In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, Muslims in France are facing the prospect of an anti-Islam backlash in the country.
While the killings at the editorial offices of Charlie Hebdo may have been carried out by a “lone wolf” cell, many observers are expecting fallout from the incident in France.
Following the deaths there were reports of shots being fired in the direction of a Muslim prayer hall in Port-la-Nouvelle, in southern France. Meanwhile several sound grenades were thrown into the courtyard of a mosque in Le Mans, west of Paris, while there was an explosion near a mosque in the town of Villefranche-sur-Soane, in eastern France.
One young man tweeted: “If you are called Mohamed or Karim and you have got a job interview tomorrow, it is better for you to stay at home and play Fifa.”
According to Mustapha Amokrane, singer from Toulouse group Zebda: “Being Muslim today in this country is like being between a rock and a hard place. Between those people who massacre in the name of religion and anti-Muslim racists who sell books by the kilo.”
With some five million Muslims in a total population of around 64 million, France has Europe’s largest Muslim community. And as in the UK with the rise of UKIP, the mainstream political parties are being forced to deal with a population unhappy with levels of immigration and a perceived unwillingness on the part of immigrants to assimilate or accept Western values. Indeed at last May’s European elections, the party to emerge with the most votes was the far-right Front National (FN) party, led by Marine Le Pen.
The French Prime Minister has courted controversy – and risked angering France’s large minority of FN supporters, by organising a unity march in response to the attacks and refusing to invite the Front National. Manuel Valls was vague when asked to explain the reason for the exclusion. “What matters to me is that we apprehend these individuals and we have national unity, because it is the only answer,” the Prime Minister said.
Vaucluse MP Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, the niece of FN leader Marine, said Valls was small minded to leave out her party. “It’s not behaviour worthy of a prime minister and a president of the Republic. They all speak of national unity,” she added, “but it’s just a slogan.
“For them it is just a way to try to make us shut up.”
France will go to the polls in local elections in March and even before the Charlie Hebdo attack the FN was tipped by opinion polls to finish first. It’s too early to say whether the Charlie Hebdo atrocity will create an anti-Muslim backlash and work in the FN’s favour in electoral terms. But what seems certain is that the killings will bring crime, terrorism, security and the Islamic extremist threat up the political agenda.