28th Sep 2023


Silencing Muslim voices: France's authoritarian security state

  • Muhammad Rabbani's travel ban is another example of what happens to an individual or civil rights group determined to stand up for justice in the midst of state Islamophobia (Photo: Screengrab/CAGE)
Listen to article

On 24 July, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom issued an alarming policy briefing on religious freedom concerns in the European Union at large. Amongst the many countries discussed, one features most prominently: France, especially in regard to its treatment of Muslims.

The country is mentioned for restrictions on religious attire, legal treatment of so-called sects, the infamous anti-separatism law, which aims to enforce "French values," and newly-imposed provisions fining religious leaders exorbitant sums of money, threatening to close their places of worship if they provoke people to undermine French law.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Again, flexible terminologies are used, which can be easily abused by state authorities to put pressure on unpleasant people.

Meanwhile, various intellectuals and civil rights groups have warned of the increasing anti-Muslim tendency within the French government.

The UK-based civil rights group CAGE, which was one of the few shedding light on France's systematic obstruction policy on Muslims, documented how the French government created 101 units nationwide to monitor Islam and Muslims, placing 23,996 Muslim organisations and businesses on a secret blacklist and under strict monitoring, closing 672 Muslim-owned organisations and businesses and seizing €45,572,000.

With this policy, France aligns itself with other authoritarian states, whose leaders such as Egyptian president Abdelfattah El-Sisi are awarded the highest forms of state recognition. And like Sisi's military regime, France intends to on the one hand control the religious infrastructure to make it subservient to its own policy aims, while on the other hand, it cracks down on every independent religious actor in fear of potential opposition emanating from there.

When recently, CAGE's campaign director, Muhammad Rabbani, attempted to travel to France following the fatal police shooting of the teenager Nahel Merzouk, which lead to massive protests all over the country, he was detained in Paris for almost 24 hours and sent back to London.

The government's ministry of interior declared that "given the particularly high terrorist threat, his presence on national territory would constitute a serious threat to public order and the internal security of France."

The ministry further accused Rabbani of being part of a "radical Islamist movement" and "spreading slanderous words" about "supposed 'Islamophobic persecution' and mass surveillance by western governments, including France."

In other words: the critique of France's policies is retaliated with an entry ban.

This extensive use of anti-terrorism legislation bears witness to the increasing authoritarianism that comes with the expansion of the security state. At stake here are several freedoms that the French state would normally claim to uphold and proud itself of defending: freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of travel, and freedom of assembly. But where is democracy, when these freedoms are lost?

And the problem runs deeper: in 2015, the government proclaimed a state of emergency, which allows for exceptional measures and made counterterrorism controls the new normal. These exceptional measures were integrated into the ordinary legal system in October 2017, thus concentrating enormous power in the hands of the government outside of the usual checks and balances of the criminal justice system.

Only in May this year, France's interior minister Gérald Darmanin said during a visit to the US discussing terrorism that "for Europeans and for France the primary risk is Sunni Islamist terrorism." But as the US Commission on International Religious Freedom's report said, European claims to fight terrorism and extremism clearly affect "non-violent activities or expression."

Reference to the defence of national or European values often masquerades as an unbiased way of tackling violence, while in fact discriminating against the most vulnerable groups such as Muslims in Europe.

This way, the fight against terrorism becomes a pretext under which Muslims are discriminated. Counter-terrorism measures have an outstanding impact on Muslims, as studies by the European Union's Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) have shown in the past. They target Muslims disproportionately, as the FRA states in its report.

Rabbani's travel ban is another example of what these developments mean for an individual and a civil rights group that is determined to give a voice to the voiceless and stand up for justice in the midst of state Islamophobia that so many in Europe are ignoring.

Author bio

Farid Hafez is distinguished visiting professor of international studies at Williams College, Massachusetts.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

How do you make embarrassing EU documents 'disappear'?

The EU Commission's new magic formula for avoiding scrutiny is simple. You declare the documents in question to be "short-lived correspondence for a preliminary exchange of views" and thus exempt them from being logged in the official inventory.


Will Poles vote for the end of democracy?

International media must make clear that these are not fair, democratic elections. The flawed race should be the story at least as much as the race itself.


Will Poles vote for the end of democracy?

International media must make clear that these are not fair, democratic elections. The flawed race should be the story at least as much as the race itself.

Latest News

  1. Germany tightens police checks on Czech and Polish border
  2. EU Ombudsman warns of 'new normal' of crisis decision-making
  3. How do you make embarrassing EU documents 'disappear'?
  4. Resurgent Fico hopes for Slovak comeback at Saturday's election
  5. EU and US urge Azerbijan to allow aid access to Armenians
  6. EU warns of Russian 'mass manipulation' as elections loom
  7. Blocking minority of EU states risks derailing asylum overhaul
  8. Will Poles vote for the end of democracy?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Medical Devices Regulators Forum (IMDRF)Join regulators, industry & healthcare experts at the 24th IMDRF session, September 25-26, Berlin. Register by 20 Sept to join in person or online.
  2. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  3. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA
  4. International Medical Devices Regulators Forum (IMDRF)Join regulators & industry experts at the 24th IMDRF session- Berlin September 25-26. Register early for discounted hotel rates
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal interest in the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations – here are the speakers for the launch
  6. Nordic Council of Ministers20 June: Launch of the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  2. ICLEISeven actionable measures to make food procurement in Europe more sustainable
  3. World BankWorld Bank Report Highlights Role of Human Development for a Successful Green Transition in Europe
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic summit to step up the fight against food loss and waste
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThink-tank: Strengthen co-operation around tech giants’ influence in the Nordics
  6. EFBWWEFBWW calls for the EC to stop exploitation in subcontracting chains

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us