Five Questions on Islamophobia in France

December 11, 2023

In Episode 10 of “Unpacking Islamophobia,” our guest is Rim-Sarah Alouane who is a French legal scholar and PhD candidate. She was named one of the 2023 European Young Leaders Under 40 by the Friends of Europe, and her work has appeared in the New York Times, Foreign Policy, Al Jazeera, BBC, and France 24.

The conversation focuses on Islamophobia in France today, and Alouane begins by defining the French sociopolitical concept of laïcité (secularism), which she notes was first codified into French law in 1905. This law on the separation of churches and the State was initially meant to promote “neutrality to achieve equality” for people from different faiths. Although it’s been co-opted in recent decades to marginalize French Muslims, Alouane stated that laïcité for France initially was a “quite very liberal concept” and was initially understood to impose religious neutrality upon the state and its civil servants, whereas private individuals were supposed to have guaranteed freedom of religion in their personal lives.

She next discusses nearly two decades of hijab bans in France by observing that “indeed there is a very French obsession” with policing Muslim women’s clothing, which began in 2004 with President Jacques Chirac imposing the country’s first hijab ban. Alouane also references France’s orientalist and colonial history as she discusses the Algerian independence movement, noting that, “In Algeria, the weaponization of women’s bodies was key to the colonization.”

Alouane addresses the rise of far-right political players like Marine Le Pen whose rhetoric and political campaigns have involved the demonization of French Muslims. Alouane said that instead of speaking about unemployment and important issues, the traditional French conservative movement has “radicalized itself to the far right” and found political bedfellows with left-wing hardliner secularists who constantly attack Muslims who she “jokingly calls them the far right of the left.”

Finally, she touches on the role of the French media in how Muslims are viewed by greater French society as a whole. “The depiction of Muslims, of people of North African background, of black people as well, has often been influenced by various factors such as cultural biases, gender politics and different prejudices.” Alouane concluded the episode by reiterating that all French people should be treated with France’s Republican values of “liberté, égalité, fraternité” (liberty, equality, and fraternity) where everyone helps each other, regardless of their race, religion, or socioeconomic status.

Featuring

Rim-Sarah Alouane is a French legal scholar and a PhD candidate in Comparative Law at the University Toulouse Capitole in France. Her research focuses on civil liberties, constitutional law and human rights across France, Europe and North America.Rim-Sarah’s work focuses on the practice of reasonable accommodation with regard to the protection of freedom of religion. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Foreign Policy, Al Jazeera, BBC and France 24 and she was named as one of the 2023 European Young Leaders Under 40 by the Friends of Europe. 

Arsalan Iftikhar is Senior Researcher for the Bridge Initiative at the Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington DC. Arsalan is a prominent human rights lawyer, an internationally recognized researcher on the topic of Islamophobia, and a global media commentator. He is the author of several books including FEAR OF A MUSLIM PLANET: Global Islamophobia in the New World Order and Scapegoats: How Islamophobia Helps Our Enemies and Threatens Our Freedoms which President Jimmy Carter called “an important book that shows Islamophobia must be addressed urgently”. Throughout his career, Arsalan has been a regular on-air commentator for National Public Radio (NPR) and his interviews have appeared on prominent global media outlets like CNN, Al-Jazeera English, BBC World News, The Economist, New York Times, Rolling Stone, NBC News “Meet The Press” & many more. A native of Chicago, Arsalan was awarded the 2013 Distinguished Young Alumni Award from Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, where he received both his undergraduate and law degrees.