Charlie Hebdo, Islam, Racism, and Everything Else America Gets Wrong about France

November 1, 2020 Topic: Security Region: Europe Tags: FranceLanguageMuslimsPoliticsEmmanuel Macron

Charlie Hebdo, Islam, Racism, and Everything Else America Gets Wrong about France

The pundits and politicians who have been calling out an alleged “state-sponsored Islamophobia” should be wary about joining their voices with a chorus of unsavory international actors who have launched brutal attacks against Macron for his alleged Islamophobic policies.


The idea that Muslims face state-sponsored discrimination is poisonous, creating a cancerous narrative leading French Muslims to feel oppressed by a supposedly tyrannical regime. It allows people like Nadir Kahia, the president of the nongovernmental organization “Banlieues Plus” and a regular guest on TV debates, to claim that there is a “war against Muslim citizens” and to regularly tweet about an upcoming “genocide of Muslims.” This incredibly toxic rhetoric serves as a powerful tool for radicalization and allows radicalized individuals to rationalize their attacks as necessary self-defense.

Samuel Paty’s fate is a tragic cautionary tale on the dangers of grievance politics. After showing cartoons of Mohamed in a class on freedom of expression, he was quickly labeled an “Islamophobe” by parents, students, and soon after Islamist agitators who started asking for his removal, even meeting with the principal of Samuel Paty’s school. His accusers, wittingly or not, by calling him a racist and an “Islamophobe,” put a target on his back, justifying all sorts of attacks. They gave the young man that killed Paty the ideological green light for such an atrocity.


In many ways the people accusing France of “state-sponsored Islamophobia” risk doing the same thing at a national level, giving fodder to justify attacks against an allegedly racist state, putting a target on France’s back just like the Islamist agitators had put a target on Paty’s back. If Islamist propagandists and their useful idiots manage to depict France as this dystopian racist country, then it seems tragically obvious that many French Muslims will feel compelled to fight back preemptively against this fantasized foe. The more recent attack in Nice follows days of propaganda from Turkey against France’s supposed war on Muslims.

We should make clear that what is pushing separatism in France is not the French government or “systemic racism,” but the very powerful and well-drilled Islamists groups who have encouraged this fabled narrative of state-pushed discrimination for decades to push their agenda and recruit followers. France’s main mistake was to be paralyzed by these accusations and let them flourish unopposed, to let itself be cowered by its fiercest enemies. International publications should think seriously about giving these enemies of democracy that ideological fodder.

François Valentin is the Co-Host of the Uncommon Decency podcast on European affairs and a master’s student at Sciences Po’s school of Public Affairs.