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Inequality, Islamophobia remain in wake of Charlie Hebdo tragedy

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

LAWRENCE — Effects of the massacre of 12 journalists on Jan. 7 at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo linger as its news staff in Paris recently moved into new offices with heightened security.

Two gunmen, brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, attacked the magazine known for its anti-Islamic cartoons. The media reported that they carried out the attack on behalf of al-Qaida's branch in Yemen.

A University of Kansas professor who studies sociocultural anthropology in the Middle East, North Africa and France said the Charlie Hebdo tragedy appears to have fueled "Islamophobia," even though the two brothers' belief system had more to do with what they learned in prison than French mosques.

The tragedy has also distracted from cultural ideas that have stemmed from French colonialism that still influences French Muslim citizens in third- and fourth-generation immigrant families from North Africa, said Majid Hannoum, associate professor of anthropology, who recently authored the Anthropology Today article "Cartoons, Secularism and Inequality."

"You have a discourse that's clearly anti-Muslims. Islam is still presented as a foreign religion, as a negative religion, an inferior religion and as a threatening religion to the principles of the republic," Hannoum said.

Many French Muslims and non-Muslims view the state as having a double standard that is more accepting of Christianity and Judaism, he said, both in its policies and media coverage. The French don't like to address race, but some will often label people from North African immigrant families as "Muslim."

"You have second, third, and even fourth generation of citizens with roots from the old colonies in Africa and Asia. They are fully French. Their parents are born French. Their grandparents are born in France," Hannoum said. "But they are still looked at as immigrants. Or when the discourse is more nuanced, they would say from immigrant heritage or they are 'Muslims of France,' or 'French Muslims.' All these names (with no equivalents for other groups) connote foreignness and otherness."

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls even mentioned a deep divide in the country after the Charlie Hebdo attacks and likened it to a "state of territorial, social, ethnic apartheid" that left a portion of the population on the cultural fringe.

Hannoum said that context is important when looking at the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks and how democracies balance freedom of expression, freedom of religion and integration of a segment of citizens with immigration and/or Muslim heritage.

French Muslim leaders, secular intellectuals and artists do speak out publicly about both terrorism and symptoms of "Islamophobia," he said.

"It is a civil rights movement in France. People are really concerned about the issues of justice and equality," Hannoum said.

Though France has its own unique history based on colonialism, the issue of not allowing religious extremists to use conditions of economic or cultural inequality has become important in many nations in recent decades, he said.

"The fatal attacks in January did not come out of French mosques, but French prisons," said Hannoum, whose family emigrated to France from Morocco. "They came out of a shadowy, combative Islam that feeds on marginalization, poverty, lack of education and racism. They came out of subaltern criminal and extremist milieu, which are themselves the product of French post-colonial policies."

Photo: The former headquarters of Charlie Hebdo. Photo courtesy David Monniaux, WikiCommons.


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