In Sisco, Corsica, on August 13, a group of Muslim men arrived on a beach in the company of women wearing "burkinis" (full-body bathing costumes). The Muslim men firmly asked the tourists on the beach to leave and posted signs saying "No Entry". When a few teenagers resisted, the Muslim men responded with a harpoon and baseball bats. The police intervened -- but it was just the beginning.
In the following days, on beaches all over France, Muslim men showed up, accompanied by women in burkinis, and asking beachgoers to leave. Tourists packed up and fled. Several mayors of seaside resorts decided to ban the bathing costume, and the "burkini ban" scandal was born.
Some politicians said that banning the burkini "stigmatized" Muslims and infringed on their "human rights" to wear whatever they liked. Other politicians, including Prime Minister Manuel Valls and former President Nicolas Sarkozy, called the burkini a "provocation", and asked for a law to ban it. The Council of State, the highest legal institution, eventually declared that banning the burkini was against the law; the ban was lifted.
What is important to explain is what lies behind the "burkini ban."
Thirty years ago, France was a country where Islam was present but where Islamic demands were virtually absent and Islamic veils were rare.
Then, in September, 1989, in a northern suburb of Paris, three female students decided to attend high school with their heads covered by a scarf. When the dean refused, the parents, with the support of newly created Muslim associations, filed a complaint. The parents won.
All of sudden, Islamic headscarves multiplied in high schools and on the streets, and soon were were replaced by long black veils. Muslim associations called for an "end to discrimination," requested halal food in school cafeterias, and complained about the "Islamophobic content" in history textbooks. Unveiled women in Muslim neighborhoods were assaulted or raped.
After the French government created a commission of inquiry, a law banning "religious symbols in public schools" was passed in 2003. In the name of a refusal to "stigmatize" Islam and out of "respect for human rights," Christian crosses and Jewish skullcaps were also banned, in addition to Islamic headscarves.
Outside schools, black veils continued to proliferate, niqabs and burqas that cover the face appeared, and the demands of Muslim organizations escalated.
Suddenly, halal menus appeared in school cafeterias. Muslim students started to eat at separate tables, and refused to be seated next to non-Muslims. History textbooks were rewritten to show a more positive view of Islam. In high schools with Muslim students, professors stopped teaching topics such as the Holocaust. In Muslim neighborhoods, attacks on unveiled women did not stop. In one Paris suburb, an unveiled Muslim girl was burned alive. Muslim neighborhoods became "no-go zones."
The French government created a new commission of inquiry. In 2011, eight years after the enactment of the law prohibiting religious symbols in schools, a new law was passed: it became illegal to wear face-coverings in public places. In the name of a refusal to "stigmatize" Islam and out of "respect for human rights", the law did not mention the burqa or niqab by name.
Since then, black veils have become even more common, and face-covering niqabs, despite the ban, have not disappeared. Halal menus are present in virtually every school; students who do not eat halal food are harassed. History books praise Islamic civilization, and in most schools, speaking of the Holocaust or mentioning Judaism is understood to be forbidden. In Muslim neighborhoods, fewer women go out uncovered, and Muslim areas have become "sharia zones."
France has undergone, in thirty years, an accelerated process of Islamization.
France used to be a country where religious neutrality in the public space was seen as an essential cornerstone of the Republic. Now, Muslim extremists appear to be using Islamic head-coverings as visible symbols to create the impression that Islam is everywhere. The head-covering seems a way to stake out turf; a way to establish the visibility of Islam.
The broader desire of Muslim extremists seems to be to use the visibility of Islam to impose an Islamic worldview on still more domains.
The influence of Islam has now gone beyond transforming school cafeterias, classrooms and neighborhoods. Its effects are in the media, in the culture, everywhere. It is even more difficult, if not dangerous, to publish anything even questioning Islam. The murder of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists showed that "blasphemy" can lead to a brutal death.
Daily life is different now. Many women do not go out alone at night; Jews know that they are being watched.
When Islamic head coverings first appeared, French politicians said nothing -- in order, they said, not to "stigmatize" Islam. They remain blind, however, to the stigmatization of women who do not cover up. They do not want to see the harassment, the sexual assaults, the destruction of freedom.
French politicians who said that the burkini is a provocation are right. The women on the beach in Corsica were accompanied by men armed with a harpoon and baseball bats -- the encounter did not happen by accident. The sudden arrival of other women in full Islamic dress or in burkinis on other beaches seems to have been planned in advance. Men with cameras were there, waiting, and the places were known to be monitored by police.
The politicians claim they respect human rights, but they seem to have forgotten the human rights of the women who do not wear a veil. They do not seem concerned by the human rights of those who suffer from Islamization, who are no longer free to write, think, or go for a walk on the street.
Muslim extremists seem to have declared a multifaceted war on France. Some use violence to create fear; others use means that are less violent to create fear. The aim seems the same: Muslim extremists have already greatly transformed France, and they want to transform it more.
They know what French politicians do not want to know: that Islam is not only a religion but a complete way of life, a doctrine of one person's conquest and another person's submission.
They do not even try to hide what they are doing. In his book Priorities of the Islamic Movement in the Coming Phase, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars and spiritual leader of the Union of Islamic Organisations of France (UOIF), the main Islamic movement in France, explained how Muslims living in the West have to proceed: they may use terror, they may use seduction, exploit Westerners' sense of guilt, grab public spaces, change laws, and create their own society inside Western societies until they become Muslim societies.
Islamists in France use Qaradawi's strategy. It works.
They will not stop. Why should they? No one is compelling them to.
They seem to assume that the future belongs to them. Birthrates also give them hope. The transformation of France proves them right.
They see that almost no French politician, not even the most courageous ones, dares to say that Islam creates problems, and that French journalists write under the threat of trial or assault, and almost never use the phrase "Islamic terrorism."
They see that almost all books on Islam in French bookstores are written by Islamists or by authors praising Islam.
And they see that the non-Muslim French population is increasingly pessimistic about the future of the country.
Polls show that non-Muslims will vote for the populist "right" during the 2017 presidential elections. Polls also show that non-Muslims in France, no matter who wins, do not expect any major improvements.
After every attack in France, non-Muslim anger against Muslims thickens the atmosphere. But in general, non-Muslims are older than the Muslims, and decades of political correctness have had an effect. Have non-Muslims lost the will to fight?
Dr. Guy Millière, a professor at the University of Paris, is the author of 27 books on France and Europe.