Lifting the veil: Who is behind the very honorable fight against islamophobia in France?

Although the burkini affair was definitely put to rest by France’s highest administrative court, it left many Americans wondering about the level of islamophobia in France. Understandably, the media coverage relied heavily on the voices of influential French Muslim activists who have been at the forefront of the fight against islamophobia. The message of these activists has been especially damaging to the French government, who they accused of being the main driver of racism against Muslims.

What got lost in translation is what makes French government officials, and indeed many French citizens, so uneasy about these activists and their message: hatred. Although they present themselves as human rights activists, and often refer to the American civil rights movement as a model for their struggle, they are not your typical humanitarians. In fact, the most prominent of them use hate speech against Jews or LGBT on a regular basis, a fact that somehow did not make it to the many articles that quoted them in the burkini affair.

Sihamedi Idriss, the President of Baraka City, the largest Muslim Charity in France, took a strong stance on the burkini affair which he said proves that France is “a fascist country and above all an islamophobic country.” That’s the same man who refused on live TV last January to disavow ISIS and pushed back on the question with a wonderful line: “If I were the Chief Rabbi of Paris, would you ask me to disavow Israel?” He recently discovered that he has been put on the US no-fly list by American counter-terrorism officials.

The most visible activist during this pathetic burkini sequence was Marwan Muhammad, the Executive Director of the Center Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF). Mr. Muhammad also likes to use Jews to make his point when asked about ISIS. He compares French Jews who hold dual French-Israeli citizenship and served in the Israeli Defense Forces with French Muslims who joined the ranks of ISIS and came back home to kill civilians. These days Mr. Muhammad is busy fighting the attempt by French authorities to shut down the “Al-Badr” school in Toulouse, whose Director and Imam is Mr. Abdelfattah Rahhaoui.

In what appears to be somewhat of a recurring theme, Mr. Rahhaoui produced a video title “Why are Jews so powerful?” which goes on to list the many achievements of Jewish scientists and compares the number of Jewish and Muslim Nobel prizes. The video concludes that Muslims need proper education to close the gap with the Jews, and that funding his Islamic school in Toulouse is the solution.

In other YouTube videos, Mr. Rahhaoui discusses his obsession with homosexuality, which he compares to zoophilia. The involvement of the Center Against Islamophobia is all the more surprising that Mr. Rahhaoui is well known for being the teacher and mentor of Souad Merah. Mrs. Merah is the sister of Mohammed Merah who killed three Jewish children and a rabbi in cold blood in March 2012. Mrs. Merah, who has since then joined ISIS in Syria, always took great pride in the actions of her brother and Mr. Rahhaoui always defended Souad despite her support for the killings, saying that she is “a wonderful person that does not stand for injustice, supports the Palestinian cause and that he agrees with many of her opinions.

In another video, Mr Rahhaoui said he did not approve of the killings at Charlie Hebdo, but that the terrorists remain his “brothers.” None of that seems to disturb the CCIF, which considers that the attempt to shut down this peculiar school can only be explained by the French government’s islamophobia.

Nabil Ennasri, President of the Collective of French Muslims (CFM), is another influential activist who leads the fight against islamophobia. Mr. Ennasri also has opinions that are unusual for a human right activist. He celebrated on his Facebook account the anniversary of the death of AbdelAziz Rantissi, the former head of Hamas, which he called a martyr and an inspiration and called on French Muslims to “never forget him.” As a reminder, Mr. Rantissi was responsible, among dozens of other suicide bombings, for the vicious attack on the cafeteria of Hebrew University that killed nine persons, including five US citizens. Mr. Rantissi personally claimed responsibility for the attack live on Al-Jazeera, celebrating the murder of “Jews.” Nabil Ennasri is, not surprisingly, fond of conspiracy theories. One of his theories is that child-killer Mohammed Merah was in fact manipulated by the Mossad and the French secret service. Finally, Mr. Ennasri, just like his activists friends, has strong views on gay marriage. He authored an op-ed in January 2013 which asked if the next step would be to allow incest and pedophilia.

And the list goes on. Fateh Kimouche is the most influential and well-respected Muslim blogger in France and islamophobia one of his main focus. Mr Kimouche shares the same obsession for Israel and Jews than his comrades, and the same disgust for gays. In a tweet, he accused the French socialist party of attempting to “convert schoolchildren to homosexuality”. After a tabloid claimed that the Germanwings pilot that deliberately crashed his plane killing 150 was gay, Mr. Kimouche suggested the crash could be a theme for the next gay pride.

To their credit, these Muslim activists have allowed a small number of women to join their struggle. Siham Assbague for example, who claims to fight all racism, but she has a peculiar way of going about it. She just organized a “decolonial” summer camp that was “forbidden to white people” (including mixed couples).

Last but not least, Houria Bouteldja is another example of activist-fighting-islamophobia-gone-wrong. Often invited on French talk shows, she is the founder of an “anti-imperialist” NGO that claims to fight islamophobia. She argues that hating gays is just a way to resist the “colonial order.” She publicly celebrates any attack from Hamas and Hezbollah against civilians. Mrs Bouteldja never said “Je suis Charlie,” but she did say “Je suis Mohammed Merah” in a public event recorded on YouTube in March 2012 less than two weeks after the attack. Although she specified that she did not approve of the murder of the three Jewish children and the rabbi because “not all Jews are Zionists.” And of course she added that there was a chance Mr. Merah was working for the French secret service.

It appears France gave birth to a new kind of human rights activists. They are as busy fighting islamophobia as they are promoting hatred towards LGBT and Jews. They rightly denounce job and housing discrimination against Muslims, while celebrating terror attacks against Jews. They defend the right of Muslim women to dress how they want, while comparing gay rights to pedophilia.

The irony is that the far-right party of Marine Le Pen is all too happy to try and present these individuals as representatives of the broader Muslim community to spread fear and racism. French Muslims certainly deserve better to fight off the very real bigotry and racism they are facing than a bunch of anti-Semitic homophobic activists who identify with terrorists.

About the Author
Noam Ohana is a Wexner fellow and the founder and President of Tsarfat, the voice of French Jews in the US. His articles on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and on Antisemitism have appeared in leading publications (including Le Monde, the Huffington Post, Liberation, Slate, The Daily Beast). Mr. Ohana is a graduate of Sciences Po and Stanford University and served in the Israeli special forces during the Second Intifada.
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