As France's political environment becomes increasingly hostile towards Muslims, new initiatives by the community seek to make themselves heard.

Starting a platform dedicated to the question of tackling endemic Islamophobia in France, isn't without its challenges. For one, the country's political establishment won't even acknowledge the term.

At worst, the country's politicians banned the country's only organisation collecting data on rising anti-Muslim violence in the country.

That, however, hasn't stopped Rafik Chekkat, a former lawyer turned writer, activist, and animator, from starting an organisation called 'Islamophobia' aimed at being an umbrella platform of resources.

"Our objectives are multiple," says Chekkat speaking to TRT World.

"We want to provide those fighting against Islamophobia with the most complete and useful tools possible. To do this, we must grasp Islamophobia in all its dimensions: political, religious, social, economic, psychological - and deploy our discourse on all media, including podcasts, videos, and magazines, in order to reach the widest possible audience," added Chekkat.

The ambitious objectives reflect the scale of the challenge Muslims face in the country.

Most recently, the French Senate voted to ban conspicuous religious symbols in sports, a move primarily aimed at the country's Muslim women - some of whom may play sports with a headscarf.

That spurred a petition by French activists to stop the controversial law. As it is, most national sports federations in the country, including the French Football Federation, forbids wearing the veil using arguments such as supposed neutrality in sport or even invoking principles of hygiene and safety.

Against this backdrop, the Muslim community's challenges are "immense", says Chekkat.

"Muslim people are hampered in their religious, social, economic and political life," says Chekkat adding, "mosques, humanitarian or rights associations, schools, publishers, sports clubs or even simple snack bars are subject to dissolution or closure procedures every week."

French President Emmanuel Macron over the past few years has incrementally ratcheted up his government's anti-Muslim policies, which has included the closure of Muslim schools, mosques, Islamic charities, organisations monitoring Islamophobia, publishing houses, and even pressuring mosques to sign a charter that forbids talking about discrimination and racism faced by the community.

"The motivations for such repression is clear," says Chekkat, and the aim ultimately is "to sanction any Muslim discourse that is directly critical of the ongoing attempt to neutralise the public space."

"Any question relating to Islam in France is thus the subject of immediate politicisation… under the guise of the fight against political Islam."

In December of last year, the French government announced that it would seek to dissolve the state-backed French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM) created almost 20 years ago.

The new body that the government aims to replace CFCM with will be called the "forum of Islam in France," which held its first session earlier this month.

Macron's right-wing Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin wants the new body to remain uninfluenced by foreign governments and to show an active commitment to the state ideology of secularism.

The upcoming presidential elections to be held in April also threaten to be a bruising ordeal for the country's Muslim population.

"The presidential election is an opportunity for a headlong rush into racist, and security escalation," by the country's politicians seeking to show they are tough on Islam and Muslims says Chekkat.

One of the country's most outspoken and right-wing presidential candidates, Eric Zemmour, recently spoke in front of one of the country's leading police unions that France is in the midst of a civilisational struggle with Islam and Muslims.

"There are two civilisations, and they cannot coexist peacefully. There must be a civilisation that imposes itself on everyone, and it is ours that must prevail," Zemmour said.

"Such remarks almost seem innocuous as we are saturated with irresponsible speeches. So it doesn't bode well," says Chekkat, whose new organisation seeks to tackle such toxic speech.

"Regaining the initiative in an oppressive political climate is the only way out," adds Chekkat. 

Source: TRT World