“Je Suis Charlie’ Vs. ‘Je Suis Ahmed’: The Relationship Between Race and Islamophobia in France in the Wake of Charlie Hebdo

Friday, July 14, 2017
Gilbert Scott Conference Room - 250 (University of Glasgow)
Jean Beaman , Sociology, Purdue University
In this paper, I use the recent Charlie Hebdo attacks as a way to examine the entwinement of race and religion in France. Based on ethnographic research in Paris and its banlieues with the middle-class segment of the North African second-generation, I discuss individual experiences of Islamophobia, which is heightened following the January 2015 attacks.  In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, much attention rallied around the international slogan, “Je suis Charlie,” in reference to the columnists and cartoonists who were killed. I use the alternate slogan, “Je suis Ahmed,” in reference to Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim and Algerian-origin police officer who was among those killed, as a way to understand boundaries of racial and ethnic exclusion in French society. I argue that Islamophobia against French Muslims is actually a manifestation of racism against non-white individuals. Part of why Islamophobia is such a problem is not the large number of “radical” Muslims in France, but rather that religion stands in for racial and ethnic difference in a society that refuses to grapple with its colonial history and legacy in the Maghreb and other regions.  I further discuss the implications of this for understanding not just the intersections of race, ethnicity, and citizenship, but also France’s “racial project,” per Omi and Winant’s (1994) formulation, in which differences among individuals are marked without explicit state-sanctioned racial and ethnic categories.