French PM bans protest by Muslims because it “doesn’t concern France”

This post was written by Owen on September 19, 2012
Posted Under: Civil Liberties,Islamophobia,Protest

This story is really, seriously worrying:

(CNN) — French authorities said Wednesday that they will not authorize weekend demonstrations in Paris as protests over an anti-Muslim video [The Innocence of Muslims, the youtube clip which sparked the anti-American protests in Cairo and Benghazi last week] started to fade worldwide.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told radio station RTL that French police forces have been reinforced should protesters organize.

“There is no reason to bring conflicts in our country that do not concern France,” he said.

It isn’t just the mere fact that the French government has banned a protest that’s worthy of concern. If there was a genuine threat of serious violence at a demonstration, it might – possibly – be justifiable as the lesser of two evils to ban it, although in this case even if the rationale for the protest ban was to prevent violence, Ayrault would be on distinctly shaky ground.  It’s true that there were 150 arrests at a demonstration outside the US embassy in Paris last Saturday, but virtually all of those were of protestors blocking the street by praying (which seems particularly tame when you remember that blocking streets with burning blockades is practically a national pastime in France) or wearing full-face veils in public – hardly a serious threat to public order. And while it should be admitted that the decision by Charlie-Hebdo (a satirical magazine which as far as I can tell occupies a niche somewhere between Private Eye and Viz in the French media ecosystem) to publish a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad won’t have helped to calm tensions, it still seems unlikely that any future protests would lead to sufficient unrest to justify a ban. It doesn’t follow from the fact that protests on the issue turned violent in the Middle East that they will be in France as well.

What’s genuinely ominous about this news, however, is the justification given for banning the demo: the idea that because the subject of the protest isn’t something which directly involves France, the government has no reason to permit the protest to go ahead, which rather worryingly implies that it’s now apparently up to the French government to decide which issues it’s appropriate to protest about. Plus, of course, in recent decades there must have been countless protests in France about “conflicts” in which France wasn’t directly involved: the French government was happy to allow somewhere between 100 and 200,000 people to protest against the Iraq war back in 2003, for example, despite that being a conflict which France didn’t take part in.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that there’s more than a whiff of Islamophobia in this. If Ayrault had sought to ban protests on any issue which wasn’t solely of concern to Muslims, surely there’d have been an outcry? The implicit message of Ayrault’s pronouncement seems to be that if you’re really French, this just isn’t the kind of thing which you should care enough to be protesting about. And the really disturbing thing is not merely that he thinks he has a right to tell French Muslims what they should and shouldn’t be demonstrating against, but that no one seems to see anything wrong with this.

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