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France: Understanding the Roots of the Anti-separatism Bill

Understanding France’s decades long attacks via law and policy against ‘problem’ communities, notably ‘Blacks’, ‘Arabs’, ‘Muslims’ and the ‘Banlieues’ is a prerequisite for anyone trying to make sense of the current anti-separatism bill. Yasser Louati argues that the only way to challenge French state racism is a new political sophistication on the part of those sectors of civil and political society genuinely trying to find a way forward.

Emmanuel Macron promoting the Anti Separatism Bill

When Emmanuel Macron took the stage on October 2020 to launch his war against “Islamist separatism”, public opinion had been prepared for a new move against France’s multifaceted ‘problem’: Arabs, Blacks, Muslims and the Banlieues. A few months prior, a massive march had been organised against police brutality and systemic racism in the wake of the racist murder of George Floyd in the US by a white police officer. If French elites were quick to call out America’s racial problem, they were less prone to look at the same racist violence that has been applied for decades against colonial and postcolonial immigrants and their descendants on French soil. It was therefore with utmost contempt that the demands of anti-racism protestors were rejected. Two terms were quickly imposed on the public debate: “separatism” and “ensauvagement” which can be translated to “turning into wild beasts”.

Describing France as being subjected to a coordinated campaign by “radical Muslims” to secede from the French Republic and create a “parallel society”, Emmanuel Macron called for a brutal repression of organised Muslims, charities, schools, places of worship and any initiative by Muslims to take part in civil society. Although in total violation of France’s commitments to protecting fundamental rights, the French president justified, just like his predecessors, that in the case of non-white minorities, the country is dealing with second class citizens that deserve exceptional measures.

For the candid observer of French society, the striking peculiarity of French Muslims is their negligible political weight and their incapacity to effectively organise. Had French Muslims been capable of mounting a coordinated political campaign against the Republic, they may not currently be suffering under the crushing weight of anti-Muslim laws (hijab ban in 2004, ban against veiled Muslim mothers attending school outings 2012, ban against veiled Muslim women from working as nannies and banning of long skirts for Muslim female students in 2015, full face veil ban in 2019 etc.) and virulent campaigns against their presence and visibility in the public space.

This essay will show the anti-separatism law is about preventing the existence of Muslim citizenry and how this is in direct continuation of France’s colonial policies.

In France before George Floyd

When on 22 June 2020, over 20,000 people rallied in Paris against systemic racism and police brutality in the wake of the George Floyd murder, a shock wave was sent through the government, mainstream media and opinion makers. The video of a white police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck played a role in mobilising French Black and Arab organizers whom had already been calling out France’s state brutality through law enforcement and systemic discrimination.

This particular period of repression which can be traced back to the beginning of the state of emergency declared in the aftermath of the November 2015 terrorist attacks quickly became a state campaign of reprisals against the country’s Muslim communities to the point of prompting United Nations Rapporteurs from the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council to issue a public call to “protect fundamental freedom”. Indeed, over 4000 raids had been carried out mostly against Muslim homes, businesses and places of worship with a tiny fraction leading to investigations for acts of terrorism. For instance, domestic intelligence had already warned as early as January 2016 that the state of emergency and France’s répression-only model were ineffective as clearly stated in the leaked Jounot Report from the National Secretariat for Defense and National Security (SGDSN).

Furthermore, as then president François Hollande (2012-2017) was unrolling his continuous justifications for an already decried state of emergency, it turned out that only 25 violations in connection with terrorism had been reported after 3062 raids and only four of them had led to investigations on terrorism grounds. The remaining 21 were related to “apology for terrorism” such as expressing publicly views perceived to support terrorism, e.g. Facebook posts. Of course, the interpretation of such apologies was the sole monopoly of the government. In sum, only 0.13% of those raids were actually effective. But in the meantime, thousands of innocent people were subjected to state brutality and humiliation with kids being sent into foster care or exposed to parents being held at gunpoint and whole communities being humiliated by the ransacking of their mosques. The consequences of such operations are yet to appear as children who witnessed them could suffer from long term trauma with zero guarantees that this will not fuel resentment once they become adults.

But brutal repression was not sufficient for François Hollande who took the matter further and CONTINUE READING

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