According to a recent survey conducted by Ipsos commissioned by the French daily Le Monde, two in three French (74%) reject Islam as “intolerant” and “incompatible” with French society. While 70% of the survey participant judged that there are “too many foreigners in France”, 62% said they “don’t feel like at home anymore”. The results mirror French society’s sense and understanding of identity, which since three decades has intersected with the question of immigration in France. The rising Islamophobia and xenophobia exemplified by these polls reflects upon the existence of a massive populist movement, which exceeds the electorate of Le Pen’s Front Nationale.
Whilst formerly articulating their rejection against labour migrants who were alleged to “take away jobs from the French”, the rejection has now shifted to target both Islam and Muslims. Accordingly, 74% of French reject Islam and Muslims as intolerant and incompatible with the “values of French society”. The rejection entails all Muslims, whether they may be fully integrated, even assimilated or fundamentalists. Le Monde describes this poll as a rare moment of visualization of French defiance towards Islam.
Further, eight out of ten French accuse Islam to attempt to “impose its way of living upon others”. The survey also shows that more than half of the French population (54%) thinks that Muslims are either in majority (10%) or partially (44%) “fundamentalist” without “us knowing”. These figures vary according to both age and political allegiance, but remain at large majoritarian and help to illustrate the depth of rootage of such perceptions amongst the imagined collective. 61% of the left leaning voters and 66% of those who are younger than 35 years old accuse Islam to be incompatible with the “republican values”.
Le Monde concludes that survey after survey the results show how the image of Islam in France continues to drastically degrade since a number of years. The paper reasons such a decline of public opinion on Islam and Muslims with external and internal reasons that are often of imaginative but also objective nature. On the one hand there is “the increasing visibility of Muslims in French society, the rise of new group claims accompanied by a scaremongering discourse on the ‘Islamisation’ of Europe and the political instrumentalisation of these questions’.
On the other hand, beyond the issues deemed legitimate by the government like “building mosques, taking account of Islam in the military, prisons, hospitals, condemnation of anti-Muslim violence”, other questions relating to Islam and Muslims in France still face an exorbitant response in public opinion; such as the hijab (headscarf) as an attack against France’s secularism, the demand for halal food, religious practices at the workplace. As a result, the survey finds 72% of the French to oppose food at school in line with religious dietary regulations.
Geopolitical, global concerns and acts of violence on a national scale such as those of Mohamed Merah in Tolouse in 2012, as well as public fears in relation to ‘terrorist groups fighting in the name of Islam’ are also identified by Le Monde to hold the influence on forming negative public opinion on Islam and Muslims.
The paper continues to assess that so far French Muslim authorities were content with demanding the avoidance of the “amalgam between moderate Islam and Islamism,”, which just recently made the news again when the French Council of Muslim Faith advocated the abandonment of the term in the public and media discourse (https://www.euro-islam.info/2013/01/23/french-council-of-the-muslim-faith-commends-french-president/).
Adennour Bidar, a scholar in Islam and Secularism, warns that “beyond the context of diffusing anxieties or irreducible intolerance, these figures are a warning to Muslims. They must critically interrogate Islam”. He continues by asserting that these figures are “also the result of the multiculturalist orthodoxy, which left the far right the opportunity to seize these subjects. Yet, the left and the Republican right can find a balance between the refusal to stigmatize Muslims to hold Islam accountable in respect of republican tradition. “