Marine Le Pen was never really the story so much as the symptom. Ever since global terrorism set the new norm in terms of a permanent threat of bombs in public spaces, mass shootings or crowd-ploughing trucks, the politics of identity has found a new source of legitimisation in France.
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French Muslims have long been part of France’s history, often times for the worst. In 2016, after the summer was marked by a national hysteria surround the burkini ban by several mayors from the left and the right, racism specifically targeting Muslims has reached new heights as the presidential election is approaching.
Every major newspaper has now covered the story of yet another ban targeting French Muslim women. After banning the headscarf in public schools, banning veiled Muslim mothers from attending school field trips, prohibiting self-employed nannies from wearing a headscarf, after the French Minister of Women’s Affairs compared veiled Muslim women to “Negroes in favour of slavery,” and even after the former president Nicolas Sarkozy declared that veiled Muslim women are not welcome in France and his party mate Nadine Morano compared them to Nazis, the mayor of the city of Cannes has issued a decree prohibiting the full body swimsuit, or burkini, on public beaches.
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The city of Sarajevo, Bosnia hosted a European Islamophobia Summit this June that brought together leading politicians, academics and activists for intensive discussions on the wave of anti-Muslim sentiment sweeping across Europe and North America. Held for two three days, the featured three former top government officials from Western Europe -- former British Foreign Minister Jack Straw (UK), ex-Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero and former French Minister of Foreign Affairs and Doctors Without Borders co-founder Bernard Kouchner -- in its opening session. With them was sitting Al Jazeera English host Mehdi Hassan, who delivered an impassioned speech lashing out at the narrative of Islamophobes and terrorist organisations alike that are seeking to -- as ISIL puts it -- destroy the "gray zone," or the space of coexistence between Muslims and non-Muslims in the West.
France’s Muslim population has always existed under a shadow of scrutiny and misunderstanding. The attacks in Paris in November 2015 have made things much worse. The French government hasn’t done much to temper, let alone challenge, the anti-Muslim climate that intensified after the attacks, and President Francoise Hollande’s pro-war rhetoric, designed to appease a restless domestic situation, made it even harder for French Muslims to live their daily lives with any sense of security or normality.