Liberté Pour Qui: France’s Destructive Systemic Islamaphobia and Xenophobia

Before European colonialism reached the continent, African civilizations were vastly diverse and had individualistic identities with thriving economies and education systems, such as the prosperous Swahili trade empire.

All this changed when European powers began their infamous African land grab. Colonialism was glorified and the colonized were seen as uncivilized savages in need of proper European discipline, it was a sort of white-savior concept. This rhetoric led to a gross misrepresentation of African society. 

Entire populations and religions were demonized in order to gain global support for the continuation of European colonialism. Of all the demonized parts of the rich and diverse African cultures, Islam takes the top seat. 

Many profound examples of cataclysmic colonialism are the results of French colonization. Notably, the French colonies in North Africa that hosted flourishing majority Muslim populations display this form of international exploitation. In this newly acclaimed European territory,  French soldiers would enslave civilians and use them to destroy their own habitats via destructive labor like gold mining. When the bondservants revolted, like those in the battle of Algiers in 1954, they were violently killed in masses only to have their bodies returned to their loved ones decades later. 

Algerian revolutionaries demanding freedom from French colonizers|Photo courtesy of The Criterion Collection

France, while occupying the North African colonies, stole historically relevant and sacred treasures from entire civilizations. These artifacts make up one of France’s most prized tourist attractions: the Louvre Museum. According to The Washington Post, in 2017, France rejected efforts to reclaim thousands of objects looted in the 1890s from what was then the Kingdom of Dahomey. Such objects included royal thrones, scepters, and statues on display at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris.

“The goods you mention have been integrated for a long time, some for more than a century, into the public assets of the French state,” an unknown French official said in a communiqué obtained by France’s Liberation newspaper. “Their restitution is not possible.”

Stolen African artifacts| Photo courtesy of CTV News

Throughout the 19th century, French officers also relocated the colonial civilians to France in order to use them as a source of cheap labor. Although these Muslim-African immigrants helped create a booming economy and accounted/still account for a majority of France’s labor force, in modern-day France, they are systemically discriminated against.

Islamophobia plagues the world and is especially present in France due to historically racist and Islamaphobic rhetoric spread to justify colonialism. Terrorist attacks committed by people who identify as Muslims are deemed acts of “radical Islamic terrorism,” despite the fact that these events have nothing to do with the preachings and practices of Islam. 

Islam is primarily a religion of peace, hence the name of the religion exactly translating to peace from Arabic to English. The actions of this extremely small minority of  Muslims are amplified as harmful stereotypes and consequently overcome truth in the interpretation of Islam. 

As rumors of the “dangerous Muslims” spread,  their religion becomes tainted and their beliefs are misinterpreted. This religious discrimination impacts all Muslims, whether or not they are true representatives of the given stereotypes. 

French Muslims and allies protesting systemic Islamaphobia in modern-day France|Photo courtesy of Voice of America

French Muslim women, for example, are punished for taking pride in their religion. Their religious head coverings are, according to the French government, considered more criminal than refusing to wear a mask during a worldwide pandemic. Hate crimes are also surging among French citizens simply because of a difference in race or religion. French President Macron is instigating islamophobia by publicly stereotyping an entire religion based on a select few.

Just as  Christians are not blamed for the violent actions of the crusaders and other extreme white supremacist organizations, Muslims, and frankly all other people who follow different religions, should not be held accountable for people they do not associate with. Of the sixty-seven million French residents,  the five million Muslims have taken a huge role in improving the country. The religious group has helped France take home a victory in many prestigious sports tournaments, such as the Men’s World Cup, own a large portion of artifacts in the  Louvre Museum, and have also helped France achieve religious diversity. Each Muslim, just like in any other religion, must be treated as their own individual and held accountable for solely their own actions. Racism and Islamophobia continue to be perpetuated by major world powers like France, Britain, and even the United States; for similar motives as those in the colonial periods. The suppression of thriving minorities allows for said world powers to continue to maintain their hold on the world and its functions.

A small yet powerful minority can still control and manipulate a divided community, no matter how large that community may be. Racism, and general fear of diversity, is toxic to the development of inclusive and prosperous societies. The world needs to look beyond their own self-interests and past their microaggressions, to realize that they have dehumanized and demonized entire populations for their own benefit. As demonstrated by historical occurrences, collective selfishness can only lead to collective demise. 

Written by Roaa Alkhawaja

Co-Editor in Chief and Senior, Ro'aa Alkhawaja, loves herself a good week of reading, baking, tea-drinking, and eating more Nutella sandwiches than should be humanly possible.

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