Solidarity and repression: Muslims in France and Belgium

The clearest example of popular solidarity with Muslims under attack in France and Belgium is a video of a young man wearing a blindfold and standing in the Place de la Republique in Paris.

At his feet are two signs: “I am a Muslim. They say I am a terrorist.” And “I trust you. Do you trust me? Then give me a hug.”

The video shows scores of people, some with tears in their eyes, giving this young man a hug. As of Nov. 22, it had been seen well over 2 million times and garnered thousands of comments.

The French magazine Mademoiselle, addressing an audience of mostly young women, said of it: “We see in this video a message of hope, of an openness of spirit and of solidarity which doesn’t make barriers out of religious beliefs. A symbol of living together, to sum up.”

The French media have made it clear that the majority of the people carrying out the Nov. 13 attacks were French citizens, with the rest Belgian. Even if they were members of the Islamic State who had fought in Syria, their roots were in France.

The Muslim community has deep roots in France, which was the major colonial power in North and West Africa. Some 100,000 Muslims died fighting under the French flag during World War I. To mark their sacrifice, the Grand Mosque of Paris was constructed and completed in 1926. After World War II, tens of thousands of North Africans came to France to work on its reconstruction.

Some anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist groups in France have been critical of the campaign the French state is waging to justify its bellicose behavior in Iraq, Syria and Libya.

Coup pour Coup 31, a collective based in Toulouse whose name means “Blow for Blow,” said: “The media frenzy and its injunction to patriotism, national unity and nationalism has a clear purpose: to use our emotions and fear to justify government policy both on French territory and around the world.”

VivelePCF, a group opposed to the reformist drift of the leadership of the French Communist Party, said: “We denounce all politicians who use the tragedy to stoke fears, divisions and hatreds. … We will not let them scandalously and insidiously consider part of the population of France as criminals.”

Commenting on President François Hollande’s state of emergency and banning of demonstrations, the Young Communist Club of Paris’ 15th District said this affected major trade union demonstrations that had been planned against cuts in leave time at hospitals, degraded working conditions in Paris mass transit, the liquidation of Air France as a public company, and mergers and staff cuts in public finances.

Reactions of French, Belgian politicians

Belgian talk radio host Eric Zemmour, who is also heard in France, called for the French to bomb Molenbeek, a mostly Muslim neighborhood in Brussels where some of the alleged attackers had lived.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the neofascist National Front (FN), called for restoring the death penalty for “terrorists … with decapitation,” as well as deporting illegal immigrants and creating 100,000 new prison cells. Le Pen began his career as a torturer for the French army in the Algerian War.

Marine Le Pen, his daughter, who currently leads the FN and has expelled her father, called for deporting everyone who is requesting asylum in France and for the government of François Hollande to resign, even though it has adopted many of the FN’s positions. She wants the borders of France controlled by border police.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who was born in Spain, claims that France is “at war,” using the word nine times in a six-minute interview on TV2.

Declaring a state of war allows the French government to use extraordinary measures, like banning demonstrations, conducting raids and searches without any judicial oversight, and closing meeting halls, sports stadiums, bars and so on. The authorities can close whole neighborhoods and detain designated individuals who they say are interfering with their operations. The minister of the interior can even order house arrests of selected individuals. (L’Humanité, Nov. 19)

The French government is trying to use the Paris attacks to justify its military aggression in Western Asia and Libya, as well as keep the French people, who don’t support this aggression, in line.