Alt-right spreads anti-Muslim rhetoric after Notre Dame fire

Despite officials ruling out arson, far-right commentators share Islamophobic conspiracy theories after Notre Dame fire.

Fire Breaks Out At Iconic Notre-Dame Cathedral In Paris
Firefighters battle the blaze at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France [Benoit Moser/BSPP via Getty Images]

Alt-right supporters have used the Notre Dame Cathedral fire in Paris to spread xenophobic rhetoric on social media.

The massive blaze that erupted on Monday in the French capital destroyed much of the timber roof and toppled the spire of the cathedral, which was in the middle of a $6.8m renovation.

The fire was extinguished on Tuesday around 15 hours after it broke out.

Officials are still investigating the reason behind the fire, but have ruled out arson.

French media reported that the fire might have been linked to the renovation work. The Paris prosecutor’s office said that “as matters stand” it was investigating a count of “involuntary destruction by fire”.

Yet, alt-right provocateurs were quick to peddle conspiracy theories and spread insinuations against Muslims in the wake of the blaze, that gutted parts of the historic building.

Richard Spencer, a white supremacist and the leader of the alt-right, said the fire would have “served a glorious purpose” if it pushed the “White man into action”.

Alt-right is a loosely knit coalition of far-right groups that include populists, white supremacists, white nationalists, neo-Confederates and neo-Nazis.

Many alt-rightists promote various forms of white supremacy, white nationalism, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

Similarly, Pamela Geller, an anti-Muslim public figure, posted a photograph of two men who appeared to stand near the scene of the Notre Dame fire. In her post, she said: “Jihadists reveled … sharing media photos of the flames billowing smoke, and comments expressing their joy”.

Al Jazeera could not verify the circumstances behind the photo, nor identify the men in the image.

Far-right politicians in Europe have also attempted to link the fire to rising “intolerance” against Christians on the continent.

Alice Weidel, the parliamentary group leader of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), Germany’s largest opposition party and first far-right nationalist movement to enter parliament since World War II, linked the incident to previous attacks in France.

The AfD’s original purpose was to promote a eurosceptic agenda, but the party has since shifted its focus to immigration and Islam.

“During Holy Week #NotreDame burns. March: second largest church Saint-Sulpice burns. February: 47 attacks in France,” Weidel wrote on Twitter.

“The Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe speaks of a significant increase,” she added, including a link to an article published in March in a German Catholic magazine.

The brief fire on March 17 at Saint-Sulpice, a Roman Catholic church in Paris, left no one hurt and caused little damage. Investigators have opened an inquiry into the blaze.

Meanwhile, Arab and Muslim organisations and public figures shared their concerns over conspiracies spreading on social media and on French and Western media outlets.

Ali Abunimah, the cofounder of Electronic Intifada, an online magazine that documents the Israeli occupation, warned in a Twitter post that a narrative is being created “based on nothing”.

Tell MAMA, a UK group which monitors hate crime, called on people to “reject such narratives and Islamophobic dog whistles”, as it highlighted a series of posts from figures including Katie Hopkins, Frank Gaffney, Stefan Molyneux and Paul Joseph Watson.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies