Muslims often brace themselves whenever there is news of a terrorist attack, waiting to see if the perpetrator will be linked to their faith, a religion practiced peacefully by more than a billion people.
Imagine then how the large Muslim population of France feels after the murder of a teacher and three worshipers by two young Muslims because of the ongoing conflict involving the republication of the incendiary cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Previously, an 18-year-old Muslim attacked and seriously injured two people near the former offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine where 12 people were killed in 2015.
Each of these horrific crimes has been condemned by French Muslims and their organizations. Yet President Emmanuel Macron has launched an all-out campaign against “Islamism”, “Islamic separatism” and also against dozens of Muslim organizations – fueling the division and undermining the very civil liberties he claims to defend.
Gérald Darmanin, his Minister of the Interior, quickly announced a crackdown on numerous French Muslim civil society organizations and human rights defenders who “were not linked to the investigation but to whom we are clearly prepared to send a message”. This means that they have nothing to do with the crime, but the state will prosecute them for the crime of being a Muslim.
These organizations include the Collectif contre l’islamophobie en France (CCIF), which Darmanin called “the enemy of the republic”. The group has been defending human rights for over 20 years and is now threatened with disbandment.
The same Minister of the Interior also denounced the presence of halal and kosher options in French supermarkets.
The defense of secularism and the French republic therefore amounts to condemning kosher and halal, and defending crude caricatures. Would Macron defend, in the name of freedom of expression, anti-Semitic fascist texts, or racist caricatures against blacks and other minorities, or homophobic screeds?
Canada’s reaction has been interesting, especially on the question of whether or not the Prime Minister of Canada has been unequivocal in denouncing the attacks on freedom of expression.
Justin Trudeau told reporters on Friday that Ottawa “will always stand up for free speech, but free speech is not without limits.” He went on to say that criminals and terrorists “do not have the possibility of defining Muslims in France, Canada or elsewhere in the world”. Such a balance was not evident in the tweet of Conservative leader Erin O’Toole who said, in part, that “Islamist terrorism is a scourge that must be denounced and combated”.
However, the Prime Minister’s statements were not good enough for the leader of the Bloc Québécois, Yves-François Blanchet. He criticized Trudeau in the House of Commons on Monday for what he described as “the leader’s renunciation of our values of freedom and secularism and for the serious lack of courage expressed by the Prime Minister of Canada regarding the scope of freedom of speech”.
Hypocrisy is both rich and revealing. Where are Blanchet and O’Toole to call on the French government to take the violent actions of a handful of individuals and apply them to the seven million Muslims in France? And for using collective guilt to target French Muslim NGOs? What about its long-standing failure to integrate its Muslim population, which is in fact economically separated due to staggering discrimination and a manifest lack of equality of opportunity?
Beyond its blind solidarity with France, Canada has a lot to offer the country on ways to promote inclusive communities in which diversity is seen as a strength and not a problem.
It is also not lost on anyone that Quebec has long sought inspiration in France. It is the only Canadian province in the country to have legislated second-class citizenship for religious minorities. Bill 21 prohibits those who visibly practice a religious religion from exercising certain professions. Several individuals and human rights groups are currently challenging the law as unconstitutional in a case that has just been argued before a Quebec Superior Court.
There is absolutely no justification for violence. Authors should be greeted with the force of law. Likewise, liberal secular democracies should respect the law by fully safeguarding the civil liberties of law-abiding members, businesses and organizations belonging to minority populations.