Since the terrorist attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the country’s Muslim community, despite universally and repeatedly condemning the attack, has come under a wave of misguided “reprisal” attacks.
The attacks are being mapped by a respected British anti-Islamophobia group, Tell MAMA UK (MAMA stands for measuring anti-Muslim attacks). This map details the incidents since they began, mere hours after the Charlie Hebdo attack:
- Three training grenades thrown at a mosque in Le Man; a bullet hole was also found in one of the mosque windows
- A bomb blast at a restaurant adjacent to and associated with a mosque in Villefranche-sur-Saone
- Gunshots fired at a mosque in Port-la-Nouvelle
- A boar’s head and entrails were left outside an Islamic prayer center in Corsica with a note: “Next time it will be one of your heads.”
The attacks have been relatively small-scale, especially compared to the Charlie Hebdo massacre and subsequent violence committed by its apparent culprits. The only serious harm so far came from a gang assaulting a 17-year-old of North African descent. But these incidents point to a long-worsening trend of hostility in France toward the country’s Muslim minority, which makes up an estimated eight to 10 percent of the population, and a sense among French Muslims that they are not welcome.
The apparent logic of the mosque attacks badly misunderstands the initial Charlie Hebdo attack: if it was carried out by al-Qaeda-linked extremists, as early reports suggest, then this is a group that has made fellow Muslims its primary victims.
Further, such attacks play directly into al-Qaeda’s own logic and agenda, treating the act of few fringe extremists as representative of the non-extremist whole, and fomenting the idea of existential conflict between non-Muslims and Muslims where none actually exists.
It’s important to understand, though, that these attacks and the sentiment behind them did not come from nowhere. French attitudes toward Islam are, to say the least, complex — something evidenced at every stage of this story.
The growth of France’s Muslim population has led to deep concern about what that means for France’s secular traditions. The government banned head scarves and other religious symbols from public schools in 2004. In 2014, they banned concealing one’s face in public — a ban widely seen as targeting burqas and niqabs and suggesting that devout Muslim women were unwelcome in public life.
Of course, a ban on Muslim head coverings is nowhere near the same things as this spate of anti-Muslim violence, but both are rooted in a similar hostility toward Islam and Muslim immigrants in France, and contribute to the sense of siege among French Muslims.