Article published in Le Monde on January 15th, 2015
We must fight Islamophobia now more than ever
The attack against Charlie Hebdo has produced legitimate emotion throughout France. Nothing justifies such a crime; nothing justifies such an attack against a publication; nothing justifies the murder of journalists, police officers, Jewish people and others just in the wrong place at the wrong time. We don't know if there will be a "pre-January 7/post-January 7 world" in France, but it's crucial to start talking about the future we want.
That conversation has already started, but it has taken a dangerous detour: accusing Charlie Hebdo critics of being more or less directly responsible for the January 7 deaths. For example, we have heard Jeannette Bougrab, secretary of state when Nicolas Sarkozy was president, adamantly say she believes Les Indivisibles and Parti des indigènes de la République [the indigenous of the republic party] (PIR) are guilty because they have accused those at Charlie Hebdo of Islamophobia.
Furthermore, essayist Caroline Fourest regularly posits this type of argument. Christophe Ramaux agrees as well. In a January 9 Le Monde article, he insists on the responsibility of December 13, 2014 anti-Islamophobia colloquium organizers and participants, that is, the PIR, Politis, journalist Edwy Plenel and the Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions and Aid to Citizens (ATTAC). Ramaux was visibly absent from the event.
These attacks are intended to categorize us all using the false dichotomy of either "for Charlie Hebdo" or "for the terrorists" in order to criminalize those mobilizing against Islamophobia and those who criticized the satirical publication by defaming us as the assassins' accomplices. They're rejecting our right to criticism, which is paradoxical, to say the least, coming from self-styled champions of freedom of expression with no limits or borders. So, we're responsible for the deaths of January 7, are we? If so, then what must be said of the intellectuals and journalists who supported the 2003 US invasion of Iraq that killed tens of thousands?
Beyond these controversies are two crucial issues we must discuss further: 1) the connection between the foreign policies of the Western powers and the rise of extremist groups and 2) the reality of Islamophobia in France and why it must be fought.
No unified political program
Let's keep a simple fact in mind: in 2003, when the United States military invaded Iraq, Al-Qaida didn't exist there and was in retreat everywhere else; it had no territorial base. Twenty years after the launch of the so-called "war on terror," ISIS now controls a large area of Iraq and Syria.
The coalition against ISIS formed this past summer has not presented any unified political program but just increases the bombing. Several investigations have confirmed that the large-scale use of drones in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia have created a new generation of extremist combatants. And then there's the issue of Palestine, of course, with regard to which you don't have to be an extremist to believe, as do US Secretary of State John Kerry and General David Petraeus, that the continuation of the Palestinian drama feeds the ideology of the most extreme groups. But here they let the Israeli occupier in the person of Benjamin Netanyahu march in Paris for . . . you guessed it, Charlie Hebdo!
As for the existence and scope of Islamophobia in France, and more broadly in Europe, even before the attack against Charlie Hebdo, there was an increase in the number of Islamophobic acts, and they've increased even more since January 7. That was the reason for the international meeting on December 13, 2014, in Paris and simultaneously in London, Amsterdam and Brussels.
Those colloquia were held when the concept of Islamophobia was being established, as pointed out in the last report of the Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme [national human rights commission] (CNCDH). What does it mean? The accusation of Islamophobia doesn't have to do with those who criticize the religion of Islam but those who attribute a homogenous identity to Muslims stemming from the Koran, an identity including a consistent plan targeting our institutions and values.
Heritage of secularism
Contrary to the criticism of the colloquia, we live in a society with a heritage of secularism as voted into law in 1905, that is, the separation of church and state, the neutrality of the state (not its citizens), every citizen's right to practice his or her religion in private and public space. In December, we discussed a mother's right to accompany her child on school outings, feminist responses to Islamophobia, the right of Muslim female students to wear the hijab in public schools, the right of Muslims to exist as political subjects and to demonstrate, including for Palestine, their right to work and their rights in the workplace, racial profiling and the role of the police.
The commitment to fight Islamophobia provides a rational analysis for young people who don't understand why people hate them and an answer to the "clash of civilizations" argument. That fight doesn't pit the French people against Muslims but progressive political forces against reactionary ones.
The clearer it becomes that we're not engaged in an identity-based, religious or cultural conflict but a political one, the more anti-racists will join our mobilizations. We're creating hope despite the best efforts of all the manufacturers of despair. Along with the Union juive française pour la paix [French Jewish peace union], we're warning people to reject the essentialization of Jews and emphasizing the political, colonial and non-religious nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
We're not defending Muslims so much as defending the future of a diverse French society. We represent a hope that our detractors would like to destroy. We must have equality for all: "equality or nothing," as the late Palestinian-American intellectual Edward Said once said.
This article is the work of a collective: Saïd Bouamama, spokesperson for the Front uni des immigrations et des quartiers populaires [united immigrant and working class neighbourhood front]; Houria Bouteldja, PIR spokesperson; Ismahane Chouder, co-president of the Collectif féministe pour l’égalité [feminist collective for equality]; Alain Gresh, journalist; Michèle Sibony, spokesperson for the Union juive française pour la paix; and Denis Sieffert, director of Politis.
Translated by Ian Harvey, Jasper, Ontario, Canada.
Le Monde link to original article (French):