Recently, CounterPunch published an article titled “First English, Then American, and Now Muslim Francophobia”. In this article, the author Mr Liaquat Ali Khan stated that the Muslim world needs to be wary of indulging in Francophobia, and went to great lengths to state that a potential “Muslim Francophobia” is real.
I disagree with this assessment.
Francophobia Among Muslims: Just Another Myth?
The author states:
In the 21st century, the Muslim world has begun to manufacture its variety of Francophobia.
And then goes on to add:
If the French people are Islamophobic, Muslims are likely to engender Francophobia. One phobia feeds the other.
In essence, the point being put forth is that much like English and American Francophobia, a “Muslim” Francophobia is also on the rise. The comparison drawn here is that owing to differences or disagreements with France, a sort of communal phobia (c-phobia) is imminent.
There are multiple reasons why this argument is flawed.
Looking at History: English and American Francophobia
There is hardly any parallel to be drawn when talking about English Francophobia vis a vis Muslims. There are certain key historical facts that one needs to consider here:
- Most of the interactions between the English and the French in medieval times were based on a mutual rivalry, with both the states vying for regional and global supremacy.
- Even in the post-medieval era, both England (aka Britain by then) and France were competing for a piece of the colonial pie. Both of these powers were engaged in a very serious battle for supremacy across the world, including places such as India (where the French often supported local rulers such as Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan of Mysore against the British), North America, etc.
- The notions and stereotypes that each side had about the other were borne out of a “formal” dislike — both the states were at war or less-than-peaceful terms with each other. This encouraged the growth of stereotypes and hence, Francophobia among the English people.
Similarly, in the American case, Francophobia sprang as a by-product of two aspects:
- The French peoples’ ability to retain their own language and cultural traditions, as opposed to the “assimilation” of several other races and ethnicities in North America,
- Much later, the French failure against the Germans during the Second War further helped build stereotypes against the former.
Now, both English and American Francophobia were very real c-phobias — this is a factually accurate statement.
However, the problem with Mr Khan’s article is that he equates the two types of Francophobia with Islamophobia.
Let me tell you why that’s not correct.
Islamophobia != Francophobia
Unlike the cases of the English and the Americans, Muslims, in general, have not had a stereotype against the French. And it’s unlikely to change in the future.
Yes, there are several Muslim communities that are highly apprehensive of France and its policies. However, being apprehensive is not the same as fostering a phobia. I might be apprehensive about trekking in the wild without protective equipment, primarily because of the dangers or challenges that the wilderness might pose — this does not imply that I have a phobia; I’m not scared of trekking in itself, I’m just not comfortable going to trek sans proper gear.
Now, the big question is, why might Muslims be apprehensive of what the French Republic might do?
If the state of France is looking for someone to blame for its colonial past, a mirror might be a good place to start.
Once bitten, twice shy. Naturally, if the Muslim states or populace harbor an apprehension regarding the motives of the French, it is not without a cause.
Now, coming to the other side of the story — Mr Khan, in his article, pretty much compares Islamophobia with Francophobia.
Truth is, both of them are communal phobias and as such, are bound to be based in prejudice and fallacy. However, this is where the similarities end.
Islamophobia has far-reaching adverse effects — Muslims are subjected to greater scrutiny at certain airports, cannot purchase property or reside in certain localities, may face workplace discrimination owing to their religion, and so on.
Picture this — a French tourist being told to denounce their flag or national insignia upon visiting a Muslim country, say, Malaysia or Kuwait.
Now imagine, a Muslim woman being told to give up the Hijab if she wishes to stick around in France.
Unlikely? Nope, this is exactly what’s happening over there, isn’t it?
How about a French visitor being denied entry in a hotel because their passport was in the French language?
No, that does not happen. But yeah, a Muslim might be in trouble for speaking Turkish or Arabic in a restaurant in France.
Apprehension is Not the Same as Phobia
Truth is, communal phobias are of several types. The ones that are based on religious or ethnic or color lines (such as racism against Black people) are different from those based on national or political identity. This does not imply that one is any better or ‘less worse’ than the other. Both types of c-phobias have no place in a civil society.
However, stating that Islamophobia of the French might result in Francophobia among the Muslims is incorrect. It might lead to a distrust or dislike directed towards France as a country, or Macron as a political figure, but it will not lead to Francophobia. Much like Donald Trump’s controversial policies led to a feeling of dislike towards his government, but nobody really hated all of the American people.
There are a million things that the French right wing is doing wrong, and Islamophobia is just one of them. For a continent that talks a big deal about freedom of speech, Europe sure is turning a blind eye towards French government’s restrictions on academicians. Case in point: Philippe Marlière’s article in CounterPunch. This also goes to show that CounterPunch is a responsible and non-partisan publication; Mr Liaquat Ali Khan’s post was also published by the same vertical.
That said, there can be no Francophobia in the Muslim hearts, simply because the average Muslim mind knows better than to follow in the footsteps of the French right wing and hold prejudices.