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Abstract

The question of how to deal with the “Muslim problem” has once again arisen in France, opening old wounds of colonization and cultural racism. France’s rich Christian past and the historical context of the French-Algerian conflict are key players in the modern suffering of Muslims in French Society. Its colonization of Africa included nations such as Morocco, Indochina, Madagascar and notably in this context, Algeria in 1830. In their valiant fight for independence, the National Liberation Front was launched by Algerians and resulted in a bloody struggle that still haunts the Muslim-French relations in modern France. Though Algeria achieved its independence in 1962, the overall negative attitude towards immigrants from the region remains.

Beyond the impact of colonization, the imbalanced living conditions of Muslims and their fellow Frenchmen, as seen by the French banlieues, have turned into a hunting ground for jihadists. The skewed standard of living, exacerbated by the predatory manner of jihadists, suggests that the French be held under a standard of collective responsibility. Thus, under the failing social constructs of the banlieue, Abdelmajid Hannoum’s article “Cartoons, Secularism, and Inequality,” published following the attack on Charlie Hebdo, speaks to the means by which the French ideals of fraternity and equality do not apply to the Muslim populace on the basis of historical animosity and ingrained Islamophobia.

Moreover, failure of the French government to unbiasedly enforce their policy of complete secularism plays into the discrimination against Muslims and interferes with the performance of religious traditions, such as in the case of the 2004 ban, which unjustly prevents females from wearing their hijabs, burkas and niqabs. As addressed in The Republic Unsettled: Muslim French and the Contradictions of Secularism by Mayanthi Fernando, there had been attempts to police the religious headwear of Muslim women previously which calls into question the validity of France’s claim to secularism. Legislation like the ban of 2004 allows for blatant discrimination. Unchecked, these factors lead to violent outbursts of extremist retaliation, which is followed by the notion of collective responsibility and pushing of a narrative that holds all Muslims as potential terrorists. Through media, unchecked publications run rampant with this damaging ideal, supporting islamophobia to help to justify discrimination. In the instance of the Charlie Hebdo attack, the common narrative pointed to the attack occurring from born and bred Muslims, but in reality, the guilty parties were driven into jihadism by a number of failings in social service programs. To supplement the research and cold fact, the novel I Die by This Country by Fawzia Zouari, which is based on a real French headline, speaks to the ongoing, every day struggle that French Muslims still endure.

There is an evident link between the lasting economic, political and social inequalities faced by 21st century French-Muslims and their historical conflicts with French imperialism and deep-rooted Christian attitudes. The influence of history on the struggle of French Muslims in the 21st century is displayed by the grouping of Muslims into lower income communities, as well as headlines of police violence and anti-Muslim attitudes taken on by political leaders. The conflicts faced by Muslims within the French state is not secularism and until all citizens are, in the eyes of the state, regarded as French first and foremost, conflicts of violence and terror will continue to gain a foothold.

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