Firebombs and pig heads thrown into mosques. Veiled women subjected to crude insults in the street. The Internet awash with threats against Muslims. Europe’s Muslims are feeling the heat of a fierce backlash following last week’s terror attack against French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
A climate of fear is taking hold in Europe, as ordinary people increasingly heed rightist rhetoric equating the millions of peaceful Muslims with the few plotting murder and mayhem.
Abdallah Zekri, head of the National Observatory Against Islamophobia, said that in a 48-hour period after the Wednesday massacre at Charlie Hebdo, 16 places of worship around France were attacked by firebombs, gunshots or pig heads — a major insult to Muslims who don’t eat pork.
The three-day terror spree in Paris claimed the lives of 17 victims, and traumatized a continent already brimming with anti-immigrant sentiment. Brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi — the Al-Qaeda-linked suspects in the magazine attack — were killed in a shootout at a printing plant north of Paris; their apparent accomplice Amedy Coulibaly was shot dead in a near-simultaneous raid at a Jewish market, where he had holed himself up with hostages, killing four.
French authorities are warning the nation against linking French Muslims with terrorists. “The terrorists’ religion is not Islam, which they are betraying,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said last week. “It’s barbarity.”
“We said above all, pretty unanimously, that in France there are 5 or 6 million Muslims. These (terrorist) issues concern 1,000 individuals,” said Socialist lawmaker Patrick Mennucci. “We should be careful not to stigmatize anyone.”
Coulibaly’s mother and daughters, presenting condolences to the victims, issued a plea in a statement delivered to the French press “that there will be no amalgam between these odious acts and the Muslim religion.”
Yet Muslims and some experts said that it was inevitable that Muslims would fall under suspicion after the attacks, despite a unity march on Sunday — described as the largest in French history — in which throngs of Muslims participated.
“For Muslims, the shock is grave in this climate of Islamophobia, of aggressions against places of worship,” read a statement by Dalil Boubakeur, head of the French Council for the Muslim Faith and the most visible Muslim in France.
France’s state of high alert after the Charlie Hebdo rampage — with 10,000 soldiers deployed in the streets — may deepen a sense of siege within the Muslim population. “Everyone has this uncomfortable feeling, a sense of being threatened — Muslims because they are afraid to be stigmatized and that they will be attacked too,” said Imade Annouri, a Green parliamentarian of Belgium’s regional legislature of Flanders and an expert on integration issues.
TellMAMA, a British group that tracks anti-Muslim attacks, reported 50-60 cases of specific online threats to individuals over the weekend.“The sheer volume is unbelievable,” said the organization’s director, Fiyaz Mughal, who fears virtual assaults could spur real ones in the street. Mughal said that after the slaying of British soldier Lee Rigby in London, the group was able to gauge how threats made on Twitter and Facebook translated directly into attacks on individuals or mosques.
Mohamed Ali Adraoui, a fellow at the European University Institute, suggested that hatred of Islam could morph into an assault on a mosque, in France or elsewhere.