When an immigrant tries to fit into another society and the society remains keen to impose its biased values on them, the cultural clash can give rise to irrational phobias and hatred.The French authorities know well enough how to use this fear of conflict as diversionary tactics in politics. Only the freedom of speech suited to French values is promoted, laws based on social stigmas, disregarding freedom of expression are proposed, and discriminatory ideologies are advocated in the name of equality. All of this displays the recent hypocritical approach that the French government has taken for it’s minorities.
France stands with almost ten percent population of immigrants and a long history of racial and ethnic discrimination. Foreigners are seen as a threat to French values, immigration is often linked with crime, and multiculturalism doesn’t stand out in a good way. Immigrants are told to learn the French language and much of the ‘proper‘ identity is often tied up with historical linguistic domination. All of this and the continuous issue of ethnic profiling of those “others” is felt to be a major role for the bitter relation between the citizens and the State. This leaves the non-white, non-French speaking people vulnerable to hostile prejudices.
This narrative of immigrants not being French enough or civilised enough provides the current governing body sufficient manipulative control to demonstrate its barren hypocrisy. The singular idea of what it means to be French is the basis on which far-right politicians have fought elections and thrived. As a policy, they have been scapegoating the not-French-enough people for all that seems worrying in the society. A threatened and diminishing French culture is presented. The culprits? The people of African and the Arab descent, mostly Muslims.
France, based on the motto of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity has often and also recently showcased its violently grandeur defense on “right to blaspheme” under free speech rights. Amid heightened tensions between the French government and the Muslim world over cartoons, which Muslims consider to be blasphemous, Macron has said “I will always defend in my country the freedom to speak, to write, to think, to draw”. Now, although blasphemy is allowed if done to “others”, you cannot desecrate a French flag in public. Flag desecration includes physically damaging or verbally insulting the flag. This is a form of protest. It can be undertaken by the public to object against another country’s policies or one’s own. If equality and freedom of speech is what the French government embraces, it should let its people speak against the French national anthem or the French flag without being liable to a fine of €7,500 and six month imprisonment. A law makes it a crime to desecrate the French national flag in a public place, but also to distribute images of a flag desecration. It should also be kept in mind that blasphemy and desecration are synonymous.
Recently France has seen the formation of outrageous laws, critics of such draft legislation say it stigmatises the whole of France’s Muslim community. The simple reason is that the crooked monarchical basics of governance do not hold up in contemporary France made up of plural realities. Originally conceived for white, Christian people, the current developments go against France’s minority. Take for instance, the controversial Hijab ban, the French senators’ approval of an amendment to the bill calling for the “prohibition in the public space of any conspicuous religious sign by minors and of any dress or clothing which would signify inferiority of women over men”. The formation of the sentence itself is sickening. To believe that a particular dress is inferior to another, that a piece of clothing that Muslim women around the world take pride in wearing as a symbol of devotion and modesty is not equally representative of choice and their identity is not “French enough” is downright discrimination. The blatant hypocrisy flames up when we compare this with the age of consent for sexual intercourse which is fifteen – opening up speculations if the French governance is supporting what can become legalized pedophilia.
Currently, the French Government’s support for freedom of expression is so wonderful that by the second week of May, French President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling centrist party has barred a Muslim candidate Sara Zemmahi from running in a local election after she was photographed in a hijab for a campaign flyer. Also, France’s Interior minister has asked police to ban a pro-Palestinian protest in Paris against the recent escalation of Israeli air raids in the besieged Palestinian territory of Gaza and crackdowns in the occupied East Jerusalem and West Bank.
The clear problem is France’s inability to recognise Islamophobia and anti-Arab xenophobia as hate speech. Under the disguise of Republican universalism, people’s freedoms of expression are denied. Jérémie Gilbert, Professor of Human Rights Law at Roehampton Law School puts it accurately: “Believe it or not, the idea of equality at all costs has actually been used to oppress minorities. By pretending we are all equal, politicians can ignore the fact that minorities exist“.
Farzan Ghani is a student pursuing English literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Rutba Iqbal
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.