In the past few days, a serious humanitarian crisis has started in Jerusalem. The Israeli government and far-right Zionist militias have initiated a major restriction of Muslim public religious activities since the beginning of Ramadan, which has been aggravated by the closure of sacred sites. Muslims responded with massive demonstrations in favor of their right to worship and Israeli police reacted with extreme violence, leaving dead and wounded people in the streets of Jerusalem. As a result of this scenario, a major escalation of brutality in the conflicts has started, with Hamas and Tel Aviv bombing each other every day. All over the world, reactions to the conflict are based on humanitarian concern, with governments and international organizations asking both sides to remain calm and stop bombing, however, the French government is radicalizing an anti-Islamic stance that seems unfeasible in the current moment.
In Paris, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin ordered the police to stop any demonstration of support of Palestine. At first, a great act was organized for May 15, coordinated by the Islamic communities and by organizations in defense of human rights. However, under new orders to ban any planned acts related to tensions in the Middle East, it is unclear what will happen in Paris this weekend. If they abdicate their right to protest and obey government orders, Muslims - who already make up a considerable part of the Parisian population - will simply remain silent in the face of the recent episodes in Palestine. On the other hand, if they maintain their plans and take to the streets, they will face the coercive police force and possibly there will be many acts of violence.
In a statement, Darmanin recalled the 2014 demonstrations, when, in another episode of tensions in the Middle East, several violations of public order were reported during the demonstrations in support for the Palestinian people. Despite the justification that is apparently based on a concern for public security, it is impossible to analyze the case and not consider the recent wave of anti-Islamist policies adopted by the French government in the face of an increasingly polarizing scenario between native French and Muslim immigrants.
The Macron government has always been characterized by progressive attitudes, with tolerant policies towards immigration and Islamic culture in French society. However, the growth of separatism in urban communities of immigrants who profess radical strands of Islam and refuse to comply with civil laws, obeying only Islamic sharia, has generated a strong demand for state reaction. Many French people fear that the growth of these communities will lead to civil war, considering the high degree of incompatibility between secular European culture and the traditional religious laws of Islam. Most Muslims, for example, refuse to educate their children in French schools due to the fear that they will deviate from religious principles, thus creating community education systems through clandestine family schools, where children are educated according to Islam. This problem went out of control of the French authorities, who began to harden a policy of "recuperating" the neighborhoods occupied by immigrants. Among other things, the French government has banned home schools, some Islamic clothing, and the provision of halal food in public schools.
Internally, these policies can be recognized as a coherent way of disputing space with illegal communities that refuse to comply with national laws. In addition, Macron is acting with great political realism, decreasing his political liberal leftism, and taking space in agendas that were previously monopolized by Le Pen and the far right. However, when the topic concerns international issues, there seems to be no feasibility in forbidding immigrants to express their opinions.
The crisis in Palestine is a humanitarian issue and should not be limited by the peculiarities of any country. All nations are concerned about what is currently happening on the Israeli-Palestinian border because they fear it will lead to total war between a militarily powerful state with nuclear weapons and a state with little international recognition, institutionally weak and militarily limited as the Palestinian Authority. When Muslims express support for Palestine, they are not simply acting in accordance with "Islamic solidarism", but in accordance with basic humanitarian. By banning public solidarity with Palestine, it is Paris that acts against European liberal principles, violating freedom of expression and curbing the denunciation of disrespect for human rights.
In previous demonstrations in the past few days, Muslims have acted peacefully on the streets of Paris, only displaying posters in support of the Palestinian people. Even so, the government has banned the acts. This type of intolerance can be understood as a serious offense by the communities and result in an even greater evil than what Paris wants to prevent. Radical communities can not only disobey police orders to ban protests, but also harden their disobedience to civil norms, creating even more chaos and polarization in French society. What may result from this is a state of widespread intolerance, with Arabs and French facing each other and totally unwilling to live peacefully.
Furthermore, it is necessary to consider the international connections of these communities. Intelligence reports point to links between Muslim separatists in France and the Turkish government, for example. At the present time, the entire Islamic world is united in favor of Palestine, easing its internal issues in favor of a unified opposition to Israel. When Paris tries to force its Muslim citizens to passively accept violence against Palestinians, preventing them from expressing their indignation, it is simply making room for the Islamic world to encourage and publicly fund separatism within France – which would be the worst-case scenario for the French government.
Undoubtedly, it is fair for the French government to establish rules against Islamist separatism and to limit the autonomy of Arab communities, but it is not fair that this becomes a widespread persecution against Islam and Muslims’ freedom of expression.
By Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
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