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The Médine Question

A French Muslim rapper’s concert was cancelled after protests from the far right—but also from centrists. The cancellation demonstrates a surprisingly widely perceived conflation of French Muslims and radical Islamic terrorism. Marine Le Pen finally has reason to celebrate. After she and her French far-right party suffered a landslide presidential defeat last year, a subsequent personnel exodus, and the recent necessity of rebranding from the National Front to the current ‘National Rally,’ she achieved a political win last Friday. ‘The cancellation of the @Medinrecords Bataclan concert is a victory for all the victims of Islamist terrorism,’ she tweeted. ‘This provocation had no place in this room, given its painful history.’ The erstwhile presidential candidate was referring to the French-Algerian rapper Médine and his decision to cancel two sold-out performances scheduled for October at the Bataclan, the Paris concert hall where 90 people were killed on 13 November 2015, by Islamic State terrorists. The cancellation came after pressure from a petition launched in June by a member of Le Pen’s National Rally party, which chastised the artist’s ‘violent lyrics in the name of Islam.’ Allowing Médine to play at a historically charged site like the Bataclan would, the petition said, be ‘the height of indecency and submission.’ The petition gained well over 30,000 signatories. The concerts have been rescheduled at Le Zénith, a different Parisian venue. ‘Out of respect for these families and to guarantee the security of my audience, these concerts cannot go ahead,’ Médine wrote in a statement posted on Friday, confirming his decision to cancel. The Bataclan said, in its own statement: ‘the freedom of expression of artists […] must remain a fundamental right in our democracy.’ Born Médine Zaouiche in Le Havre, in northwest France, Médine is a practising Muslim and a sometime critic of French attitudes towards Islam. The controversy surrounding his now-cancelled Bataclan performances stemmed largely from his 2015 song ‘Don’t Laïk,’ a jeu de mots of ‘don’t like’ in English and ‘laïcité,’ French for secularism. The song includes the lines, ‘I put fatwas on the heads of idiots’ and ‘crucify the [secularists] as in Golgotha,’ referring to the site of Jesus’s crucifixion. The cover for his 2005 album called ‘Jihad’ was also cited by the petitioners, especially for its use of an image of a sword in place of the letter J. (The album, however, seems to be as existential as it is political: its subtitle is, ‘The Biggest Combat is Against Yourself.’) What is unspoken but implicit in this controversy is that more than any specific lyric or album visual, it is Médine’s identity – descended from North Africans, and a practising Muslim, which, through his music, he is vocal about – that the French far-right has, in this instance and many others, conflated with terrorism and the Islamic State. What is even more distressing is watching how centrists, too, have gone along with it. Philippe Duperron, president of 13onze15, an organization that supports the November 2015 Paris attack victims (the name is a reference to the attack’s date), told Le Figaro that he hoped the Bataclan performance bookers would have ‘more tact and delicacy in their choice of programming.’ Even Gérard Collomb, France’s Minister of the Interior, hoped Médine would cancel the shows. ‘There is the freedom of creation, but we must not underestimate what may be such remarks on fragile minds, on a number of our young people,’ he said in June, even threatening to federally ban the concerts. ‘We are not in charge of the Bataclan’s programming, but as you know, anything that might bring a disturbance to public order can, within the limits of the law, earn a ban.’ These responses represent not only a problematic conflation of Islam and radical Islamic terrorism, but they also pose a danger to all Muslims in France. Le Pen and others claim that cancelling these concerts will, as Patrick Jardin – a father of one of the November 2015 victims, and vocal critic of allowing Médine to perform – put it, avoid ‘blood running again at the Bataclan.’ Jardin describes himself as ‘apolitical’. But this kind of pressure on a Muslim musician also sends a message: that to be an outspoken Muslim in France and to even hint at criticizing secular, republican values is to be, at best, disrespectful of those who died at the hands of the Islamic State, and, at worst, an active danger to the French public. That there has been little discernible pushback to the petition from powerful politicians who are not on the far right is unfortunate. Read the rest of this essay at Frieze. Image via Le Parisien.
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