The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion French Islamophobia goes global

Renaud Camus in Montpellier, France, in October 2016. (PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images)

Rokhaya Diallo is a writer, journalist, filmmaker and TV host for BET France.

I do not see why I would have inspired him.”

That is how the French intellectual Renaud Camus reacted when asked about the terrorist who murdered 50 people last week in New Zealand.

But the accused gunman’s manifesto, “The Great Replacement,” is an obvious reference to the eponymous book authored by Camus in 2012. The idea in the title has become a rallying cry among white supremacists in both the United States and Europe. The killer’s text — which refers to “the invasion of France by nonwhites” — is full of references to the idea that Islam and migrants are supposedly subverting the purity of the “European” identity.

The suspect — who police in Christchurch, New Zealand, say posted the manifesto before the attack — had traveled to France in 2017. “The final push was witnessing the state of French cities and towns. For many years I had been hearing and reading of the invasion of France by nonwhites, many of these rumors and stories I believed to be exaggerations, created to push a political narrative,” the accused gunman wrote. “But once I arrived in France, I found the stories not only to be true, but profoundly understated.”

That hateful theory is at the heart of Camus’s writings. The author was sentenced in 2014 by a French court for “provoking hatred or violence” for referring to the Muslims of Europe as “colonizers.” Camus considers this “change of civilization” as being by far “the most important phenomenon for the past 15 centuries” (during which, of course, the transatlantic slave trade, the colonization of Africa, America, Asia and Oceania, and the Holocaust all occurred).

Despite those unchecked statements, Camus has been a reference for some leading intellectuals and journalists, and his ideology has been spreading in the French public sphere year after year.

In 2017, the philosopher Alain Finkielkraut caused a deep malaise when he invited Camus to debate immigration on his radio show. Without mentioning his sentence, Finkielkraut justified his choice arguing that Camus, who “is heard and seen nowhere has shaped an expression that we hear everywhere.” He then quoted conservative journalist Éric Zemmour as being one of the most powerful mainstream faces of Camus’s ideology.

It is not the first time that an extremist murderer refers to a French intellectual. In 2011, Anders Behring Breivik, who killed nearly 80 people in attacks in Norway in July 2011, quoted Finkielkraut saying that “antiracism is to the 21st century what communism was to the 20th century: a source of violence.” That did not prevent the philosopher from inviting writer Richard Millet to his show to speak about his latest book, a “literary” whitewashing of Breivik. In the book, the terrorist is depicted of a “desperate” symbol of the “ravages of multiculturalism.”

Even politicians affiliated with the left, like former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, have played an important role in exacerbating the paranoia, saying headscarves carry a “political claim” and referring to “the problem with Islam.”

But the trivialization of Islamophobia does not only rely on the shoulders of a few thinkers.

In 2012, I wrote a piece pointing out how Islam and Muslims were repeatedly presented by news magazines as an alien danger. That narrative has been infusing French political discourse for several decades, with a particular focus on the hijab. I can’t count the number of controversies that have begun because Muslim women were trying to live a normal life out of their homes.

In Europe, France is the country that most often overestimates the size of its Muslim population. It believes that 31 percent of the population is Muslim, whereas actual figures indicate that they make up only 7.5 percent of the population.. That perception would probably not be the same if Muslims were not so often at the center of the attention, and pointed out as dangers to our democracy.

The Christchurch terrorist is from the far right, but the ideology he stands for has been spread by both the mainstream media and intellectuals. It has been exported from France to a country that has one of the lowest murder rates in the world.

When hosting Camus, Finkielkraut said that one may think he was “taking on a heavy responsibility.”

Now is the time to face it.

Read more:

Richard Glover: In the shadow of Christchurch, let’s drive racism out of Australian politics

David C. Atkinson: It’s time for Australia and New Zealand to confront their white nationalist histories

Jennifer Rubin: Demonizing Muslims and immigrants leads to predictable results

Max Boot: Not all terrorism is treated equally

Elizabeth Bruenig: The New Zealand attack and the fundamental thoughtlessness of evil