On Oct. 16, Samuel Paty, a teacher in France, was brutally killed as he left his school. Paty had just finished teaching a nationally required class discussing “freedom of speech” as it related to the case of Charlie Hebdo magazine five years ago. At that time, a terrorist attack on the magazine killed many of those responsible for caricatures of Mohammad. A group of Muslims, accused of collaborating with the Charlie Hebdo attackers, are currently on trial.
Soon after Paty was killed, police fatally shot his killer, who had declared he was acting to protect Islam.
Despite his statement, Muslims living in France rejected his act. Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, called on imams throughout France to condemn terrorism during their Friday sermons.
Groups of Islamic organizations also took part in large national demonstrations on Oct. 20 to condemn terrorism, support teachers — who say they feel under attack — and honor the memory of Paty. (Europe 1, Oct. 23)
President Emmanuel Macron’s center-right government, which has brutally used police against Yellow Vest demonstrators and striking workers, tried to take advantage of the revulsion against Paty’s murder to make political gains. Minister of Interior Gérald Darmanin, proclaiming that France was at war, began a series of sharp actions against Muslims and their organizations in France.
In effect, he declared war on France’s six million Muslims and on anti-imperialist organizations.
The government claims it is confronting a “terrorist murder conspiracy” and thus is justified in conducting hundreds of raids against individuals and organizations, banning Muslim aid organizations and deporting hundreds of foreigners it deems “suspicious.”
Darmanin labeled the Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) “an enemy of the republic.” The CCIF began its struggle against anti-Muslim bigotry in 2004. It has helped thousands of French Muslims fight discrimination and has been able to mobilize big demonstrations.
The regime also banned the pro-Palestinian group Collectif Cheikh Yassine. Anti-communists tagged the French Communist Party’s headquarters with a sign calling the PCF “collaborators in terrorism.” Some prominent right-wing French politicians tweeted out the pictures.
The racist, anti-Muslim crusade that French President Emmanuel Macron and his On the March party are currently whipping up is also part of his rivalry with Marine Le Pen’s openly racist and anti-Muslim National Rally party. Le Pen finished second to Macron in the last presidential election and is his most likely rival in the 2022 presidential race.
In France, a smaller proportion of the population say they practice religion than in any other European country. French laws and traditions encourage “laïcité,” which means a secular, non-religious approach to politics and to most French institutions, like schools.
But Muslims, from former colonies of French imperialism in North or West Africa, now make up nearly 10 percent of the people living in France and the largest number who practice any religion.
While workers and farmers in France won secularism as a progressive demand of revolutions and class struggles, in the current situation the Macron government is wielding secularism against a section of the population that has been systematically oppressed. Interior Minister Darmanin even went on television to denounce grocery stores having sections for halal food, saying he was shocked at stores selling “communitarian,” or Muslim-oriented, food.