This Article is From Jan 09, 2015

In France, Muslims Fear Backlash

(Noopur Tiwari is Independent Journalist and NDTV Consulting Resident Editor, Europe)

In the street leading to the Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris, people trickle in steadily to pay tributes. The mound of flowers grows against the barricade put up by the police to block the scene of crime on Wednesday, 12 people were shot dead in an attack on the office of the satirical magazine by three armed men wearing black masks and hoodies.  

When a prominent Imam arrives on the spot, there is a scrum of reporters. There is loud cheering for every statement he makes condemning the killers. Hassen Chalghoumi, the French Imam of a Parisian suburb called Drancy, speaking in Urdu to  NDTV says, "These are not Muslims. These are enemies of Islam. They don't value human life. Murder is not Islam."

France is reeling under the shock of the gruesome attack on Charlie Hebdo. People have shown a certain sense of defiance in their grief. Thousands have been coming out into streets and squares to express their outrage for what they see as a direct assault on the freedom of expression. But could this fervor be drowning certain difficult questions related to how France treats some of its own citizens? Laicite or French secularism is rooted in  anti-clerical sentiments and is also used often as a stick to beat citizens of immigrant, mostly of Muslim origin.

Some insist that if France really cares for liberty of expression, it should allow space not just to those who are anti-clerical but also to those who are religious. Practicing Muslims and people of Muslim culture face discrimination in France and the Charlie Hebdo killings could add to their stigmatisation.  Since the attack on Wednesday, a series of mosques were targeted in different parts; nobody was injured.

Nacira Guenif-Suilamas, a French Sociologist, says she hopes these events will lead to some taboo questions finally being addressed "to get to the reality that for  the past 15 years,Islamophobia has been ignored (in France) in all its  implications and the discrimination that it triggers." That the killings are reprehensible goes without saying, but Ms Guenif-Suilamas also believes that asking tough questions is the only way to "counter the politics of fear and the use of terror against freedom of expression".

This would perhaps be a good time to remember that the condemnation of the killings and the support for freedom of expression are views that are not held exclusively by non-Muslim French citizens.

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