SHAFAQNA- France’s Muslims warn of a growing anti-Islam backlash as the country slowly comes to terms with last week’s deadly attacks on Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket.
Groups representing French Muslims have urged authorities to step in to protect them in the same way as they have boosted security around Jewish sites.
“All Muslim organizations in France are concerned about the numerous anti-Muslim acts seen in the past few days and call on the authorities to be vigilant to ensure the security of mosques,” said Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Great Mosque of Paris and president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls told CNN’s French affiliate BFMTV on Monday that a number of mosques had been attacked in recent days, with shots being fired in some cases.
In other instances, religious buildings have been set on fire, a pig’s head has been stuck to a prayer room door and messages of hate have been sprayed on walls, according to French media reports.
Valls said the thousands of extra police and soldiers deployed to ensure national security since Wednesday’s attack on Charlie Hebdo would watch over mosques as well as Jewish schools and synagogues.
France is at war against terrorism, not Islam or Muslims, Valls told the French Parliament on Tuesday.
France will protect all its citizens, with determination and calmness, he said.
The Union of Islamic Organizations in France, or UOIF, urged the French authorities to take all the necessary steps to protect Muslims and mosques as it rejected any link with terrorists.
The group said there have been more than 50 anti-Muslim incidents, including reports of shootings and threats.
French Muslims are worried and hoping for a rapid return to calm, it said. Security has been increased at Muslim sites.
“Terrorism and crime have no religion,” the group said in a statement. “The UOIF absolutely refuses that Muslims and their places of worship should be implicated or targeted for terrorist excesses which are only down to their authors.”
The three terrorists who carried out last week’s attacks, killing 17 people in the course of three days of fear, have been linked to the Islamist extremist groups ISIS and al Qaeda. Two of them, brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, who stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo, said they were acting to avenge the Prophet Mohammed.
The magazine has previously published controversial images of the prophet — seen as blasphemy by Muslims — and it’s been revealed that the cover of the new edition to be published Wednesday, drawn by the attack survivors, will again feature a cartoon of Mohammed.
With some 3 million copies set to be distributed, there’s scope for an angry reaction from those who see it as deeply offensive.
But in his statement, Boubakeur urged the Muslim community to “remain calm” and avoid an emotional reaction, “all the while respecting the freedom of opinion.”
Many French Muslims turned out in Paris and elsewhere for huge national unity marches Sunday, keen to show they shared in the nation’s horror and grief at the events of last week.
Some held placards saying “Je suis juif,” or I am Jewish,” as a sign of solidarity with the four Jewish people killed in the supermarket attack, picking up on the widely embraced slogan, “Je suis Charlie.”
One young Muslim woman named Amina, who held a sign declaring both statements as she marched, told CNN that the killings were not down to religion.
“It is very important for me because, as you can see, Jews and Muslims shouldn’t be enemies and they should refuse to be enemies,” she said.
As a Muslim, Amina said, she had cried when she learned that so many people had been killed. “Here in France it is very, very, very difficult to live when you are Muslim because they always think you are a terrorist. And when I heard that again, Muslims killed people because they were not OK with what they said, I was totally ashamed and I was very sad,” she said.
‘Don’t burn mosques’
One of the 12 victims in the Charlie Hebdo attack was police officer Ahmed Merabet, a French Muslim of Algerian descent.
At a national ceremony in Paris, French President François Hollande eulogized him alongside two other slain officers, Franck Brinsolaro and Clarissa Jean-Philippe, awarding each the Legion d’Honneur (National Order of Merit.)
Merabet’s brother, Malek, told reporters that Ahmed had been proud of his name, proud to be a police officer and proud to defend the values of the French republic.
“He was killed by false Muslims,” said Malek Merabet, warning of the dangers of a wider backlash against those who share his faith.
“I address myself now to all the racists, Islamophobes and anti-Semites,” he said. “One must not confuse extremists with Muslims. Mad people have neither color or religion.
“I want to make another point: Don’t tar everybody with the same brush, don’t burn mosques — or synagogues. You are attacking people. It won’t bring our dead back, and it won’t appease the families.