PARIS, May 12: In a front page special report that appeared in its Sunday issue, France’s leading daily Le Monde condemned the growing phenomenon of anti-Muslim hatred in France, and indeed struck a warning note that something should be done soon, before the problem gets out of hand.
According to the special report — which is apparently the first time in recent memory that a major French publication has chosen to evoke the problem of what it termed ‘Islamophobia’ in France — a package containing a bomb destined for a mosque in Perpignan blew up in the hands of a postal employee as recently as April 9th — but nobody seems to have thought of making the attack public.
The special report — which details several other recent examples of ‘Islamophobia’ in France — appears interestingly alongside a story which recounts the murder in Belgium on Tuesday (May 7) of a Moroccan couple, killed by their extremist neighbour, a self-admitted admirer of French National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who shot them down in cold blood for the simple reason that they were Muslims.
According to the Le Monde special report, which is signed by Xavier Ternisien, “it’s not useless to recall that Muslims (in France) remain the principal victims of a petty brand of everyday racism.”
The situation is little known, however, notes Le Monde, because the French media have a way of spotlighting the many incidents of “anti-Semitic” behaviour that have occurred in recent months — some 405 between September 1, 2000 and January 21 2002, according to a much publicised report issued this spring by the Union des etudiants juifs de France (UEJF) — and very little about anti-Muslim incidents.
The French regional press does report on many of the incidents, notes Xavier Ternisien in his analysis, but they are “very rarely mentioned in the national (French) press.”
As the Le Monde special report emphasised, this lack of media interest would seem to be attributable to relative paucity of incidents of ‘Islamophobia’, but, notes Mr Ternisien, this isn’t necessarily the case.
According to Rachid Nekkaz, spokesman for the Forum Citoyen des Cultures Musulmanes, a major organisation defending the French Muslim community interests, if only a dozen cases of attacks against Muslim places of worship were reported in recent weeks, whereas the true number (which were not reported), he emphasied, was more significant for a number of reasons.
Firstly, French Muslims don’t yet have a representative institution to register their complaints and actively investigate the incidents, as do French Jews with their Consistoire Centrale Israelite, which is in regular and direct contact with the French Interior Ministry, which in recent weeks has assigned several hundred policeman to protect Jewish places of worship on a full-time basis — a protection, incidentally, that is not provided, at least on a 24-hour basis, to mosques in France.
But that should soon change as French Muslims — who are meeting this weekend in the Paris region to debate the question — should have their own national representative organisation either later this summer or in the autumn. That is, if the Grande Mosquee de Paris — which presently is France’s only representative institution for Muslims — decides it wants to become part of the new, larger, structure, which when it becomes active will officially represent the interests of Muslims before the French government and theoretically give them the possibility of greater protection against ‘Islamophobic’ acts.
Secondly, most French mosques are directed by first-generation Muslims, most of them from the three Maghreb countries of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, but also increasingly such African states as Mali and Senegal. As a result, they are much less inclined to complain about the many incidents of ‘Islamophobia’ that are known to have occurred in recent weeks, fearing they will be told that as they are not French nationals, and therefore, complaining about the phenomenon is perhaps not in their interests.
Not only is this attitude the result of a fear, notes Mr Nekkaz, it is, in his eyes, a fact of life notably in the suburbs where first-generation Muslims, usually from Algeria, Mali, Senegal or Mauritania, have tried to attract the attention of police to the incidents of racism, but did not carry through with their complaints when it was made aware to them that filing their complaints might very well jeopardise their continued presence on French soil.
Only last March, the official governmental Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) revealed in its annual report a larger-than-expected increase in the number of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab racist acts in France, largely as a reaction after Sept 11.
The report also took note of the conclusions of the European Observatory of Racist and Xenophobic Phenomena which also indicated an important rise in the number of post-Sept 11 racist acts against Muslim and Arabs residing in the 15-member nations of the European Union.
As for the CCHR report, it noted that of 163 acts “of intimidation and of a racist and xenophobic character,” reported for last year, fully 115 of them were made against persons originating from the Maghreb countries of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria.
The figure, said the report, represents a “sharp rise” over the three previous years. The CCHR also suggested, as does the Le Monde special report, that such figures are severely understated.
And, as with the several recent incidents of ‘Islamophobia’ that took place in France, but went unreported in the national press, the CCHR report received virtually no press coverage when it was published, the only major media account of its publication taking place on public television channel France 3, which has an important audience in the suburbs of Paris, Lyons and Marseilles where live a good part of the country’s Muslim population.
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