The collective representation of Arabs in France is, without a doubt, a legacy of the colonial era. Perception of Arabs is characterized by an ambivalence where rejection and attraction are combined.
PARIS: Contrary to popular belief, the presence of Arabs in France is not related to the waves of economic immigration of the 1960s. Rather, it goes back to the early Middle Ages, around the year 717, when the Arab-Berber armies — under Umayyad command — crossed the Pyrenees to take Septimania from the Visigoths.
It became one of the five provinces of Al-Andalus, with Arbuna (Narbonne) as its capital. Often forgotten, this event is nonetheless a significant step in the history of France.
Therefore, it was in the eighth century that Arabs materialized in the French imagination. Perceived as the infidel (non-Christian), Arabs were referred to indifferently as “the Moor,” “the Ismaili” or “the Mohammedan.” They were then targeted by the propaganda of the “cultured” elite of the time, which referred to them with insulting adjectives and degrading representations.
Islam, described as heretical, faced all sorts of slander and disinformation. Relayed and fueled by men of ecclesiastical power, writers and other chroniclers, these stereotypes persisted for centuries and “fed” minds during the Crusades and beyond.