France must come up with ′even-handed′ approach, experts say | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 23.01.2015
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France must come up with 'even-handed' approach, experts say

The number of anti-Muslim incidents in France has soared since the Charlie Hebdo attack. Paris' response - boosting security measures at potential flash points - addresses the symptoms, not the cause, experts argue.

Firebombs and shots at mosques, pig heads at the door of prayer rooms, insults in the streets and threats against Muslims on the Internet - two weeks after the terror attack against France's satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, some French Muslims are feeling the backlash.

Many of the troops and police mobilized to boost security after the Paris attacks now protect mosques.

Address the cause

Of course, sites and groups known to be at risk must be protected, Susi Dennison, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ecfr), told DW: "But that's addressing the symptom rather than the cause."

The French government, Dennison says, must come up with an "even-handed response that looks at underlying social issues" - including questions of poverty and social exclusion.

The government has announced a sweeping counterterrorism initiative, including better equipment for police, an improved database of suspected extremists, and increased intelligence-gathering on jihadists and other radicals.

In its most recent report on anti-Muslim incidents in France, the National Observatory Against Islamophobia said on Friday that 33 acts against mosques and 95 threats had been reported to authorities since the attacks in Paris earlier this month. 2014 as a whole saw a total of 133 such incidents, the Muslim watchdog organization said.

Frankreich Anschlag auf Charlie Hebdo - Angriff auf Moschee in Le Mans

This mosque in Le Mans came under attack a day after the Charlie Hebdo murders

"This situation is unacceptable and we're asking the authorities to go beyond the reassuring speeches and act to put an end to this scourge," Observatory President Abdallah Zekri said just days after the attacks in Paris.

Fear of anti-Muslim violence

But the country wasn't peaceful before the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, either. Abdelkrim Branine, editor in chief of Beur FM, a radio station for the North African community in Paris, told DW recently that "there already was an atmosphere of tension."

Now the Muslim community is very worried and afraid of the future, Branine said, agreeing with Dennison from the ecfr: "What we need now from the French government is not just a show of strength, but a solution that tackles the problem of discrimination, the problem of the suburbs."

Islam is France's second-biggest religion with an estimated 3.5 to 5 million followers.

The Muslim community was really shocked after the Charlie Hebdo attack - the more so "because the attacks were done in a distorted way in the name of their religion," Dennison explains. "They feel this threat because of something they didn't choose to be associated with, and the vast majority of the French people recognize that."

French President Francois Hollande has pledged that any anti-Muslim or anti-Semitic crimes must be "severely punished." France's millions of Muslims should be protected and respected, Hollande said, "just as they themselves should respect the nation" and its secular values.

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