Paris, France – The Muslim community of France, with 5.7 million inhabitants, the largest in Europe, is in the spotlight.
Following two attacks in October, President Emmanuel Macron announced a crackdown on “radical Islamists”, which led to the closure of several mosques, Muslim associations and schools.
On Wednesday, details were revealed of a bill that Macron said aims to tackle what he calls “Islamist separatism.”
And constantly in the background are debates about the hijab and the right to offend and blaspheme, with renewed discussions of the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad popularized by Charlie Hebdo.
But critics warn of the government’s latest initiatives, which have also seen the CCIF, a French civil rights organization that monitors anti-Muslim hate crimes suspected of “radicalism” and shut down, add to the climate. of Islamophobia.
They say Macron’s measures have gone too far, penalizing all Muslims – instead of targeting people who threaten national security.
The bill against “separatism” includes provisions to tightly control home education, strengthen the closure powers of mosques promoting “extremism”, outlaw virginity certificates and force associations to lend. allegiance to French “republican principles” in order to receive government subsidies.
It will also prohibit employees who provide a public service like transportation – even if they are not directly employed by the government – from wearing overt religious symbols. Under current laws, public sector workers are already prohibited from wearing religious clothing or symbols.
Al Jazeera spoke to French Muslims in Paris about how they feel:
Fatoumata Diaby, 53, fabric seller: “I am French and I am a Muslim. But now I feel like I have to choose between them ‘
It is true that I do not meet much the white French. I am happy to live in my community, I work hard and I pay my taxes. I’m not causing any problem. Why should this be a problem? To tell you the truth, I don’t think they would want to see me in the wealthy parts of Paris, anyway.
It’s the same with Macron. Let us not forget that he was a banker. He wants to preserve the wealthy elite. They want to leave us on the periphery and forget about us – but then they seem surprised when there are problems with society.
In a way, France is an incredible country which has given me a lot. But I think in another way he regressed. Freedom of expression must be protected, but should we defend the right to spread hatred? I am French and I am a Muslim. But now I feel like I have to choose between them.
Rayan Khelifi, 21, waiter: “ There is better equipment for us now, although it is not on the same level as some other religions ”
For me in some ways I think the new generation is better than it was before. Back when my dad was a young boy growing up here, it was terrible. People didn’t hide their racism because they didn’t have to. Before, there was hardly any mosque to go to for prayer and there was no halal food in the supermarket. There are better amenities for us now, although not on the same level as some other religions.
In that sense, it’s easier and I’m happy here. Where I live there is a wide variety of communities – Africans, Jews, Muslims, Chinese – who all live together without problems. We mingle. All the products in my restaurant are Halal, but we have Jewish customers who come here because they love the food.
That being said, many problems persist. It is mainly at the political level that fuels this hatred. This is where the problem comes from. It is true that there is still racism in French society. But I try to ignore the small details because if you pay attention to the small details you will always find racism.
Lyess Chacal, 49, writer: ‘The situation is worse than my worst nightmare’
I grew up in France and was educated among the elite here. I am a modest Muslim. I am very grateful for secularism (secularism) because it really allowed me to practice my religion better than I could have done even in some Muslim countries like Tunisia. I understand that we have to adapt. For example, when I went to school, there was no halal meat. I did not ask the chef to serve it for me. I just didn’t eat any meat. It was not a problem for me.
Perhaps because there are so many of us here now, Muslims have become a problem. It bothers some people. Just like there is radical religion, in my opinion there is radical secularism. It is scandalous what is happening with separatism. I feel very uncomfortable with what is currently happening in France. Of course, there are a lot of issues at stake here – the refugee crisis, globalization, and France’s complex relationship with the former colonies.
But I never imagined this result when I was young. The situation is worse than my worst nightmare. We are heading for disaster. It seems to me that the government is not thinking at all about the direction these decisions will take, it is not looking to the future.
Meryeme Anfousse, 24, architect: “ There have been incidents in public transport because I wear a hijab ”
I have very rarely had any problems here because of my religion. There have been incidents in public transport because I wear a hijab, but it can happen and it happens in any city in the world and I don’t think it is worse in Paris. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s okay when it happens. But in my experience, it’s not worse in France.
I think that a lot of current problems in France are caused by part of the media. I think it doesn’t give a real impression of Islam.
Almost all Muslims are very welcoming and kind people. Our beliefs are based on a serious spiritual foundation. Muslims in France work and contribute to the economy, and they cause no problem.
They are an important part of society like everyone else. In fact, the French Muslim community is a very rewarding and vibrant part of society. But this is not always reflected in the media.
Bilal Yattara, 33, unemployed: “Why can’t we have our say? This is not how a president should rule ‘
The most important lesson is that we must respect others and they must respect us. I think if everyone did this the world would be a much better place. I think that’s what secularism is supposed to be. This is unfortunately not the case.
France is supposed to be based on “liberty, equality, fraternity” (liberty, equality, fraternity) but this is not reality. Some people are more equal than others. It’s the truth.
Macron is expected to resign and exit. It introduces too many laws to control us. He is against freedom. He targets Muslims. When he was elected, I had much more hope as to his intentions and what he could accomplish. But his approach has changed a lot since then. Of course, terrorism must stop. No one disputes this. But now he is passing all this legislation that will change our lives without consulting us. Why can’t we have our say? This is not how a president should govern.
Hafid Irjdalen, 45, baker: ‘They are trying to win votes from the far right’
I have been running my bakery for over 11 years and we have reliable customers of all kinds who come here. I have never had any problems and I follow the rules. Yes, business can be a struggle sometimes but it has nothing to do with my religion. My daily life is not affected by it.
What worries me is this whole discussion about immigration and integration. I think politicians are preparing for elections. They are trying to win votes from the far right. The people who carried out terrorist attacks are not true Muslims. They have perverted Islam with these actions. They don’t represent us. They must be stopped.
But I don’t think that’s the right way to do it. All Muslims are suffering because of these mosque closures. I didn’t agree with that. And when [Interior Minister Gérald] Darmanin Talk about getting rid of the halal food aisles in supermarkets – it was disgusting. How can he say this without being punished? This does not happen to Catholics and Jews. They intentionally target Muslims. It’s discrimination.
Aude Fa, 43, organic food activist: ‘They say only Muslims can be terrorists’
I converted to Islam five years ago and immediately noticed the difference in the way people looked at me. Inside, I haven’t changed as a person. I consider myself zen. But because I started wearing a hijab, because my exterior changed, people looked at me differently, even if it wasn’t necessarily hate.
I’ve always found society to be critical of my appearance. Before converting, I dressed very feminine, sometimes wearing dresses and skirts. Then people told me I shouldn’t dress this way – now because of my hijab some people say I shouldn’t wear it. But I am proud to be a French Muslim.
This war on separatism is clearly aimed at Muslims, even if it does not name us in the law. But it seems they are saying that only Muslims can be terrorists. I don’t want to underestimate the question, but some priests have been pedophiles – but we would never say they all are. There is a stigma. If France wants to defend religions, why is she doing nothing for the Uyghurs in China, the problems in Burma and China?
Nada Ziani, 22, student: “ I don’t think I’ll ever be considered a true Frenchwoman ”
I don’t think I’ll ever be considered a true French. There is a kind of implicit discrimination in society. But it’s also very real. I have been the victim of Islamophobia on several occasions – always verbal and not physical violence. It even happens in the 6th arrondissement where I am a student. People told me “shut your mouth and come home” and shouted “submission” to me.
The problem is how secularism as defined in 1905 has recently been politicized. Terrorists and extremists have nothing to do with real Islam – they are not.
But I don’t want us to be defined as victims. We must fight to defend ourselves and our rights. We need to focus on educating people and this is where I have hope. We must normalize the fact of French Muslims and we must not be defined by our religion alone. We are much more than that.