Last Sunday people filled the streets of Paris and other French cities and towns in an overwhelming expression of solidarity with the victims of the brutal attacks last week that left 17 people dead. People of all ages and all backgrounds walked together, holding up signs with the words “I am Charlie,” “I am Jewish,” and “I am Ahmed,” the name of a policeman killed following the attack on Charlie Hebdo.
But in contrast with this feeling of unity and solidarity, a wave of Islamophobic attacks has seized France. The ministry of the interior has recorded over 50 attacks and threats since January 7, a figure that does not include the Paris area.
Mosques around France have been targeted with gunshots, grenades, racist graffiti, and arson attacks. Figures from the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) are also alarming: since the day of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, it has received reports of attacks against 24 mosques across France, four shops belonging to Muslims, and a dozen verbal or physical attacks against Muslim people.
In response to these and to the horrific anti-Semitic attack on the kosher supermarket on the eve of the Sabbath, the government has committed to increasing security around Jewish and Muslim places of worship and Jewish schools, and yesterday the minister of the interior announced that an official would be appointed to coordinate security measures for Jewish sites and places of worship that are under threat.
These measures are welcome, but Islamophobic and anti-Semitic attacks in France did not begin last week. In July, a kosher supermarket was attacked in Paris, and in Sarcelles a kosher store and a Jewish-owned chemist were burned. Painful memories from the shooting of a man and three children in a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012 are still vivid. Increasing numbers of Jews are emigrating, at least in part motivated by fear.
Islamophobic attacks are also alarmingly commonplace. The CCIF regularly records attacks and discriminatory acts against Muslims, many of them women and girls wearing headscarves, and against Muslim places of worship.
Ensuring that Jews and Muslims are protected from violent attack is a matter of urgency, and the government should act on its commitment to do so without delay. But tackling anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in France – the country with Europe’s largest Jewish and Muslim populations – will take more than just police officers. It will also require a greater commitment to education, dialogue, and mutual respect across French society, and fighting the stereotypes that fuel such attacks.