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How does it feel to be a Muslim in France today?

As Europe faces the aftermath of another terrorist attack, anti-Islam rhetoric amplifies. Muslims in France share how it feels to be persecuted.

In his temporary mosque on an industrial estate on the edge of Toulouse, imam Mamadou Daffé waves his arms in exasperation.

His frustration with associations between his mosque and the Clain brothers – the men from Toulouse who appeared in the Isil video claiming the November Paris attacks – is obvious.

“There was maybe a group of five or six people. But that doesn’t mean Toulouse has become a nest of people who call for jihad.

“Today, when people see an Arab, they think that person is a terrorist”, he tells me, after one of his weekly open-door information sessions. “When people see a woman wearing the veil, people feel themselves attacked, and they reject her.”

Muslims first came to France in the 8th century, when the Moors took parts of Spain, according to a recent report by the Brookings Institute. That goes contrary to the popular idea that they only arrived when former colonies such as Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco gained independence in the mid-20th century.

But more than ever the minority – France’s 5m Muslims makes up less than 10 per cent of the whole population – is held to blame for Islamist violence.

Last year, the Muslim Council of France recorded 124 Islamophobic attacks and 305 threats – a 224 per cent rise on 2014 and the highest numbers on record. Incidents became noticeably more violent, it claimed, peaking after the shooting at the Charlie Hebdo offices in January, and the Paris attacks in November, last year.

Daffé’s experiences – and those of the people who come to pray at his mosque – are testimony to that.

Recent events in Brussels may make things worse. Daffé – by profession a biologist at the French National Centre for Scientific Research – tells me they have, “contributed to an exacerbation of anti-Muslim feeling, which was already very high. And what do the perpetrators of these crimes want?”

He insists he never knew Kevin Chassin, who killed himself in a suicide bomb in Iraq last year. French media have claimed he used to attend Daffé’s mosque.

The same goes for Mohamed Merah, who four years ago shot dead Jewish children at a school on the other side of the city.

“I have nothing to do with recruiting people – because I am against it,” the imam replies. “On Fridays, it is full here” – he motions to indicate a full mosque – “I am at the front and can’t see who everyone is.”

He “absolutely” has female worshippers coming to him to report incidences of Islamophobia. But they often dare not go to the police. If they do, he says, the police will sometimes not file a case.

The increasingly anti-Muslim sentiment in France has forced changes in behaviour.

Since the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the Es-Salam mosque on the neighbouring Bellefontaine housing estate in Toulouse has had to close between prayer times. Video cameras watch over the site.

“There is still a kind of suspicion [about Muslims],” says Hassan Idmiloud of the Muslim Association of Toulouse, which runs the Es-Salam mosque. “Someone who has got an Arab-sounding name, or who doesn’t eat a certain foodstuff, is seen as dubious. It is as if at some point, to be French, you have to have the right name, and eat the right things.”

A recent Human Rights Watch report substantiated individuals’ feelings. It accused France of using its state of emergency law, brought in after the Paris attacks in November, to carry out “abusive and discriminatory raids and house arrests against Muslims”.

A French police source said the forces’ actions were permissible under state of emergency laws and that no religious discrimination took place. They declined to give a formal statement.

Sadly, the difficulties faced by French Muslims pre-date the attacks.

Muslim children with foreign surnames find it difficult to find work experience, let alone a job, says Idmiloud. “They are born here but we continue to talk about them ‘coming from immigration’.”

He recognises the need for the Muslim community to act to prevent the possible slide to extremism, but would also like other parties’ help: “It is a job for society as a whole. Children need to have equal opportunities.”

Meanwhile, Muslims in Strasbourg remain defiant, and refuse to be sidelined. Nazih Kussaibi, originally from Homs in Syria, has lived in France for 40 years. “This is not a racist country,” he insists. But at the same time he is resigned: “If an attacker is called Mohammed or Ali, then all people called Omar are also blamed. But if there is a criminal called Christian or Jerome, are all other Christians with those named blamed too?”

In Toulouse, Daffé gets up to return to his office after our meeting. His family is from Mali, but he studied in France – baccalauréat (the equivalent of A-levels), then university. 

“But people here think imams are people who don't have the bac,” he sighs, as he puts on his shoes.

Lizzie Porter is a freelance Middle East news and features journalist based in Beirut.

Steve Bannon with Donald Trump. Photo: Getty
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Donald Trump was Steve Bannon's creation. What happens now he's gone?

Steve Bannon championed the "economic nationalism" agenda which drove Trump's election win and the early days of his presidency.

Steve Bannon, perhaps more than any single person other than the man himself, is the reason Donald Trump is President of the United States.

Bannon is a choleric figure who once described himself as a “Leninist” who wanted to “destroy the state” and “bring everything crashing down”. It must be said that he has come pretty close to doing so. He served as chief architect of Trump's presidential campaign from the Republican national convention until election day, and then as the senior strategist in the Trump White House, a position from which he has just been ousted.

Why have I heard the name recently? It's very familiar, but in a weird context.

Well, until Friday he was the senior adviser to the president and one of the most powerful people in America.

No, that wasn't it. Something about... this doesn't sound right, but something about sucking his own...

...yeah. That was a quote from a gloriously unhinged phone call between Ryan Lizza, a reporter for the New Yorker magazine, and Anthony Scaramucci, who spent a week as White House Communications Director before being ignominiously canned, in part for giving this quote.

What he said exactly was: “I'm not Steve Bannon, I'm not trying to suck my own cock.”

Can Bannon actually do that?

According to rock and roll legend, Marilyn Manson had two of his own ribs surgically removed in order to autofellate; Bannon, by comparison, looks like he had two dozen ribs for breakfast already. The man is a crepuscular Hutt who looks like he'd rather smother his own firstborn than even enter a yoga studio. I would bet good money that he cannot.

I think Scaramucci meant it figuratively.

So apart from that, why is this such big news?

Bannon was responsible for Trump's victory, and for shaping his early presidency. He came on board at a key moment in the presidential race, after the debacle of the Republican convention, and was campaign CEO through to election day. He helped shape the Trump campaign into the white supremacist dog-whistle-fest that it became. The idea that, far from building coalitions, it was possible to run a campaign that would play directly to the core white male base was, in part, Bannon's particular inspiration.

As the former chief of the far-right news site Breitbart, Bannon was one of the key figures in the online radicalisation of the cluster of more-or-less white supremacist Hentai-fetishists who have come to be known as the “alt-right”. He is the thread that links Gamergate, the misogynistic troll campaign against female influence in video game production and industry news coverage, to what became Trump's rabid online following of lonely, racist white guys. The masses who became keyboard-warriors for Trump from their parents' basement, hanging out on The_Donald subreddit and 4chan's /pol/ board, were an army built by Bannon and Breitbart.

He popularised “economic nationalism”, a position based on the the twistedly brilliant insight that while making race the naked focus of the campaign would run up too hard against American political taboos, you could successfully use “trade” and “immigration” as effective proxies.

From Bannon also in part came the idea that Trump ought to run as much against the “mainstream media” as against his nominal opponent, Hillary Clinton. He brought his anarchic, burn-it-all-down ideology across from Breitbart – the website which Bannon once bragged about having made “the platform for the alt-right” – almost wholesale.

Most likely, Bannon is the reason it took Trump so long to condemn the neo-Nazis marching in support of his presidency in Charlottesville last weekend, and was responsible for the near-fatal cognitive dissonance the president visibly struggled with when he did so.

Why is Bannon out?

The Trump White House has been riven with divisions and factional warfare from the very beginning. In particular, Bannon, whose ex-wife once claimed that he said that he didn't want his children “going to school with Jews” (he denies this), butted heads with Trump's Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner and his faction of Wall Street-friendly pinstripe-drones and sundry moderate Republican clingers.

Bannon was the figurehead and leader of the nationalist, alt-right faction surrounding the president, while Kushner was the figurehead for the Wall Street moderates in his administration. In the early days of the administration Bannon seemed set for victory over the Kushnerites – he had installed himself on the National Security Council and had the president's ear. Trump's early moves – the travel-ban, leaving NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership – all had Bannon's fingerprints all over them.

Early on in the administration Bannon also clashed with Trump's first chief of staff, former Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus. A lifelong adenoidal Republican functionary, the result of a secret government experiment to breed a human being entirely without a spine, Priebus reportedly made peace with Bannon despite constant schoolyard bullying from most of the president's team, and the two formed an unlikely alliance within the White House.

But the president is nothing if not mercurial in his affections, and he appeared to sour on both Priebus and Bannon in later months, especially after Bannon was featured on the cover of Time magazine under the headline “The Great Manipulator”, which is said to have irritated the thin-skinned president.

In July, in a chaotic shake-up of his White House staff, Trump replaced Priebus with a retired Marine Corps general, John Kelly, and tasked him with bringing a semblance of militaristic order to his administration. Once Priebus was gone, Bannon became the target of Kelly's next purge, especially as events in Charlottesville played out.

What does this mean for Trump's agenda?

In the first instance, Trump and his supporters will hope that some of the hailstorm of criticism he's been receiving following his apparent endorsement of neo-Nazis and white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia a week ago will abate following Bannon's exit.

The bat-shit crazy impromptu press conference the president gave on Tuesday was illuminating in that it showed the faultines in Trump's advice, between advisers telling him to condemn the Nazis and others pushing the Bannonite view that the “alt-left” were equally at fault and that there was “blame on both sides”.

This is the way Trump operates. Again and again, he floats half-baked ideas to see what will stick. After Charlottesville, he tried things Bannon's way – the Breitbart chief has long courted the nationalist right – but, unluckily for Bannon, the narcissistic president found that the ratings and reviews for that approach were poor.

As far as Trump's agenda is concerned, it seems unlikely that Bannon's departure will change the president's behaviour much at this point. The damage is, in a way, done; the course Bannon helped Trump chart is now set, and whether or not Bannon has his hand directly on the tiller, his ideological influence will still be felt in everything Trump does, because more than anyone else Trump was a Steve Bannon creation.

What about the balance of power in the White House?

Now that is likely to change dramatically without Bannon.

With a few exceptions – like Miller – the most influential advisers remaining in the clown-car White House are globalists and militarists. According to a Buzzfeed report, Bannon leaves behind an executive dominated by “hawks and internationalists” like Kushner, economic adviser and former Goldman Sachs executive Gary Cohn, and National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster.

Bannon was a “voice for restraint” against the military adventurism such as missile-strikes against Syria and increased troop numbers in Afghanistan, according to the report.

Have we seen the last of Bannon?

Unfortunately not. On Friday, Bannon told Joshua Green, the author of Devil's Bargain, a book about Bannon's rise to power: “I'm leaving the White House and I'm going to war for Trump against his opponents – on Capitol Hill, in the media, and in corporate America.”

What that means is a return to Breitbart, which is likely to become the administration's media mouthpiece even more than before. Bannon will take up the position of Executive Chairman of the publication. “Breitbart's pace of global expansion will only accelerate with Steve back,” Breitbart CEO Larry Solov said in a statement. “The sky's the limit.”

One Breitbart staffer simply tweeted: “WAR”.

However, there is already speculation that Bannon will return to Trump's side when – or if – the president begins in earnest to run for re-election in 2020.

And in the meantime, Bannon's exit has left the odious Stephen Miller, in many ways Bannon's ideological protege, as Trump's senior policy adviser.

Nicky Woolf is a freelance writer based in the US who has formerly worked for the Guardian and the New Statesman. He tweets @NickyWoolf.