French officials unleashed a strict crackdown on many Muslim organizations on October 16 following the brutal murder of school teacher Samuel Paty for showing offensive caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. The New York Times reports that the French government accused the organizations of promoting radicalism and, in an unprecedented move, announced it would expel 231 foreign Muslims thought to be radicalized. On Tuesday, October 20, the government ordered the closure of the Grand Mosque of Pantin outside Paris. The mosque was targeted because of criticisms of Paty shared on its Facebook page, but the mosque has denied any involvement in the attack, says Al Jazeera.
The strict crackdown has led many Muslims in France to fear a violent backlash and a wave of Islamophobia. On October 22, two Muslim women were stabbed near the Eiffel Tower by two French women and were called “dirty Arabs,” reports France24. Earlier this month, President Emmanuel Macron gave a speech on “Islamic separatism” and claimed that the religion was “in crisis,” according to EuroNews. Macron has been widely criticized by Muslims both in France and around the world for trying to appeal to French conservatives.
In the aftermath of the attacks, France’s interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, described Islam as “the enemy within” while government buildings displayed the offensive cartoons, further stigmatizing the Muslim population. There is also rhetoric about banning the headscarf and other religiously affiliated accessories. According to the Guardian, Macron has repeatedly reiterated France’s devotion to laïcité, or French secularism, and freedom of speech.
One pro-Hamas group, the Cheikh Yassine Collective, has already been banned, while 50 other organizations are currently being targeted. The French interior minister announced that he wanted to ban two Muslim charities, BarakaCity and Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), reports Euronews. Both organizations denied any involvement with radicalism and are known for helping millions of people around the world.
On Wednesday, October 28 BarakaCity was officially dissolved by the French government. Anadolu Agency states that the founder of the charity, Idriss Sihamedi, denied all accusations of radicalism. Despite this, he was still arrested and had his house raided by French authorities. He was released a day later due to a lack of evidence connecting him to radical extremism. The CCIF is another NGO dedicated to fighting Islamophobia in France and abroad. The French interior minister, however, described it as “an enemy of the republic,” prompting the organization to release a statement saying that they no longer feel safe operating in France, according to Anadolu Agency.
The French government does not believe that these religious organizations fit in with France’s secular values. EuroNews explains that President Macron suggested that an enlightenment should take place within Islam to fit in line with Western values. According to Al Jazeera, Macron proposed a law that would further strengthen the separation of church and state by monitoring foreign funding to Mosques, limit religious schools, and require that imams be trained in France rather than abroad.
International outcry towards France from the Muslim world has been swift. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suggested that Macron needs mental treatment, reports the New York Times. In Bangladesh, nearly 40,000 people protested against France’s actions in the capital of Dhaka. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan also accused Macron of promoting Islamophobia. The foreign ministries of Kuwait, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia have all condemned the actions of the French government. Kuwait and Qatar have taken all French products off of their shelves, and much of the Muslim world has initiated a boycott of French products.
The situation has escalated in the past week as another brutal attack left three people dead outside a church in Nice on Thursday, October 29. The attacker, identified as a Tunisian national, was killed by police on the scene. The Guardian says that on that same day, a security guard was stabbed at the French embassy in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The French government has reiterated the resilience of the French people and will respond strongly to these attacks.