks:

The wave of fears among Muslims was on higher side, especially after the occurrence of gruesome incident of beheading a 47 years old teacher Samuel Paty near his school in Conflans-Sainte Honorine, located some 24 KMs in periphery of Paris. He was conferred the France’s highest honor “Legion d’ Honor”, in a ceremony attended by President of France Emmanuel Macron. The French government as expected launched crackdowns against the Muslim organizations besides vigilante groups carried out attacks on the Mosques and other places of worships in Beziers and Bordeaux. Specifically, the French President on 2 October 2020 announced a plan against the Muslims what he called as “Islamists Separatism” and said “Islam was in crisis across the world”.[52] His speech was indicating about a new law that would push religion out of education and the public sector in France, aims to strengthen ‘laïcité’ (secularism in English language) the country’s strict separation of Church from the State affairs. The Muslims generally fear that on occurrence of such attacks Islam would be falsely linked with terrorism and would invoke repercussions for the community in French society.  Yasser Loquat, a French Muslim activist, told Al-Jazeera, that he believed Macron was “using Islamophobia to power his campaign”.[53] The government of France carried out numerous raids on the pretext of detaining extremist elements and there were chances that around 200 Muslims could be expelled from France in that connection. As per media reports, more than 50 Muslims organizations have proscribed including the prominent Muslim organization namely, “Cheikh Yassine Collective” on the pretext of Paty’s killing. The founder of the organization AbdelHa Sefrioui was took into custody on passing remarks against Paty in a YouTube video. French Interior Minister had also recommended banning the Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), an association that “tracks anti-Muslim hate crimes, in a move that more than 50 civil society groups and academics have warned against”.[54] The Interior Minister by taking extreme view of the association called it as an “enemy of Republic”. During an interview to a private TV channel, the Interior Minister stated that he was “shocked” to see Halal and Kosher food aisles in supermarkets, which he believes contributes to separatism in France”.[55] The co-founder of CCIF Marwan Muhammad on its tweeter handle said that “what is going in France at the movement is unprecedented”, and “Fundamental freedoms are at stake, as the government is focused on stigmatizing and criminalizing Muslim communities”.[56] Mame-Fatou Niang, an associate professor of French studies at Carnegie Mellon University, told Al Jazeera the government was not simply “going to war against terrorists” rather it is a declaration of war against the Muslims as a whole.[57]

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