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Stigmatization Threatens French Muslims

Published: 23/03/2012 01:20:16 PM GMT
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CAIRO - Battling already against France's presidential campaigns' anti-Islam rhetoric, Muslims in France are worried that they will face renewed scruti (more)

CAIRO - Battling already against France's presidential campaigns' anti-Islam rhetoric, Muslims in France are worried that they will face renewed scrutiny and stigmatization after a string of deadly shooting attacks that left seven dead in the European country.

“I called my wife and told her to prepare our luggage!” Karim, an Algerian French resident who works at a Paris nongovernmental organization, told Christian Science Monitor.

“This just opens the door to all xenophobic and racist themes. The Muslim community was already stigmatized, and now it may be more stigmatized.”  

At least seven people, including three Muslim soldiers and three Jewish children, were killed by a gunman in the southern city of Toulouse this month.

The gunman, a French Muslim of Algerian origin, was killed Thursday as he scrambled out of a ground-floor window during a gun battle with French police.

As the murderer has gone, Muslims said they will have to live with the consequences.

Immediately after the attacks, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen seized the Toulouse killings to tone up her anti-Islam rhetoric, accusing the government of surrendering poor suburbs to “Islamic radicals”.

Le Pen's accusations came though both Jewish and Muslim French groups issued statements completely divorcing his actions and views from those of French Muslim citizens, and from the teachings of Islam.

“Why now, just before the elections?” asks Anis Saada, a young information technology engineer in Paris.

“I'm not into conspiracy theories but I question this coincidence.”

Islam and immigration have been a main theme in the electoral rallies of Elysee hopefuls.

Focusing on inciting fear on the role of Islam in France, home to up to six million Muslims, Le Pen adopts an anti-immigrant approach to gain public support.

In 2010, Le Pen compared Muslim prayers on the streets to Nazi occupation.

Along with its anti-immigrant approach, her party also focuses on problems facing French people, including scarce jobs and housing problems.

Most mainstream politicians on the left and right of the political spectrum in France say that Le Pen is dangerously stigmatizing large swathes of society.

Generalization or Stigmatization

Having a violent history, French Muslims distanced themselves from the attacker, rejecting generalization against their peaceful community.

“Merah is a delinquent. He's been to prison several times,” Saada, the Parisian young information technology engineer, told Christian Science Monitor.

“We hear he has committed 18 acts of violence. We should ask… is he a spokesperson for Islam? Can we generalize an entire community or country… can we say all Norwegians are like Breivik?”

Laurent Mucchielli, a leading expert on the French banlieu, or near suburbs, where most Muslims reside, said that some people wait for these actions to justify Islamophobia.

“Many people are only waiting for something like this to bring into the national debate at a time of elections.

“When you look at the events in Toulouse, it may heighten Islamophobia and contribute to this ‘clash of civilizations' view" - a view of relations between Europe and Muslim immigrants that Mr. Mucchielli, based at the University of Aix-Marseilles, says has been discredited.

After Le Pen's accusations, Muslim fears were coming true.

Habiba, an under-30 Algerian bakery shop assistant who is completing her doctoral studies, said the attacks would have a hard reaction on French Muslims.

The shootings by an Algerian Muslim will "be hard on us," she says.

"We are going to have justify ourselves, to say this isn't what we want or what Islam means."

Reproduced with permission from