France and the “Muslim Takeover”
“Hey! We avenged the Prophet Muhammad! We killed Charlie Hebdo.” These were the words of the gunmen after they executed twelve people in the office of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine, on January 7. The publication is known for its controversial political cartoons, which often openly mock a variety of public figures and groups. For years, the magazine has been subject to threats from Muslim extremists due to their satirical cartoons on Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. After a nearly two-day search, and two separate hostage situations, three of the suspects are dead and one is believed to have fled to Syria.
This tragic event has only added to the non-Muslim population’s increasingly negative feelings toward its Muslim population. France’s Muslim population has been growing steadily throughout the past few decades. Between just 2009 and 2014, France’s Muslim population grew by 110%. Currently, there are around seven million reported Muslims residing in France, composing around 12% of their population. Because of the relative strength of France’s economy, its lenient immigration policies, and the European Union’s Schengen Agreement of 1995, it is not surprising that France became, and remains, a popular destination for immigration. The Schengen Agreement opened borders between all European countries, allowing immigrants to gain a visa and enter another EU member state at will.
As a result of the Schengen Agreement and the expanding Muslim population that it brought to France, the phenomenon of the “Muslim takeover” began to spread in France. Feared by some of the more right-wing French political parties, the “Muslim Takeover” is the idea that France’s rising Muslim population will eventually take over control of the government, and that France will become a Muslim nation. Adding fuel to the fire is a provocative new book written by one of France’s most famous authors. Released on January 7 and titled “Soumission,” the novel describes the transformation of France into an Islamic nation by 2022 and warns that soon all French citizens will have to follow Islamic customs and practices. The book has faced lots of backlash among the French population, and coupled with the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters by Islamic extremists, has no doubt contributed to extreme anti-Islamic sentiments around the country. Although the majority of France’s Muslim population is not violent, fear has nonetheless begun to form within France and all of Europe toward Muslim populations.
While living in France this past fall, I was able to observe first hand the already increasing negative opinions toward the Muslim population. Most notably, opinions toward Muslims began to deteriorate as ISIS continued to gain more momentum in the Middle East. Although ISIS is clearly a threat to all Western Nations, the French have felt the need to be especially cautious because of its large Muslim population. In the past six months, more than 1,200 French citizens have left France to go to Syria to fight with ISIS. There has been concern that these citizens will return from Syria, and carry terrorist attacks out on French soil; as evidenced by the Charlie Hebdo attack, those concerns were clearly warranted even though Al-Qaeda rather than ISIS did the attack.
In either case, the attacks were indeed tragic, and the French need to remain vigilant in the wake of these attacks. At the same time, these attackers were only a few of France’s seven million Muslims. The actions of a few should in no way dictate the treatment of the group as a whole. Since the attacks, hundreds of thousands of French Muslims have come together with the rest of the French population to mourn those that their country lost, and to help the country recover. The best strategy for the French is to embrace them, not to further alienate them.