This essay by Gwyneth Henke was awarded first place in the 2020 contest sponsored by the St. Louis Chapter of Citizens for Global Solutions.
On October 16, 2020, an 18-year-old Muslim man beheaded a French teacher, Samuel Paty. During a lesson on free speech, Paty had shown his class disparaging cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, printed by French newspaper Charlie Hebdo in 2012. Although the crime itself was gruesome, tragic, and shocking, the anti-Muslim backlash in France has been equally troubling. The public mourning and grief over Paty’s death, although understandable in the wake of the loss of any civil servant, has been mobilized—intentionally or not—to fan the flames of anti-Muslim sentiment throughout the country, with French Muslims being forced to prove their worth and their loyalty to the French state.
Following the killing, the French government announced that they would begin the process of shutting down Muslim organizations they claimed negatively impacted the fight against extremism, including the Collective for the Fight Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), a non-profit whose goal is to promote awareness, inclusion, and diversity. The French interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, said of CCIF that it was an “agency against the republic.” The French police also instigated a wave of mass deportations against people they claimed held extreme religious beliefs. Finally, immediately after the killing, the French police conducted raids on “suspected Islamist groups and individuals accused of extremism,” and Darmanin announced publicly that these raids were intended to “send a message.” One must ask: to whom is that message intended? Do such actions really only speak to the scattered violent extremists in the country? Or do they encourage all French Muslims–and all Muslims worldwide–to be afraid for the safety of their own families? Paty’s murder, and the actions which followed it, offer a devastatingly acute example of the culture of fear, bias, and exclusion that Islamophobia brings.
[The rest of this piece can be read on the Citizens for Global Solutions website.]