As France's Presidential elections approach, Louis-Bernard Carcouet argues France must work to dispel prevalent anti-Muslim stereotypes or risk the development of permanent divisions in its society.

France's Presidential election campaigns have unfortunately been dominated by anti-Muslim rhetoric. But why is the penalisation of French Muslims viewed – almost universally – as a vote winner by the election's leading candidates?

For one, other Western nations – like the UK and US – have undergone at least some efforts to normalise, or at least humanise, the perception of Muslims. US President Joe Biden openly courted American Muslims and was rewarded with 69 per cent of their vote. He then kept his promise to hire them into his administration, to the benefit of American society.

Conversely, most French media references to Muslims still refer to isolated incidents of extremism, depicting Muslims through skewed stereotypes at fundamental odds with French society. Millions of French voters are not only exposed to escalating anti-Muslim rhetoric, but mainstream conversations lack alternative narratives, meaning that even the most outrageous claims go unaddressed.

With five million Muslims in France – forecasted to reach 13 million by 2050, with the vast majority under 30 – failure to avert the cultural ghettoization of this community could create dangerously entrenched religious and ethnic fault lines in one of Europe's largest democracies.

As a non-Muslim French man who's worked extensively with the Muslim community, I know that representation doesn't threaten public life, it benefits it.

There have been examples that worked elsewhere to begin moving the needle in the right direction. For instance, advocates in the UK have developed the 'Riz Test' in the hopes that by increasing representation in film, minority communities will engage more with wider society. A similar test in the US, "Surviving" to Thriving, produced by the Geena Davis Institute and others, critiques Muslim representation in projects on a new sliding grade scale from A-F.

But for wider society to come to that realisation, Muslims desperately need the space to tell their own stories in the public sphere. Because whilst these efforts are critical, they still aren't enough to showcase the average French Muslim's voice.

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Herein lies the crucial role for media and tech platforms. They must invite French Muslims to tell their stories, authentically and on their own terms, about the joys and challenges, the trials and tribulations, of expressing their French and Muslim identities. Tech decentralises content and creates spaces for community and collaboration.

This is how we can reject harmful narratives and champion brighter ones. Muslims don't have to work through the agendas of editorial and production teams that don't understand their worldview. After all, the ability to share stories and experiences are crucial to building trust, the foundation of social integration and progress.

As someone who has lived much of his life within French secular culture, but also had the enriching opportunity to interact with and build close relations with the Muslim community, this has provided me with a relatively unique perspective.

For example, Bitsmedia, where I've worked as CEO, oversees the world's largest Muslim religious app – Muslim Pro. Downloaded over 120 million times, Muslim Pro has offered Muslims a space untouched by mainstream media where they can celebrate their worldview, share their own stories, and reclaim their narrative.

I've seen how giving Muslims agency this way shows that tech has tremendous potential to challenge the Muslim-French dynamic. Collective virtual spaces not only act as communal places for discussion, but are also where raw, authentic, humanising stories can be found.

Very soon, Muslim Pro will be launching a new content service, inspired by a belief that Muslims need to be involved in storytelling and Muslim stories need to be told. Just consider how US streaming platform Netflix starred French Muslim actor Omar Sy, whose Lupin miniseries took the world by storm. None of this came at the expense of French culture, politics, or social cohesion.

Ramadan this year offers an opportunity to do even more. Innovators and creators must reconnect to the Muslim community's right to visibility, and freedom of expression and practice as valuable members of French society, helping build a France that embodies the democratic values it's long expounded.

Ultimately, we must use all the tools at our disposal to showcase the diversity and complexity of France's Muslims and, in the process, their humanity. I have the privilege of appreciating the nuances of French Islam. But if other French citizens don't have the same opportunity, the void, where mistrust and hate festers, risks becoming too deep to fill.

France must get this right. But not only France. The stakes for Europe, the West, and for democracy, are higher than ever before.

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