What It Feels Like to Be a Muslim in Paris

"Not even scared" (Photo Credit: Nassim Belayadi)
"Not even scared" (Photo Credit: Nassim Belayadi)
“Not even scared” (Photo Credit: Nassim Belayadi)

On the night of Nov. 13, 2015, my friends and I went out to watch the France Vs. Germany game. We were having a great time until somebody said there’s been a terrorist attack and 18 people died. I didn’t want to believe it, but like others in the bar, it wasn’t a huge surprise to me. Ever since the attack on Charlie Hebdo, we feel like an attack in Paris can happen at any moment. We have police officers, gendarme and even the army patrolling the streets with automatic weapons every day. Are we supposed to feel safe when we see a man loaded like that?

(Photo Credit: Nassim Belayadi)
Place de la République (Photo Credit: Nassim Belayadi)

I come from a Muslim family and, growing up, I was always told to be respectful of everyone regardless of their religion or skin color. From my experience here in France, I’ve found that the people are somewhat Islamophobic. I was talking to a girl once and she was telling me how a “Muslim” man followed her home after the bar and she had to run away from him. Yet she didn’t actually know whether the guy was Arab, let alone Muslim.

After the Charlie Hebdo attack last year, not much has changed. The racist backlash especially affects people who live in the poorer suburbs and who are identified by the way they dress. My ex told me once that “people think you’re rich because you don’t wear sweats.” Most Arabs and black people I know in France wear sweats every day.

For Arabs and Muslims who are socially assimilated, the racist backlash that follows these attacks won’t affect them as much as others. Those who will suffer at the hands of bigots are the folks living in the suburbs dressed in sweats and with long beards. Typical racism for them comes in the form of a stare of fear and disappointment.

What people don’t realize is that French policies currently in place promote a state of hostility towards young Arabs and Muslims. These youth have been mistreated all their lives, and aside from that reality, France doesn’t have the best reputation with Muslim countries. Add poverty, lack of education and opportunity to the mix and you have Daesh’s target audience for brainwashing.

I have family who live in the suburbs and they are against Daesh and any form of terrorism despite the fact that they live in these “ghettos.” Yet somehow, people are brainwashed into thinking that it’s okay to kill innocent people. The people that were killed weren’t police officers or politicians, they were 129 civilians, tourists, Muslims and Christians; people jamming at a concert, a couple having a romantic dinner, friends watching the game at a bar. That entire neighborhood is known for being a hub for young adults, containing places I frequent. I could’ve easily been victim number 130. Nobody deserved to die. Nobody went out that night expecting to be attacked.

As French Muslims, we should aim to show those who are afraid due to trauma and ignorance that we are just like them by going to school, working, staying out of trouble and just being ourselves. As for the attack that happened, I want people to know that this was not perpetrated by Muslims, this was perpetrated by monsters; by people who have lost their sanity and hope in the world and feel like it’s necessary to do this. I pray that this unites everyone and we can work together because that is the only way we can beat Daesh and any other group of savages.

“Who ever kills an innocent person it is as if he has killed all humanity” Quran 5:32

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