Muslims in France: A Double Identity

Vicky Lin, Editor

This past October, the Charlie Hebdo cartoons provoked another deadly incident. After a French teacher showed cartoons of Prophet Muhammed to his class, he was beheaded by one of his students. Days later, three people were killed in front of a church in Nice. President Macron labeled the incident as an “Islamist terrorist attack.” [1]

The recent killings have evoked widespread fear and memories of the Charlie Hebdo shooting and the November 2015, in which two Muslim gunmen broke into Charlie Hebdo’s headquarters and killed twelve people, as well as the Paris terrorist attacks. Can France construct a secure society without alienating its Muslim citizens?

Muslims in France: a double identity

According to the World Factbook from the CIA, Muslims count as 7-9% of the French population, making Islam the second most popular religion. [2] While the first-generation Muslims have immigrated to France from other countries, the younger generations are raised in France, facing struggles between their French and Muslim identities. Though one’s nationality should not interrupt with their religious identity, France’s emphasis on freedom of speech often clashes with Islamic beliefs. Charlie Hebdo is a secular satirical magazine that has published cartoons of Prophet Muhammed as a nude man. Though it might seem normal to Charlie Hebdo’s style, French Muslims were undoubtedly offended because in Islam, Prophet Muhammed cannot be visually depicted, let alone in a depreciated fashion. The influence of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons caused deadly results. Where is the fine line between freedom of speech and respect for religions? As hate speech starts to be recognized as illegal around the world, offensive expressions of religions, which might not intend for animosity and disparagement, become harder to define.

The French government in response

President Macron has repeatedly shown that France puts its republican values over religious freedom, and for Muslims, they must be subject to republican values, whether they contradict with religious values or not, in order to be French. In 2011, France passed a law that bans face-covering in public space. Although some see the law as an effort to integrate Muslims into the French society and reduce gender inequality, it nonetheless interrupts Muslims’ traditional beliefs and practices.

 In October, President Macron has announced a law against “Islamist separatism,” emphasizing foreign influence on French Muslims. The law puts more regulation on mosques and training of imams, the person who leads prayer in a mosque. According to the Guardian, “Islamic organizations that receive funding from the French state will have to sign a ‘secular charter.’” [3] The law inevitably reinforces the “outsider” stereotype of French Muslims. More recently, the government proposes a new law that aims to establish a “closer monitoring system against the danger of radicalization” by giving ID numbers to Muslim children. [4] It is clear that while dealing with French Muslims, the government prefers using regulations to integrate Muslims than increasing the society’s level of understanding of Muslims.

In reality: marginalization and discrimination

The anger on recent attacks has translated into more stereotypes and discrimination on the French Muslim population. On October 21st, two French women stabbed two other women wearing veils near the Eiffel Tower and are accused of making racist insults. [5] While attacks and new laws further polarize French society, French Muslims feel marginalized and insecure in their country. According to a sociologist interviewed by AP, some Muslims start to consider leaving France. [6] Muslims have also faced stigmatism in various aspects of life, such as “being singled out by police for ID check” or “discrimination in job searches.” [7] While radical Islamists might only be exceptions to the entire French Muslim population, the tendency of people to generalize impactful incidents puts the French society under threats of insecurity and French Muslims into further discrimination. 

[1] BBC. “France attack: Three killed in ‘Islamist terrorist’ stabbings.” BBC World, 29 October 2020,

[2] CIA. “France.” The World Factbook,

[3] Willsher, Kim. “Macron outlines new law to prevent ‘Islamist separatism’ in France.” The Guardian, 2 Oct. 2020,

[4] Karal, Ahmet Gurhan. “After ID numbers for Muslims in France, what next?” AA, 24 Nov. 2020,

[5] Al-Jazeera. “Two French women charged over racist stabbing of veiled Muslims.” Al-Jazeera, 22 Oct. 2020,

[6] Ganley, Elaine. “French Muslims, stigmatized by attacks, feel under pressure.” AP, 1 November 2020,

[7] Ibid.