PARIS – French Muslims are braced for a backlash after terrorists shouting Islamist slogans killed 12 people Wednesday in Paris.
Community leaders are urging Muslims to stay vigilant and calm as fears of reprisals grow following the massacre at the offices of a satirical magazine. The leaders asked their community to avoid provoking other French people and join protests against the attack. They recommended that veiled women avoid going out alone.
“Panic is spreading,” said Henniche M’hammed, spokesman for UAM 93, an Islamic community group based in Seine-Saint-Denis, a working-class Paris suburb. “More and more Muslim people are asking themselves, ‘What’s next?'”
The sense of intimidation was fueled since Wednesday by attacks on religious buildings and the menacing rhetoric from Front National leader Marine Le Pen who blames immigrants for many of France’s woes. The country’s leading Islamic groups met Thusday at the main mosque in Paris and called on Muslims to hold a minute’s silence and for religious leaders to condemn the killings.
“The best message we can give against these terrorists is to show that the French are unified, that we won’t fall into their trap of pitting us against each other,” Mohammed Moussaoui, former head of the French Muslim Council, said on BFM TV Thursday. “We must show our unity to fight our enemies, these barbarians who twist our religion to justify violence.”
France is home to Europe’s largest Islamic community, of about 5 million people, and their numbers have been growing with children and grandchildren of those who arrived from the country’s former colonies in North Africa during the 20th century.
M’hammed said pressure has been mounting since journalist Eric Zemmour predicted in October that the growth of the Muslim community would eventually lead to civil war in France and raised the prospect of deporting immigrants. Zemmour’s latest book, in which he argues immigration has cost the country its sovereignty, has sold nearly 500,000 copies.
Le Pen has ridden that wave of anti-immigrant sentiment to become one of the most popular politicians in France. Today she called for a referendum on bringing back the death penalty, banned in France since 1981, and demanded President Francois Hollande approve harsher measures to tackle Islamic fundamentalism.
Last month, a court in Frejus ruled in favor of local Muslims after the city’s Front National mayor blocked the construction of a mosque.
M’hammed’s group is receiving reports of increasingly frequent attacks, he said. Women have been insulted or had their veils pulled at while pork meat has been thrown at mosques. The neighborhood, on the northeastern edge of Paris, is home to a large Muslim community and was hit by the country’s worst riots in 2005.
“What just happened could make the French even more receptive to poisonous ideas,” Hanan Ben Rhouma, a journalist at the Islamic news website Saphirnews, told Liberation newspaper. “I’m scared of people drawing simplistic conclusions.”
In Le Man, western France, a shot was fired at the local mosque and four nonlethal hand grenades, typically used in military exercises, were thrown into its courtyard, Herve Brevard, deputy prosecutor of the city’s court, said by phone. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack and an investigation is underway, he said.
One mosque was fired on in southern France, LaProvence.com reported, while another in Poitiers was daubed with graffiti saying “death to the Arabs,” Ouest France said. A sandwich outlet close to the mosque in Villefranche-sur-Saone, near Lyon, was hit by an explosion, according to Agence France Press.
“It seems to be linked to the dramatic situation” in Paris, the mayor told AFP.
France is on maximum terrorist alert as police hunt two men suspected of carrying out Wednesday’s attack, in which assailants opened fire in Charlie Hebdo’s newsroom with automatic weapons. Separately, a policewoman was shot dead in a town to the south of Paris Thursday.
“Muslim people are feeling the pressure in their lives every day and it’s been building up for weeks,” M’hammed said. “Today’s attack against a mosque isn’t an isolated incident.”