Islamophobia assaults in Argenteuil

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 By Marjorie MOYA

 

“Islamophobic aggressions in Argenteuil”, “Islamophobia kills in Argenteuil”, “Muslim women molested in Argenteuil”, etc. Within a few days, the current events of Argenteuil, a French suburb of Paris, became headlines and spread all over social networks, Muslim dedicated websites, associations or organizations.

Argenteuil was indeed the scene of three violent and islamophobic muggings of assumed Muslim young women (all of them wearing hijab, niqab or jilbab). The first one occurred on May, 20th, when Rabia, seventeen years old, was assaulted by two men, described as skinheads. Three weeks later, on June, 11th, Sofia, a full veiled Muslim (which in France is forbidden since 2011), was the victim of zealous policemen who insulted, humiliated, brutalized, and finally arrested her in front of a crowd of Argenteuil residents. To those of them who tried to interfere and protect Sofia, the policemen replied with flashball shootings and tear-gas grenades. The tension came to its climax when two days later, on June, 13th, Leila, twenty-one, was extremely violently attacked by two men (also described as skinheads). She was insulted, her aggressors tore her veil, cut her hair, and as she was pleading them to stop because she was pregnant, she was kicked in the belly.  

 

During the days that followed the last aggression, the shock and emotion among the French Muslim community was highly vivid, especially when Leila’s lawyer announced her miscarriage. Muslim anonymous, intellectuals, leaders spread the news, share their anger and widespread feelings on the Internet. The main French Islamic organizations (UOIF, CFCM, LFFM, etc.)[1], as well as antiracist and anti-islamophobic associations (CCIF, CRI, PIR, etc.)[2], strongly denounced what happened in Argenteuil as the result of the strong and growing islamophobic climate within the French society and institutions.

But above all, they all pointed one fact : the silence around Argenteuil muggings. And indeed, the events were surrounded by silence. Silence of the media : only the last attack was rapidly mentioned on TV, the local and national press (Le Parisien, Libération, Le Nouvel Observateur, Le Monde) dedicated very few articles on the subject, most of them being factual or doubtful about the truthfulness of the victims’ testimonies. Silence of mainstream antiracist or feminist associations. Caroline Fourest, a columnist who says to be an antiracist and feminist activist, declared that as the victims were attacked because they were Muslims (and not women), we shouldn’t be revolted as feminist but as antiracist only. Silence of most political representatives : no firm condemnation, no straight recognition of the islamophobic nature of the aggressions, a few words for the victims. Only timid and mild reactions (from the Mayor of Argenteuil and the chief Commissioner of police) occurred lately, under the urge and pressure of the local population and associations. And silence of the French government. Members of the French government didn’t react at all or, if so, they did it several days after the aggressions. Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Women Rights Secretary and spokeswoman of the government, made no official statement. She expressed her concern on Tweeter. French President François Hollande officially reacted more than ten days after the last aggression. His declaration was a simple address to assert the government’s determination to struggle against racist acts of all kind, including anti-Muslim acts. As for the Home Secretary, the very controversial Manuel Valls he first proposed a meeting with the victims at his Department but didn’t dare to welcome them in person. He finally did because his disrespectful attitude was criticized.

 

This silence emphasizes a general lack of concern for the Muslim community and a total lack of interest for the question of islamophobia in France. The fact that the victims are Muslim veiled women makes harder to condemn and to protest against, when politics from both left and right wings, mainstream media, antiracist and “feminist” associations created and developed islamophobic feelings among people, supported and promoted anti-Islamic veil campaigns for years (let’s just quote Manuel Valls’ recent statement : “The veil […] remains for me and must remains for the Republic an essential fight”). This generalized silence highlights a double standard policy when it comes to Muslims, and to Muslim veiled women especially. A parallel can be drawn between the Argenteuil islamophobic aggressions and two other affairs that aroused vivid reactions and great general mobilizations all over the country. The first one, known as the “The affair of the RER D”, is about a so-called antisemitic aggression (of a woman) in a Parisian suburban train that created a general and immediate indignation among media, feminist and antiracist associations, and politics. A few days after, it happened that the woman was a mythomaniac and made up the whole story. Rabia, Sofia and Leila were far from having such concern and support. The second affair is maybe even more meaningful, as it happens at the same moment as the aggressions of Argenteuil. On June, 6th, Clément Méric, an eighteen-years-old left wing and antiracist activist, was beaten to death by two skinheads in Paris. For days, this tragic event was – rightly – commented and deplored by the entire media, associative, and political spheres. Several gatherings were organized by antifascist associations and left wing unions all over the capital in the memory of Clément. Thousands of people came to protest against fascist and extremist organizations and express their concern. A hundred of people only – mostly Muslims – attended the Argenteuil gatherings to support Rabia, Sofia, and Leila.

The manifestations around Clément’s death highlight an unconscious paradox as far as islamophobia is concerned. The day after the last Argenteuil gathering, a certain number of associations and organizations – mostly antiracist and left wing – called for a unitary gathering against fascism and racism, trying to include other victims – of racism, sexism or homophobia – in their claims for justice and equality. These organizations didn’t attend to the Argenteuil gathering against islamophobia, a large majority of them didn’t even denounce the islamophobic nature of the aggressions. They think racism as an epiphenomenon, typical from right and extreme right wings. So they protest against racism and call for justice whereas a lot of them don’t recognize islamophobia as a specific form of racism, and support anti-Islamic veil campaigns that led, for example, to the prohibition of the veil in public schools or the prohibition of full-veil in the public sphere.     


Muslims and anti-islamophobia activists are unfortunately used to double standard policy. They are confronted to daily, common, media, political, and institutionalized islamophobia. Nevertheless, the Argenteuil aggressions reveal a deep worrying level of islamophobia. It is noticeable not only in the acts, but also in the general indifference and paradoxal attitudes that surround these events, giving them even more credit, and encouraging the spread of islamophobic speeches and actions.    

 

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[1] UOIF (Union des Organisations Islamiques de France) : French Islamic Organizations Union ; CFCM (Conseil Français du Culte Musulman) : Muslim Religion French Council ; LFFM (Ligue Française de la Femme Musulmane (Muslim Woman French League).

[2] CCIF (Collectif contre l’Islamophobie en France) : Collective Against Islamophobia in France ; CRI (Coordination contre le Racisme et l’Islamophobie) : Coordination against Racism and Islamophobia ; PIR (Parti des Indigènes de la République) : Party of the Republic Natives.

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