Islamist-aligned groups among those calling on the European Commission to investigate France

March 15, 2021

A coalition of NGOs and campaign groups has submitted a complaint to Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, regarding the treatment of Muslims in France. In the 22-page long letter sent on 8 March, it is claimed that, “the French government has exploited the killing of Samuel Paty for its own racist, discriminative and Islamophobic agenda.”

Accordingly, the submission calls on the European Commission to intervene on the alleged grounds that France is now in violation of the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. The letter particularly objects to France’s new Charter of Republican Values. The charter, which pledges a rejection of political Islam, was agreed to by the French Council of Muslim Faith (CFCM) in January of this year.

Of the 25 groups that have signed the letter of complaint against France, five are UK-based organisations; CAGE, MEND, MPAC, The Muslim Vibe, and DOAM. Other signatories are based in France itself, as well as Austria, Australia, Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, and the United States.

The letter to the European Commission was submitted by the Rotterdam-based firm Sabir’s Legal Services on behalf of what the letter titled an “International Coalition against Islamophobia”, reporting that the coalition is made up of organisations “who are comprised of or who represent French Muslim citizens.” The complaint places its specific accusations against France in the wider context of claims that, “acts of violence and aggression of the EU population, governmental institutions and politicians towards Muslims, as well as hate and negativity towards Islam, has increased to a threatening and unacceptable degree.”

On the culpability of French politicians

The letter accuses French politicians of contributing to negatively influencing public opinion to an extent that has led to attacks on Muslim citizens, stating:

“Governmental leaders and politicians negatively and strongly influence the public opinion. In France, this trend has led to Muslim communities becoming targets of increased hostility, more Islamophobia and increasing violence. It is thus imperative that you take a leading role as the European Commission President, to intervene in France’s laws that target Muslims.”

Rather than upholding the values and principles of the European Convention on Human Rights, it is alleged that:

“Instead, the French government continues to deliberately and systematically undermine and violate fundamental civil liberties and human rights, targeting and violating the rights of even the most vulnerable amongst us, our children.”

Specifically, on the protection of the freedom of religion and political rights it is further claimed that:

“Macron has violated international charters pertaining to the freedom of religion and civil and political rights by exerting pressure and threatening Muslims in relation to how they should interpret and practice their religion.”

On Political Islam

The above allegation particularly relates to the letter’s objection to the new Charter on Republican Values. Here, the letter takes issue with the charter’s reference to “political Islam”—a phrase sometimes used as an alternative to the term Islamism. Claiming that this aspect of the charter threatens to criminalise politically active Muslims, the letter states:

“The term “political Islam” in Macron’s charter is more problematic than it seems. Any Muslim in a democratic society, who starts up or joins a political party that is inspired or based on an Islamic ethos, or any Muslim who speaks out about political or social issues in any way, even from within a charity group is criminalised under this term. He or she, by being Muslim and politically and socially active and concerned, is thus in violation of “Republic values”, the inference being that any Muslim active in society is a possible danger to society. This discriminatory logic is a direct violation of the civil and political rights of Muslims, and a damaging misinterpretation of Islamic life.”

The submission to the European Commission president also objects to how the term political Islam is defined by the charter, claiming that this is an attempt to remove Muslims from civil society. Again, arguing that this move could criminalise those Muslims who openly express both their faith and their political beliefs, the letter states:

“Article 6 of Macron’s dubious charter provides for a dangerously vague definition of “political Islam”, designating it to: Salafism (Wahhabism), Tabligh as well as those linked even in the very vaguest of ways to ideas related to the Muslim Brotherhood and others. Under such vague and often misunderstood definitions, almost every Muslim who is politically active or who openly expresses their faith and political beliefs, can be criminalised, except for the secular Muslim who does not practice forum externum. This is a clear attempt to remove Muslims from the civil society and public life of France, of which they are in fact a key and necessary part.”

On the French government’s response to terrorism

The letter addresses at length the question of whether the policies being pursued by the French government can be judged to be proportionate to the threat to France’s national security. Referring only to the “perceived ‘threat’”, the submission takes the view that the measures are unjustified, and further alleges that they actually seek to add to tensions. The letter states:

“The violations on the lives, property and dignity of Muslims are unwarranted and disproportionate to any perceived “threat”, and moreover they seek to exacerbate the current animosity between Muslims and the French government. To avoid further damage to relations, governments must return to the rule of law principles of the EU, which state clearly that any interferences in human rights, if they must happen, must correspond to a “pressing social need” and must be “proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued.””

The letter argues that, “rather than seeking to deal with the root causes of violence on both side of the spectrum,” France continues to “react out of disproportionately, unreasonably applying dangerous exceptions to the legitimate restriction of fundamental freedoms and protections.”  Elaborating on the claim that the French government is neglecting to address the root causes of terrorism, the letter states:

“The Macron government’s hostile and disproportionate policies, laws and actions are not based on sound, empirical evidence. Religion and ideology are not primary motivators for violent extremism, and “radicalisation” has been proved to be a social issue. International studies show that “radicalisation” follows most often from a sense of isolation and exclusion from society.”

Accordingly, the letter claims that, “France’s laws and actions are deeply counter-productive to their states aims to reduce ‘radicalisation’, since they are perpetrating the very alienation and ‘us and them’ mentality they profess to seek to end.” President Macron is accused of failing to comply with the principle of proportionality, and of failing to meet his obligation to avoid discrimination. Rather, the letter states that:

“Instead, his government’s measures alienate and isolate the Muslim community, creating a hostile environment in which the common Muslim citizen fears their government, and lives with the constant threat of Islamophobic human rights violations. This is deeply counter-productive and unsustainable.”

On the French government and the Muhammad cartoons

In several places the letter references the French government’s position on cartoons depicting Islam’s prophet. Suggesting that President Macron’s policies are operating a double standard on free speech, the letter states:

“While cartoons defaming the Prophet (peace be upon him) are in violation of UN law on insults to religions and threats to religious integrity and peace (detailed also in the UN complaint and further below), Macron chooses the selective dismissing of the right to free speech for Muslims. He aims for a dictatorial control of the topics of conversations and talks in mosques and other communal settings.”

Further down, the letter alleges that because of its position on the cartoons, the French government has violated its obligations to ensure tolerance and coexistence for religions. Here the letter states that:

“The French government has openly supported and advocated the publication of demeaning and insulting cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This while the judgement of the ECtHR is unquestionably clear about the positive obligations of governments in ensuring the peaceful coexistence of all religions and in insuring tolerance. This has been repeated violated by France in the context of insulting cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him). A previous court judgement has been made in this regard and a precedent set: the UNHCR Court emphasised that insulting the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) does not fall under the right to free speech, and moreover, it conflicts with the core principles and values of the UN Convention.”

On calls for intervention by the European Commission

Throughout the coalition against Islamophobia’s letter to the president of the European Commission, the request is repeatedly made that the Commission intervene and investigate France. According to the letter, the coalition is compelled to turn to the Commission because of the alleged absence of mechanisms within the French legal system to address the discrimination that they argue is taking place. On this point the letter states:

“We are reaching out to you because there is no real or effective remedy within the French legal system to stop the continuation of structural and systemic Islamophobia by the French government within the meanings established by European case law. The exhaustion of national remedies will not bring effective relief for Muslims in France.”

Specifically, because it is claimed that France is in breach of the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, the letter argues that it now falls to the European Commission to intervene. The letter explains:

“The Coalition hereby addresses you, the European Commission with its enforcement powers, to intervene urgently. We seek direct and urgent intervention by the European Commission to ensure the enforcement of the Charter, and every Directive, Regulation and Framework on the prohibition of discrimination, xenophobia, racism, protection of national minorities, children’s rights and the implementing of the principle of freedom of religion, pressed upon France in order to relieve the situation of Muslims.”

The coalition’s letter concludes by stating that:

“The Coalition requests your urgent interference in this matter, in which we request the European Commission to follow up our complaint and open a formal infringement procedure against France before the European Court of Justice against France. This is to ensure that France respect EU law on the protection of the fundamental civil and political rights of all its citizens.”

The full text of the letter sent to the president of the European Commission can be read here.

The letter lists the following signatory organisations:

1. Le CRAN Conseil Représentatif des Associations Noires de France (France);
2. CALAM (France);
3. LALLAB (France);
4. Collectif contre l’islamophobie aux Pays-Bas (Netherlands);
5. Comité 21 mars (Netherlands);
6. EMCEMO Euro-Mediterraan Centrum Migratie & Ontwikkeling (Netherlands);
7. IZI solutions (Netherlands);
8. MELD ISLAMOFOBIE (Netherlands);
9. Stichting Centrum de Middenweg (Netherlands);
10. Muslim Rights Watch (Netherlands);
11. The Islamic Central Council Switzerland (IZRS)
12. Dokustelle (AUSTRIA);
13. AMDEH Asociacion Musulmana por los Derechos Humanos (SPAIN);
15. European Network on Religion and Belief (ENORB) (BELGIUM);
16. CAGE (UK);
17. MEND (UK);
18. MPAC (UK);
19. The Muslim Vibe (UK);
20. DOAM (UK);
21. James CARR University of Limerick (Ireland)
22. Islamophobia Studies Center (USA);
23. The Yaqeen Institute (USA);
24. ICV Islamic Council of Victoria (Australia);
25. Khadija Leadership Network ( Newzealand).

Join our mailing list