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Attacks, threats target French mosques, Muslims amid rising Islamophobia

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
File photo of Arrahma mosques in France’s western city of Nantes

A second mosque in France has been attacked ahead of the holy month of Ramadan days after the French Senate approved an amendment to another Islamophobic bill by the lower House, sparking fierce outrage on social media outlets.

Vandals defaced the walls of Avicenna Islamic Cultural Center in the northwestern city of Rennes with Islamophobic graffiti, local officials declared on Sunday just days after the Arrahma mosque in the western city of Nantes was set on fire on Thursday destroying its main door.

A caretaker and members of the local Muslim community in Rennes discovered the graffiti early Sunday on the walls of the Islamic center, which included tags insulting Islam and Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), as well as references to resuming the Crusades and a call for Catholicism to be made the state religion.

Also on Friday, a 24-year-old “neo-Nazi” was charged for making threats against a mosque in the city of Le Mans -- also in western France, local media reported.

The series of anti-Islam incidents came amid what many Muslims in the European country have described as surging hostility against their community, incited by the French government’s increasing Islamophobic policies that seek to vilify Islam and dictate to Muslim residents and institutions how to practice their religion.

The attacks also coincided with France’s latest legislative move to ban the wearing of hijab in public by Muslim girls under the age of 18, drawing fierce condemnation on social media platforms with widespread use of the hashtag #HandsOffMyHijab.

The French Senate’s move against the hijab – a widely diverse headdress worn by practicing Muslim women – came last Wednesday as part of a persisting push by Paris to impose a so-called “anti-separatism” law that purportedly aims to reinforce the country’s secular system.

Reacting to the latest attacks on mosques across France, president of the National Observatory Against Islamophobia, Abdallah Zekri, denounced the current anti-Islam climate in a country that preaches democracy and freedom of religion.

“Unfortunately, the declarations of certain politicians are only making things worse,” he said as quoted by AFP.

France’s rightist interior min. censures mosque attack

Leading the political denunciation of the incidents, however, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin condemned the defacing of an Islamic center with hateful graffiti as “unacceptable” and ordered law enforcement agencies on Sunday to increase vigilance around Muslim places of worship in the country.  

“The anti-Muslim inscriptions that have been inscribed on this cultural and religious center are unacceptable. Freedom of worship in France is a fundamental freedom,” Darmanin claimed during a visit to the Avicenna mosque in Rennes.

This is while Darmanin -- a conservative in President Emmanuel Macron’s government -- is the main sponsor of legislation passing through parliament that is allegedly designed to challenge what it portrays as encroaching fundamentalism that undermines French values.

France follows a strict form of secularism -- known as “laicité” – purportedly aimed at separating religion and public life, despite its insistence on freedom of religion.

Meanwhile, the French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM) expressed concerns in a statement that the incident against the Islamic center in Rennes occurred two days after the arson attack on the mosque in Nantes as well as death threats against a prominent female Muslim journalist.

It further blamed the upsurge in anti-Muslim acts on the ongoing debates around a current piece of legislation “indiscriminately targeting” the Muslim community, insisting that such political debates “have unfortunately served as forums for haters of all stripes.”

French Muslim journalist gets death threats asks Macron for protection

Moreover, French Muslim journalist Nadiya Lazzouni who has been critical of the government’s growing Islamophobia campaign in the past year, has appealed to President Macron for protection after receiving death threats.

Lazzouni, who gained popularity by debating conservative French politicians on TV and arguing against the ban on hijab, told the BFM TV channel she was in contact with Macron’s administration and had asked him for protection, noting that she was informed by a presidential security adviser that the authorities were treating the situation “very seriously” and “an investigation has been launched in order to assess the degree of the threats.”

Lazzouni shared a photo on social media of a handwritten letter she said had been sent to her, containing insults and threats of putting “a bullet in [her] neck.”

The journalist also called on Interior Minister Darmanin and Citizenship Minister Marlene Schiappa to take action against the hate campaign against her and “all Muslims living in France.” 

She later further insisted that the media were “complacent” in the toxic climate, which stigmatizes the Muslim community.

Lazzouni, first gained prominence three years ago by debating conservative politicians on French TV shows and arguing against a proposal to ban Muslim headscarves for mothers accompanying students on school trips.

She also spoke out against Islamophobia in an interview with Al Jazeera news outlet in 2019, complaining that there was “no social backlash” against Islamophobic views across France, further blasting the French government for promoting a message that Muslims are “a disguised enemy from within the country.”

Following a string of terrorist attacks in France last year in the wake of the publication of derogatory cartoons against Islam’s Prophet, the French government introduced a bill that allowed for a crackdown on groups and individuals suspected of “extremism” and undermining the country’s secular principles.

The bill – as well as Macron’s insulting remarks against the religion of Islam and its followers -- drew widespread criticism both at home and worldwide. 

The debate around the bill was reignited in the past week, after lawmakers added the amendment that would even prohibit minors from wearing Muslim headscarves in public. 

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