Islamophobia in France; Analysis of Latest Cartoon Incident


  • There is a difference of opinion among the academicians about definition and overall concept of the phenomenon; few scholars simply term it as fear of Islamic faith or illogical fear from Islam. This definition fails to elucidate complete phenomenon especially its racial implications, which is more relevant in French context.
  • Historically, laïcité or secularism became part of the French constitution due to famous thirty years Wars of Religion (occurred in between 1562 to 1598) and French Revolution of 1789. In 1905’s law, the idea was specifically emphasized which says, “Neither acknowledge, nor pay for, nor subsidize any religious community”. Consequently, it promoted cultural homogeneity and demanded from all other communities to surrender their identities including religious identity and to embrace French identity. Subsequently, the Muslim community, which is the second largest minority in France, has required to compromise on religious identity.
  • Initially, laïcité was introduced to separate Church from the state affairs or to clip the temporal powers of clergy but subsequently it was used by the government as a tool against the Muslims e.g. enactment of 2010 law that banned veil for Muslim women in public offices. Moreover, the French government while upholding the core value of laïcité is yet to table a law preventing religious discriminations.
  • The media has been playing pivotal role in portraying negative image of the Muslims in France as in one of the Pew’s survey a young Parisian was quoted that ‘relations with Muslims are not bad but on watching media one can see extremist image of Islam’. Besides, negative image of Islam and Muslims is being portrayed in video games, movies, novels and music. In 2013, a survey was conducted in France that 74% of the people were considering Islam as intolerant and contrary to the values of French society.
  • Islamophobia is seldom causing terrorist acts however; correlation exists between the rise of Islamophobic acts and occurrence of terrorist incidents. As recorded by CCIF in its 2016 report, that there were 764 Islamophobic acts in 2014 and that increased up to 905 acts in 2015 after occurrence of terrorist incident on the office of Charlie Hebdo in January 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.
  • Since the election of Emmanuel Macron as President of France in 2017, discriminatory attitude towards Muslims have been increased many folds as his government once attempted to extend the ban on veil to private sector employees which was declared as illegal by the French Court of Cessation (Supreme Court in French Judicial System). The French president recently announced that his government is going to introduce a bill in December 2020 for strengthening 1905 law, which in reality means to further restrict the right of freedom of religion.
  • There are two dissimilar schools of conceptions prevailing in Islam about illustrations and paintings of living things, some experts are interested in favor of its complete ban while few deems it as acceptable until these are not being worshiped. Nevertheless, there is a consensus about non-depiction of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) even if the content is not objectionable. Insulting of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) both in verbal and non-verbal means is blasphemous which is why it has been invoking huge protests across the Muslim world irrespective of ethnic and national backgrounds. The prestigious Islamic institution “Al-Azhar University of Egypt” also supported and upholds the same law concerning visual depiction of the Holy Prophet.  For example, in 1976 movie called “ar-Risalah” (or the Messenger), Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was shown only as a shadow.
  • In response to terrorist incidents by Islamic radicals against blasphemous cartoons, the Muslim community is expected to have harsh measures from the French government in the form of increasing raids on their residencies, proscription of their representative organizations and exodus of Muslims from the country. So far, 50 organizations have been proscribed including the prominent CCIF and around 200 Muslims might expel from the country in near future.


 Islamophobia is one of the hot discussing topics in western media, particularly in France after publication of caricature cartoons by a satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” on 1 September 2020. These were printed just one day prior to the start of a long awaited trial of the culprits who were allegedly abet carrying of terrorist attack on the office of Charlie Hebdo on 07thJanuary 2015 in which two Algerian brothers claiming to be Al-Qaeda affiliates killed 12 persons and injured 11 others. The term Islamophobia literally means fear of religious community practicing Islam; nonetheless, it fails to elucidate the overall concept behind this phenomenon. Some scholars are of the view that the phenomenon of Islamophobia can be better comprehended in racial context instead of taking it as religious discrimination alone. The Muslim academicians while moving one-step ahead believed that Islamophobia is not only fear of Islam rather an illogical fear of Islam. Historically, there are multifarious causes of Islamophobia in France and above all laïcité (secularism in English language) became the main cause in promoting religious prejudices in the country. It became integral part of French constitution as a legacy of “French Wars of Religion” (Occurred in between 1562 &1598), French Revolution of 1789 and Enactment of 1905 Law. Secularism had actually been emphasized in French constitution in order to break an unholy alliance between Church and Monarchy or to restrict temporal powers of the Catholic Church besides ensuring separation of Church from the state affairs. Subsequently, laïcité has been used by the government as a tool to blackmail Muslim community or to restrict them from their right of freedom of religion. Over emphasizing the value of laïcité leads to peculiar French identity which has not only been promoting cultural homogeneity and instead unreasonably demanded from other communities to surrender their identities, particularly the religious identity. It becomes a gigantic task for the French government to strike a balance between laïcité and freedom of religion despite France is committed to uphold religious freedom being a member of the organization “OSCE”.

Nevertheless, the French Court of Cassation (Supreme Court of France) and the French Council of State (Govt. main advisory body) have been warning the government to stop taking discriminatory steps against the Muslim community. For instance, the French government once tried to extend its ban on veil (as per 2010 law) to private sector employees upon which the Court of Cassation called it as illegal step. Moreover, the media has also presented negative image of Islam by falsely linking it with terrorism in addition of negative images of Muslims being highlighted in movies, cartoons, video games, music and novels. Consequently, the common people of France are considering Islam as inferior and contradictory to the modern values of French society. Charlie Hebdo’s mocking of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is not only an attack on Islam but also an attack on the very right of freedom of religion. French society in general and Charlie Hebdo in particular failed to understand the sentiments of Muslims being attached to the most revered personality of Islam i.e. the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). According to Islamic teachings, a consensus has already been reached among various schools of thoughts that visual depiction of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is strictly prohibited even if the content is not objectionable.

Islamophobia is seldom causing terrorist incidents however; a link exists between Islamophobia and occurrence of acts carried out by Islamic radicals. Reportedly, a sharp increase in Islamophobic acts are observed both in terms of verbal and physical attacks on the Muslim community after occurrence of terrorist incident on Charlie Hebdo in January 2015. A survey conducted by French think tank, which disclosed that 59% of the respondents said the magazine was right to publish the caricatures in the name of free speech as compare to 38% in 2006.

Since Emmanuel Macron became President of France in 2017, anti-Muslim sentiments have been increased many folds and the French president even expressed his support to Charlie Hebdo for publication of sacrilegious cartoons on the pretext of freedom of speech. The president in a ceremony held in honour of Samuel Paty announced that his government would table a bill in December 2020 in order to clip loopholes in 1905 law, which actually destined to further limit freedom of religion exercised by the Muslims. He called Islam as “deathly ideology” besides reiterated that some extremist movements and individuals were practicing violence in the name of Islam. At one moment the French president had tried to distance himself from the support of Charlie Hebdo and said that his position must be understood by doing two things simultaneously “to promote calm and also to protect these rights (while referring to the value of freedom of expression)”. The French Muslims and their representative organizations are expecting crackdowns and exodus of Muslims in response to the terrorist incidents carried out by Islamic militants.

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