In response to dissent from within and disapproval from without, French President François Hollande recently reshuffled his cabinet. Notably, Hollande appointed Najat Vallaud-Belkacem as minister of education. Vallaud-Belkacem was born in Morocco and obtained her French citizenship in her teens. She is also Muslim and a believer in secular public education who has fought for gay rights and gender equality. Various right-leaning news outlets responded to her appointment with a toxic combination of racism and Islamophobia. The cover of Minute reduces Vallaud-Belkacem to "A Moroccan Muslim" and states that this is in and of itself a "provocation." Meanwhile, the cover of Valeurs Actuelles reads: "The Ayatollah: Investigation into the Minister of National Re-Education." Why, in a nation where citizenship is supposed to be learned, not inherited, is it so difficult for French Muslims to advance past "foreigner" to "fellow citizen" in the eyes of their compatriots?
Phrases like "second generation," "third generation," or the even more vague (and infinitely recursive) "of immigrant origin" have become code for referring to French men and women of color and non-white Muslims. It is true that we need to consider immigration when talking about the Muslim experience in France. That said, it is inaccurate to conflate "Muslims" with "immigrants." Exact numbers are difficult to obtain because the French government refuses to collect or store statistics based on religion (or race or ethnicity). Nevertheless, we do know that many Muslims in France today are the children of immigrants, or even the grandchildren of immigrants; additionally, some have only one immigrant parent. And increasingly, French people are converting to Islam. Recognizing that immigration has directly or indirectly affected the lives of many Muslims in France is not the same as assuming (fallaciously) that all Muslims are foreigners.