Paris: Riding the Paris Metro to the city’s Grand Mosque for prayers, Samia Mahfoudia says people shoot sideways looks at her “almost as if they were saying ‘Get off.”‘
Ahmed El Mziouzi, a Moroccan who has called France home for 42 years, says he’s seen people staring at Muslims like him “a bit bizarrely” since attackers claiming to be acting in the name of Islam massacred 130 people, traumatizing the city.
These are tough times for France’s Muslims. Muslims were among both the dead and the hundreds of wounded in the Paris attacks. Muslims across Paris and the world also reacted with shock, horror and anger at the indiscriminate slaughter. In the French capital, Muslims have visited the makeshift shrines of flowers and candles outside the Bataclan concert hall and the cafes where the attackers mowed down victims in cold blood.
And all Parisians of every religion are having to adjust to a whole new post-attacks atmosphere of heightened angst and suspicion.
Armed police in thick bulletproof vests cordoned off roads around the Grand Mosque in Paris for Friday prayers and patted down worshippers, scanning them with metal detectors in the cold, driving rain. Soldiers wearing camouflage gear and cradling automatic rifles also patrolled.
But unlike other French, some Muslims also feel the additional burden of having to justify and defend themselves and their community and point out their Islam bears no relation to that of the violent zealots. They worry that some non-Muslims can’t see the difference between them and Islamic State killers.
Cold, hard stares and, in rare cases, physical assaults that some Muslims have faced since the bloodshed are reinforcing concerns that some in France are now lumping all Muslims together.
“Out on the streets, we’re scared,” Soraya Moumen, a Muslim woman in her twenties, said on her way to prayers at the Grand Mosque. “We feel people are adding one and one to make three, thinking that all Muslims are terrorists.”
A Muslim group that tracks Islamophobia in France has reported a fresh spike of hate crimes since the attacks, although not as large as that which followed the slaughter in January of cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo magazine and shoppers at a kosher grocery in Paris that left 17 victims dead.
The southern port city of Marseille saw both anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic violence after the latest attacks, with a veiled woman punched and slashed with a box cutter as she left the subway and a teacher at a Jewish school assaulted by three knife-wielding attackers, the Interior Ministry said.
Attacks have also been reported on Muslim meeting places and shops elsewhere in France.
Anti-Muslim graffiti has also shown up in many places. In Evreux in northern France, the town hall and other buildings were daubed with graffiti saying “Death to Muslims” and “(with a) suitcase or (in a) coffin” – a reference to how the protesters wanted Muslims to leave town.
There were several reports of swastikas painted on outer walls of mosques, in the Paris area and in Pontarlier near the Swiss border. Social media also lit up with anti-Muslim and racist comments once Friday’s attacks became known.
Since France has the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in western Europe, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim violence are not new in the country. And some Muslims say they understand that the latest killing spree claimed by the Islamic State group has made some of their fellow citizens wary. Still, that doesn’t make their cold shoulders easier to bear.
“I understand their pain. The anger,” said Mahfoudia, a 64-year-old grandmother. “(But) it’s not because I wear a headscarf that I’m going to hurt other people.”
Muslim reaction to the latest massacre has been more clear-cut than after the January extremist attacks in Paris. Although the Muslim majority was repulsed by that violence, some also felt that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists had insulted them and their faith and deliberately courted trouble with their satirical drawings poking fun at the Prophet Muhammad. For those reasons, some Muslims couldn’t get behind the “Je Suis Charlie (I am Charlie)” rallying cry that caught fire worldwide.
“With Charlie, we weren’t for a massacre, but it is true that we weren’t too sorry,” said Kader Benamou, who was browsing at an Islamic bookshop opposite the Grand Mosque.
The mathematics graduate who is now looking for work said he, too, has felt a frostier reception in the city he grew up in.
“Looks now are cold and wary. … I can understand their paranoia a bit,” he said.
But this time, Muslim opposition to the bloodshed appears more universal. The January gunmen specifically targeted journalists and Jews. The latest killers didn’t care who they mowed down or what their victims believed. That made them terrifying for everyone.
“It is different, because this time there wasn’t a gram of reason to it,” said Benamou. “They killed everything without knowing who their victims were. Just anybody. Just like that, wantonly, with no reason. So of course we’re against that, 100 percent against, even 200 percent.”