Emily can be in Paris, but Eman cannot

Sunday, November 1, 2020 - 11:13pm

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Disclaimer: Islamophobia is a phrase that doesn’t truly embody anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions. The word, literally meaning a fear of Islam, legitimizes fear of Muslims, as if we are a people to fear or operate like regular and logical horrors of spiders and heights. I do not condone nor do I use that phrase in my daily life as I attempt to distance myself from the misleading caricature of a term. In its place, I will use the phrase anti-Muslim and urge you to do the same as your refer to anti-Muslim bigotry.

 

The ideal vacation, Paris, remains a special place for many aching for a life of romance, buttery croissants and artful architecture. The French language seen as poetry, the streets of France idealized and the air romanticized as everyone hopes to become entranced by Paris and France’s overall allure. Emily in Paris is the embodiment of that glamorization as Netflix’s carefree dramatic comedy stars Lily Collins as an American who has difficulty assimilating to French society. Having not studied the language prior to her arrival, her misunderstandings of the language are running jokes as she flaunts her Parisian influenced style and discovers France. A sucker for guilty pleasures like this show, I eagerly binged all the episodes in two days. As I finished the show, I couldn’t help but think about how my experience in Paris could never look like Emily’s.

 

Like Emily, my mouth waters just thinking about French pastries — chocolate croissants in particular — and decadent meals cooked with rich meats and fancy, unpronounceable glazes. Roaming the cobblestone streets in wanderlust, purchasing groceries from an aesthetically pleasing French market and finally utilizing the French language I worked so hard to acquire were daydreams that kept me sane throughout stringent French courses. However, France has made it illegal for people like me to see these dreams through, unlike Emily, with their current ban on hijab

 

Attempting to stay true to an ideal of secularism, the country has made it illegal for Jews to dress in yamakas, Christians to wear cross necklaces, Sikhs to cover in dastars and Muslim women, like myself, to drape our hair in hijabs. Though the ban prohibits all religious apparel, the ban is rooted in the mainstream misconception that Muslim women who dress in hijabs are oppressed, that the hijab is an oppressive tool and that France, a republic built on liberty, equality and fraternity, cannot condone the oppression of women. Seemingly a contradiction as founding womens’ ideals on their clothing and reducing women to their appearance is oppressive and sexist in and of itself, the country does not care for promoting unity as their goal is to villify Islam to the French public. Due to the hijab being a physical embodiment of Islam and Europe’s overwhelming belief that Muslims are behind all of their political and social pitfalls, it is evident that this ban is motivated by anti-Muslim convictions.

 

Anti-Muslim rheotric is the mainstream in France, as demonizing and disrespecting Islam is a social norm. Charlie Hebdo, a popular French satirical magazine, is no stranger to this phenomenon as its existence is a ruthless reminder of fervent French anti-Muslim bigotry. Known for angering Muslims worldwide because of its purposefully intolerant depiction of our last Messenger, its content is heavily baked in this notion that Muslims are either stupefying fools or threatening terrorists. Just scrolling through its website makes me regret the years of French schooling I endured; the organization takes every possible opportunity to profit off of common anti-Muslim speech. Its top five most popular articles listed on its website, as I write this article, are centered on crude and derogatory jokes of Muslim figures and Muslim culture, even attacking Arabic; the language of the Quran and coincidentally the language that gave the French its numerals, as horsetalk. Sports is not a cultural medium immune from anti-Muslim bigotry. Despite a majority of France’s soccer players coming from Africa and the Arab world and identifying as Muslim, its players are categorized as French when they win and Arabs or Africans when they lose. Zidane, arguably the most successful French soccer player, is of Algerian and Muslim descent and even his prestige could not save him from France’s rampant anti-Muslim bigotry. If a man that has delivered the French a world cup and multiple championships continues to be the at the end of anti-Muslim rhetoric, is there any Muslim that can be immune from French sponsered anti-Muslim hatred? As the country continues to capitalize on anti-Muslim sentiments, France and some of its inhabitants remain keen on harming their Muslim neighbors in a country that just so happens to hold the most Muslims in the Western world.

 

The culmination of brewing anti-Muslim beliefs and a disenfranchised Muslim population, France has been the setting for a petrifying exemplification of the domino effect. About two weeks ago, a teacher who chose to depict offensive Charlie Hebdo comics was beheaded by a terrorist. In response to the terror attack, President Macron, a man who identifies as politically centerist, stated that Islam was a religion “in crisis all over the world” and a threat to the West. I find it important to note that this was a man that claimed he wanted to save Lebanon following the disastrous earthquake and finds Muslim countries very appealing to his country’s dangerous and exploitive infatuation with globalism. Angered by the anti-Muslim comments made by Macron, Muslim majority country leaders like Imran Khan of Pakistan and Erdogan of Turkey called for a boycott of French products. Following the horrific incident, another terror attack occured when two Algerian women donned in headscarves were beaten and stabbed by two French women ironically near the symbol of France, the Eiffel tower. The women were harassed and called “Dirty Arabs,” a result of widespread anti Arab sentiments in the nation. In a horrifying retaliation to French enabled anti-Muslim sentiments, a man identifying as Muslim stabbed three people at Notre Dame, all of whom died due to his cruelty. This led to an anti-Muslim man attempting to set a mosque ablaze as he poured gasoline onto its walls, arson he fortunately was not able to fully complete, but an assault on the religion nonetheless. 

All of these terror attacks stem from a festering anti-Muslim governance and culture. Prejudice, like Muslim and French blood, spills into the streets of France as rhetoric is spewed and legislation is drafted to antagonize the second most followed religion in the world and those who follow it. As France continues to play victim, I can’t help but think about the countries France attacked over the past few centuries and its continued obsession with Islam and the Muslim veil. Having colonized countries like Tunisia, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco and Algeria, it seems ironic that the French government claims that Islam is a “terror” when France has terrorized Muslim majority nations. To list all the cruelties committed by France to Muslim majority nations is virtually impossible, cementing that France is the true opressor. Despite its beautiful appearance, its core is ugly, operating on the premise that Emily can be in Paris, but Eman cannot. 

Eman can be reached at enaga@umich.edu.