Consider this: 74% of French people believe that Islam is incompatible with the values of the French Republic, according to a poll published by Le Monde in January. How do you get to a situation where more than two thirds of a population start to think that Muslims are a threat to the values of a nation? This problem, and it is a problem, is not one that has simply transpired overnight.
It has taken years of building up Islamophobia in France, always a cry against Islam and largely its visibility in the public sphere. After all, France is meant to be a secular state, where religion and the political state are separate. The irony here, of course, is that for the government to get involved in matters of religion, such as taking away the right of Muslim women to wear the burqa should they want, organising a national debate about Islam, or even banning the wearing of the headscarf in schools, is precisely going against the principle of laïcité, a strong republican value that they are supposedly looking to uphold.
Yet each of these steps have led us to the situation where Islamophobia in France is barely making news. It was hardly reported in French national newspapers, for example, when the SNCF issued a request to its Gare du Nord staff that "no blacks or Arabs" were to be amongst the delegation welcoming Israeli president Shimon Peres to the station - the ironic twist this time that Peres had come to France with the specific purpose of fostering relations with the Muslim community.
Instead what is making the news are Islamophobic comments made by politicians and journalists, accompanied by despicable and sensationalist front pages. "How Islam will change France and Europe", "The fear of Islam" and "Why does Islam scare the French?" have all graced the covers of well-renowned French magazines. This slow infiltration into regular society has only led to the buildup of ongoing legitimisation of Islamophobia in the country. Arguably, it has started to become acceptable in France to publicly condemn someone solely based on their religion - as long as they are Muslim. Perhaps France could do with Baroness Warsi's "dinner-table test" speech.
The latest example is possibly the worst yet, and despite being published for some weeks and floating around on social media networks, has yet to receive any official condemnation from government ministers. Notably "in favour of Islamophobia", as she proudly writes in her blog, Christine Tasin recently wrote an article for Boulevard Voltaire (hosted by Robert Ménard, the journalist who founded Reporters without Borders), entitled 'What would Muslims do once the Quran was banned?'
Her argument is simple. Remove "every sign of Islam [in the country], the scarf, the dishdasha, ritual slaughter, halal butchers, Muslim first names, mosques..." She then offers some goodwill by saying that "those born Muslim would have the choice of freely abdicating their religion" or "they would have the right to go to one of the 57 Muslim countries in the planet that practice Sharia law". It's fairly generous of her to offer anybody the opportunity "freely [abdicate] their religion". In fact, it's so generous, I don't think that anybody in the world has ever freely abdicated anything ever before.
But what if the Muslims don't leave? What if they're happy to stay put and instead protest against this malicious level of discrimination? Don't worry, Tasin has a plan. "[W]e should make them know that the army, sent to quell each threat, will not hesitate to fire into the crowd," she says, noting that it "is terrible but there will be no other way to calm things down and enforce our law." You can blink but the words won't change.
Islamophobia needs to be talked about for any sort of change to come about. We cannot, and should not, simply stand by while this level of discrimination takes place. This level of hatred must not be tolerated. President François Hollande and this Parti Socialiste government, while incredibly unpopular, have shown that they are prepared to stand up for what they believe in.
On the social front, within a year of coming to office, they have admirably managed to pass a bill that allows homosexual couples to marry in France. Yet they have stayed quiet on the issue of Islamophobia in France, perhaps wary of a dangerously low popularity rating (19% at the last count) and have not reacted to this piece, that has now garned nearly 10,000 'likes' on Facebook. In the last two months, discrimination has taken place at the SNCF, on Air France, at a French school and now this article has appeared to no governmental condemnation.
On another somber note, it is worth remembering at this point that when the Innocence of Muslims film was released online, the government even refused to allow Muslims to protest against it. "There's no reason for us to let a conflict that doesn't concern France come into our country," the Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said. Is there really any hope for France's Muslims to get any support now?