A formal complaint to the UN, signed by a NZ Muslim group, says France’s Islamophobic laws and policies are entrenching discrimination and breaching human rights laws.
The Khadija Leadership Network has joined a global coalition of Muslim organisations to formally complain about the French government’s systemic entrenchment of Islamophobia and discrimination against Muslims.
In the first complaint of its kind, a group of 36 Muslim organisations have submitted a forensic complaint to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), requesting that it open a formal infringement procedure against Emmanuel Macron’s government.
The complaint, which includes organisations from 13 countries, asserts the French government has enacted an array of Islamophobic state policies, in its quest to stamp out separatism.
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As New Zealand begins its journey to enhance better understanding, support and promotion of tolerance in the wake of the 2019 Christchurch terror attack, France is becoming more divided.
France has a large Muslim population, estimated at 5 million. It also has a long and complex history when it comes to both islamic extremism and Islamophobia.
These tensions have again come to the fore in recent months, following the violent beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty.
“It is extremely shocking to know that mosques, Muslim schools and Muslim-led charities are being shut down by the state in violation of their basic human rights to exist and be … We need France to know they cannot continue to breach their own international obligations so brazenly, and for our Muslim brothers and sisters to know we stand with them in solidarity.”
– Tayyaba Khan, NZ Khadija Leadership Network
The murder – categorised an Islamic terrorist act – took place in October, after Paty showed cartoons of the prophet Muhammad to his students in a lesson on freedom of expression.
In the days following the beheading, two Muslim women were repeatedly stabbed under the Eiffel Tower.
These attacks came as the French government unveiled its draft ‘separatism’ law (Loi confortant les principes républicains, or law confirming republican principles).
While the law doesn’t specifically single out islamist radicalism, it’s clearly where the focus lies.
In December, Prime Minister Jean Castex said the law “is not a text against religions or against the Muslim religion, in particular”. Instead, he said, it was “a bill of freedom, a bill of protection, a bill of emancipation from Islamist fundamentalism”.
Macron said the project was aimed at rooting out what he called ‘separatists’, who were undermining the country and its fundamental values.
But the law has been met with significant backlash from the Muslim community, who say it promotes division, discrimination and isolation.
One of the proposals of the draft law was a complete ban on homeschooling, with exemptions only given for medical reasons.
This provision aimed to make schooling mandatory from age three, and stop children from being radicalised and exposed to foreign religious influences at home.
“Schools must first and foremost instil the values of the Republic and not those of a religion, and educate citizens, not worshippers,” Macron said.
Following a public backlash, and official advice, the government watered down this provision. Instead, those homeschooling their children would have to seek approval, and home-schooled children would be given a national identification number – a practice some say would still breach the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The law also proposes the creation of a new hate-speech crime – similar to those being discussed in New Zealand.
And it aims to introduce further oversight of religious practices and associations, and promote dignity (especially the dignity of women that could be undermined by religious practices) and secularism (where any person or entity representing the state or providing a state service will have to respect the principles of secularism and neutrality of public service).
Outside of the separatism bill, the past few years has seen the government cracking down on religious associations and organisations.
This has led to the closure of mosques, Muslim schools and Muslim-led charities. In some cases, these investigations and closures have involved house raids, where children have witnessed violence or been subjected to questioning by authorities.
“We need France to know they cannot continue to breach their own international obligations so brazenly, and for our Muslim brothers and sisters to know we stand with them in solidarity.” – Tayyaba Khan
The Khadija Leadership Network, and the other signatories of the complaint to the UN, said the complaint highlighted how France had exploited fear and prejudice against Muslims to violate their religious, political and basic rights.
“This trend has led to Muslim communities becoming targets of increased hostility, Islamophobia and more violence against Muslims.”
There was a pressing need to combat the negative repercussions of governmental Islamophobic attitudes and events, the group said.
“Macron’s hostile disproportionate repercussions are not based on empirical evidence,” the complaint said.
“On the contrary, religion and ideology are not primary motivators for violent extremism, radicalisation is a social issue.”
The authors also referred to research, including that by leading Australian counter-terrorism academic Professor Anne Aly, which said radicalisation followed a sense of isolation and exclusion from society.
“Factors such as anger at injustice, moral superiority, a sense of identity and purpose, the promise of adventure, and becoming a hero have all been implicated in case studies of radicalisation,” Aly wrote in a Guardian opinion column.
“Religion and ideology serve as vehicles for an ‘us versus them’ mentality and as the justification for violence against those who represent ‘the enemy’, but they are not the drivers of radicalisation.”
This discussion about the drivers of radicalisation, as well as what can be done to prevent radicalisation, have been discussed at length In New Zealand, in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack.
It’s been widely acknowledged by government, community groups and civil society that more work needs to be done to enhance community ties, support, and programmes to ensure understanding of different cultures and religions. Relying on punitive legislation alone would not be enough.
The need to build understanding and support among, and between, different communities was reiterated in the recently released report from the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch Terror Attack, which recommended the public sector to grow, nurture and support social cohesion.
“Fundamental to New Zealand’s future wellbeing and security is social cohesion,” the report said.
“While social cohesion in New Zealand is much higher than many other countries, there are fault lines.”
The commissioners said maintaining and enhancing social cohesion was a “vital task” for the government.
But the signatories of the complaint to the UN say France’s policies and measures aimed to crack down on separatism and radicalisation were leading to division, rather than cohesion.
“The measures alienate and isolate the Muslim community, creating a hostile environment in which the common Muslim citizen fears their government for Muslim-hatred-based human rights violations… France must fight against Islamophobia and intolerance instead of causing it.”
Khadija Leadership Network founder and chief executive Tayyaba Khan said as a community that had recently experienced the loss of 51 lives due to Islamophobia, which had been embedded by media and states around the worlds, it was important Muslim organisations raised they concerns to help those affected in France.
“It is extremely shocking to know that mosques, Muslim schools and Muslim-led charities are being shut down by the state in violation of their basic human rights to exist and be,” Khan said.
The United Nations was founded on values of freedom, democracy, equality, fundamental human rights and the rule of law, the complaint said. The restricting and oppressing measures imposed on Muslims in France disregarded the UN’s core values.
The hostility towards Muslims resulted in discrimination, prejudices and unequal treatment resulting in exclusion from civil, political and social rights, they said.
The coalition called on France to take all appropriate measures to combat intolerance on the grounds of religion in this matter, adding that the UNHRC needed to ensure the enforcement of the international treaties and conventions, to which France was a signatory.
“We need France to know they cannot continue to breach their own international obligations so brazenly, and for our Muslim brothers and sisters to know we stand with them in solidarity,” Khan said.