Teen's police shooting 'sign of institutional Islamophobia, racism' in France: Expert

Teen's police shooting 'sign of institutional Islamophobia, racism' in France: Expert

French government in denial like 'many systems that are oppressive and which have no capacity for reflection,' says British social theorist

By Burak Bir

LONDON (AA) – Last week’s fatal police shooting of a 17-year-old in a Paris suburb should not be seen as an individual, isolated case, but rather lays bare the country’s institutional racism and Islamophobia, according to a British social theorist and expert on colonialism.

Protests have engulfed France since June 27, when a police officer shot dead Nahel M., a teenager of Algerian and Moroccan descent, claiming that he tried to run them over.

Videos of the incident proved otherwise and the officer faces a formal investigation for voluntary homicide.

Hundreds of people have been arrested as protests, which began in Nanterre, the working-class Paris suburb where Nahel was shot, have spread across the country to cities including Lyon, Toulouse, Lille and Marseille.

France has been facing fierce criticism over its law enforcement policies, particularly with regards to discrimination against immigrants and minority communities, who have deep grievances and distrust of a police force they accuse of being systemically racist and excessively violent.

The UN has also called on France to address “issues of racial discrimination within its law enforcement agencies.”

For Salman Sayyid, professor of social theory and decolonial thought at the University of Leeds, the manner of Nahel’s killing is “not new.”

He said the French state and sections of its society have been “pursuing an Islamophobic orientation for a number of years.”

“I think it (Nahel’s killing) is a sign of institutional Islamophobia and institutional racism in the French law enforcement system, in the French criminal justice system, and in the French state itself,” he told Anadolu.

He said the French police’s attitude toward people “especially those that are considered to be ethnically marked or marked by Muslimness is institutionally racist and institutionally Islamophobic.”

The French government, he added, will not admit to that because “they don’t even have the category of racism.”

“This kind of denial is quite common in many systems that are oppressive and which have no capacity for reflection,” said Sayyid.

- ‘Mainstreaming of Islamophobia’

“I think what is happening in France is dangerous not just for Muslims and other ethnic or marginalized groups, but for society itself because the erosion of civil rights and the erosion of sort of democratic rights will affect everybody,” said Sayyid.

He asserted that combating Islamophobia is essential to protect the rights of all people because “there cannot be civil rights for all if there are no civil rights for Muslims.”

To a question about the surge in Islamophobia across Europe, Sayyid said there has been a “mainstreaming of Islamophobia” in the EU, which is “particularly alarming.”

He touched on some recent examples of Islamophobia and acts against Muslims across Europe, including the burning of the Quran in countries such as Sweden, bans on groups working against racism or Islamophobia in France, and pressure on pro-Palestine groups in Germany.

“These are supposed to be countries which value and champion human and civil rights globally and within their own borders,” said Sayyid.

He said such acts by European governments is actually “an attack on even their own understanding of liberal values.”

“Space for critical thinking and for being able to dissent in the EU, which is supposed to be a liberal bastion, is shrinking,” said Sayyid.

For any sort of progress on this front, there must be a broader coalition that includes not just Muslims but all those “who feel that the relationship between the rulers and the ruled must be much more balanced,” he added.

“Islamophobia, institutional racism is the cutting edge of this new system that’s coming into place, and therefore for it to get better, will require a great deal of effort from many people ... a broad, united coalition against this xenophobia for refugees, for the Roma, for Muslims, for those who are being excluded from what is happening now,” he said.

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