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Where Do the Hijab and the Kippah Belong? On Being Publicly Jewish or Muslim in Post-Hebdo France

Abstract

To date, scholars have rarely talked about contemporary antisemitism and Islamophobia in France as part of a single story. When they have, it has typically been as part of a framework for analyzing racism that is essentially competitive: some depict Islamophobia as less a real problem than a frequent excuse to ignore antisemitism; others minimize antisemitism as an unfortunate but marginal phenomenon by comparison with the pervasive nature of anti-Muslim racism in French society. This article argues that the two are inseparable, and it focuses on a hitherto overlooked set of connections: in the era since the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher in January 2015, at key flash points that question Muslim belonging in France, the position of Jews has repeatedly been invoked in ambiguous, contradictory ways. Participants in these public debates have sometimes forcefully maintained that Jews are unlike Muslims, since they have long been fully integrated French citizens. At other moments, these discussions have raised the specter of Jewish ethnic and religious difference. By emphasizing Jewish particularity, such debates evoke, perforce, the past twenty-five years of controversies about the allegedly problematic attire, food, and beliefs of France’s Muslims. The article focuses on several key moments, from the speech of Prime Minister Manuel Valls before the French parliament in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher attacks, to the kippah and burkini affairs of 2016, to the provocative comments of candidates in the 2017 presidential elections concerning Muslim and Jewish religious and ethnic markers of difference.

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