French Muslims seek positive image post Paris attacks

Riyadh, Feb 7
A group of French Muslims has started a social media campaign to salvage the pride of the community, facing a backlash following attacks in France last month by Islamist terrorists, media reported.

The campaign on social media, called "Je Suis Nous" ("I am we") seeks to highlight and celebrate positive contributions by Muslims to French culture, the Saudi Gazette reported Friday citing Arabic newspaper Al Arabiya.

A month after the campaign’s launch, its Facebook page has become extremely popular, in which both Muslims and non-Muslims post daily stories on topics ranging from rap music, art and sports to academia.

The activists behind the campaign have been drawn from different fields like law, human rights, finance, communications and academia, and their aim is to support a peaceful and cohesive society in France and above all to make the Muslims in France confident and eradicate the negative narratives around the community.

Speaking to Al Arabiya, the team behind “Je Suis Nous” explained how the attacks last month, considered one of “France’s worst terrorist attacks in a generation”, inspired the vision of “Je Suis Nous”.

Laila Fathi, who is currently a doctorate student in law at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, described the urge to do something in the aftermath of the attack on the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in Paris as “cathartic” amid growing fears of anti-Muslim backlash among the French Muslim community. “I felt that our very existence (as Muslims in France) would be put into question.”

According to “Je Suis Nous” project manager and journalist, Suhail Najmi, the objectives of the campaign are to “valorise actions of Muslims citizens... (by talking) about our individual stories... and promoting French Muslims' contributions to (French) community, culture, art...”

Currently a Facebook page and an accompanying monthly YouTube channel have kick started the campaign, which also aims to develop a digital platform.

Fathi added that the objective of the initiative is about “...creating events by which Muslims will feel more confident in their French identity... bridging between the different actors of French civil society”.

Since the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, there’s been an unprecedented spike in anti-Muslim hatred attacks in France.

According to The Daily Beast, “the National Observatory Against Islamophobia says there were 128 anti-Muslim incidents reported in France between the Charlie Hebdo killings and Jan 20, compared to 133 last year”.

Samia Hathroubi, a French history teacher, and “Je Suis Nous” activist, described that the current struggle to build a positive public perception about French Muslims was hampered by negative narratives emerging on a “daily basis” from some quarters of French media and politicians, with anti-terror laws “singling out Muslims, (and) Islam as a very worrying issue”.

Fellow team member and economics professor, Rabah Ghezali, pointed out that “whilst Muslims in France may be the largest Muslim population in an European country (approximately six million), our community is composed of diasporas that have experienced different patterns of migration, often the result of decolonisation, than say, Muslims in the US. Furthermore, Muslim institutions in France are not as representative as we would desire.”

The “Je Suis Nous” campaign has already garnered over 2,000 likes since it was launched and is growing rapidly. Fathi explained that the campaign has “lots of support.”

Moreover, “it is an assertion of a French identity that does not tick one box... it is a plurality all conjoined by the belief in values of liberty, equality and fraternity. Values that have lost their meaning in the past ten years,” Fathi said.

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