One year after attacks, French Muslims speak

One year after the November 2015 Paris attacks Le Monde published a collection of thoughts and commentaries from France’s Muslims. Glimpses into their lives reveal anxiety, sadness, hope and defiance, among other sentiments.

“I felt like half of a citizen,” said Tahar Mouci, who owns a bar in the 20th arrondissement.

“The Monday following the attacks I found out that I was assigned to house arrest under the State of Emergency,” recalls Anis M., a truck driver from Nice.

“I decided to enlist in the Army Reserves,” said Habiba M., while Louiza A. remembers her professor pointing to her veil and asking “what’s that for?” following the November 2015 attacks.

Click here to read the complete article.

State Council rules burkini ban ‘a serious violation of fundamental freedoms’

The State Council has suspended the burkini ban in Villeneuve-Loubet (Alpes-Maritimes) in a much-anticipated ruling.

“The judge of the State Council concludes that article 4.3 of the disputed decree represents a serious and illegal violation of fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of movement, freedom of conscience, and personal freedom,” the State Council wrote in its press statement. “As the urgent situation requires, it cancels the order of the judge of the administrative court of Nice,” which validated the decree, “and orders the article’s suspension.”

The judge wrote that if “the mayor is responsible for the local police,” he “must reconcile his mission’s goal to maintain public order with respect for freedoms guaranteed by the law.” The restriction of these freedoms should therefore be “adequate, necessary and proportionate to the need for public order.” But in Villeneuve-Loubet, “no element produced before [the Council] showed that risks to public order occurred, on public beaches…regarding the dress worn by certain persons.”

This decision is a victory for the opponents of the burkini ban decrees, which judged that the items of clothing were not “respectful of morality and of secularism” and even allowed police in Nice and Cannes to ticket women wearing a simple veil.

French Army Asks Citizens To Enlist–But No Muslim Headscarves

After the July 14 terrorist attack in Nice, the French interior minister called on “all willing French patriots” to help defend the country by volunteering for the military’s reserves.

Two sisters, Majda and Amina Belaroui, French Muslims of Moroccan heritage, heeded the call in the aftermath of the Bastille Day attack, when a Tunisian truck driver mowed down crowds of spectators, killing 84 and wounding hundreds.

Majda, 21, and Amina, 24, are both university students who live in Nice, on the French Riviera. They pair French fashion with traditional Muslim dress, sporting wide-brimmed sun hat and headscarf ensembles.

The Monday morning following the attack, the third major terrorist rampage in the past 18 months, young men and high school boys trickled through the gates of Nice’s military recruitment center. So did Majda. Wearing a hat and headscarf, she walked past soldiers guarding the gate with weapons across their chests.

She was there to sign up for the “operational reserves,” comprising both former soldiers and civilians with no military background. She wasn’t interested in holding a gun. She just wanted to see how she could help, and set an example as a Muslim amid the growing fears over radical Islam.

“I want to show,” she said, “that I am not like that.”

The receptionist told her she must take off her hijab to enter the recruitment center.

French law prohibits people from displaying their religion in government-run buildings, including public schools, to maintain secularism in the public sphere. It’s a fundamental tenet of the country, stretching back more than a century as part of an effort to reduce the influence of the Catholic Church. But the old concept of secularism is now rubbing up against France’s new efforts to integrate its Muslim population, the largest in Europe.

France has succeeded, in many cases. In Nice, Muslims are an integral part of the landscape. They, too, were on the promenade watching fireworks along with their French compatriots on Bastille Day, the most French day of the year, when the crowd came under attack. Nearly a third of the victims of the attack were Muslims, according to a Muslim community group.

But some Muslims in France believe prohibitions against wearing religious clothing in government venues are actually targeted specifically at them, sending a message that Muslim culture is unwelcome in France.

“Although France has managed to integrate many immigrants and their descendants, those it has left on the sidelines are more embittered than their British or German peers, and many feel insulted in their Muslim or Arab identity,” sociologist Farhad Khosrokhavar wrote recently in The New York Times. “Laïcité, France’s staunch version of secularism, is so inflexible it can appear to rob them of dignity.”

It poses a dilemma for people like the Belaroui sisters, who want to stay true to both flag and faith.

Minutes after entering the recruitment center, Majda walked out, unwilling to remove her hijab when asked.

“If I weren’t Muslim, I think I would be so afraid of these people,” she said, referring to Muslims. That’s precisely why she came to volunteer, hijab proudly wrapped around her head.

“For me, it’s discouraging. We want to show that we are against this violence,” she said, adding, “We are demotivated.”

Her sister, Amina, a third-year engineering student, faced the same difficult decision.

Amina had already been to the recruitment center a week prior to the Nice attack and went back again, by herself, more determined following the attack.

Both times, she agreed to take off her hijab in front of the uniformed men, though she really didn’t want to. She said it felt like undressing in public.

“I think the ends justify the means. That’s why I took it off,” Amina said in her flawless English. “I really want to commit and help people, and also try to give another image of Muslim girls, and Muslims in general.”

Anger is boiling over in Nice, which leans conservative. At the memorial ceremony for the victims, some residents argued with Muslim citizens. In the days after the attack, some in the city voiced their support for the National Front, France’s far-right political party, which has used anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Amina hopes joining the military reserves while she finishes her engineering degree can help change minds in France. Or, at the very least, it can help change the minds of French Muslim girls like her.

“Maybe it will encourage other girls to do something they didn’t think they could do before,” she said. “Maybe it will change things.”

Saudi funded mosque opens in Nice after 15-year struggle

A Saudi-funded mosque in Nice opened its doors for the first time on Saturday, after a 15-year struggle with the local town hall.

The Nicois En-nour Institute mosque received authorization to open early on Saturday from the local prefect, substituting for town mayor Philippe Pradal, who recently took over from Christian Estrosi.

Estrosi was opposed to the construction of the mosque and in April had secured the green light to sue the French state in a bid to block its opening in the southern city.

He had accused the building’s owner, Saudi Arabia’s Islamic Affairs Minister Sheikh Saleh bin Abdulaziz, of “advocating sharia” and wanting to “destroy all of the churches on the Arabian peninsula”.

Estrosi, mayor since 2008, said that the project, which was initiated under his predecessor in 2002, was unauthorized.

People in Nice had shown their support for the mosque, with a petition for it garnering over 2,000 signatures.

It’s no surprise that the mosque is popular. Practicing Muslims in the Riviera city have so far only had one smallish downtown option at which to pray, where worshippers can spill out on the street at peak praying times.

The mosque’s opening was described as “a real joy” by Ouassini Mebarek, lawyer and head of a local religious association.

“But there is no smug triumphalism,” he said. “This is recognition of the law, and a right to freely practise one’s religion in France in accordance with the values of French Republic.”

Ten Muslim faithful entered the mosque’s basement, which can hold 880 worshippers, for evening prayers.

“A Muslim prefers the house of God to his own home, provided it is beautiful,” said Abdelaziz, one of the worshippers who came to pray with his son Mohamed.

In the room reserved for women, Amaria, a mother from neighboring Moulins said: “Today we are happy. Happy and relieved to have found this place. … We are tired of hiding ourselves, we aren’t mice.”

The construction of the mosque began in 2003 in a building in an office district.

July 2, 2016

Original Source: http://www.liberation.fr/societe/2016/07/02/la-mosquee-de-nice-ouvre-apres-15-ans-d-une-gestation-douloureuse_1463633

The Union of French Muslim Democrats Presents Eight Candidates

Established in November 2012, The Union of French Muslim Democrats (UDMF) claims more than 900 members and 8,000 supporters. Most are Muslims who do not identity with the current political parties and who are “fed up” with bipartisan politics. This year, the party will present eight candidates in departmental elections in Lyon, Nice, Pas-de-Calais, and others.

Directed by Najib Azergui, the party hopes to promote Islamic finance, an alternative form of traditional finance, as a method to avoid future economic crises. The party also hopes that certain “tragic chapters” in French history (Algeria, colonization, etc), which are “silently passed by” in certain schools, will be made part of their curricula. They also hope to provide Arabic classes, which are “unfairly banned” in secondary schools.

The party most notably defends the right for girls to wear headscarves in schools, as well as civic and philosophic education to teach students to “think and debate.”

Third Muslim child questioned by police for “condoning terrorism”

A ten year-old child was stopped by gendarmes for not having supported the journalists of Charlie Hebdo killed by the Kouachi brothers. She is the third child to be questioned for “condoning terrorism.” The child had said, “I agree with the terrorists for killing the journalists because they made fun of our religion.” Accompanied by her parents she was questioned for 30 minutes by policemen and a child psychiatrist.

“It’s always worrying when we have this kind of remark,” explained Georges Gutierrez in Nice Matin, the prosecutor of the Republic of Grasse. The French court has decided to close the case. The prosecutor said that after the meeting the child no longer held the same belief and that she had been unable to explain what compelled her to say such remarks.

French soldiers injured in knife attack

Three soldiers guarding a Jewish community center in Nice were attacked by a man armed with a knife. Two were injured.

Sharon Baron, a police official in Nice, said that the attack had been apprehended near the Galeries Lafayette. The assailant had carried an identification card with his name, Moussa Coulibaly. He has the same last name as the man who took a kosher supermarket hostage and killed five people, including a policewoman.

Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland said that the suspect has no relation to the previous gunman and that French authorities “are treating this as a potentially terrorist incident.”

A local police official stated that the assailant wielded a knife of no less than 20 centimeters and attacked one soldier, injuring him in the chin. He then attacked the other two before being stopped by nearby police officers.

The attacker is around 30 years old and has a record of theft and violence. His motives remain unclear.

After release of American Sniper, anti-Arab, anti-Muslim sentiments increase

According to the Arab-American Anti-Defamation League, reports of anti-Muslim sentiments have tripled following the release of the film American Sniper. The organization has responded to a number of reports of threats against its membership. Additionally, the group is currently monitoring Twitter for reactions to the film. As of January 24th, the group had collected over 100 anti-Arab, anti-Muslim Tweets like this one: “Nice to see a movie where the Arabs are portrayed for who they really are – vermin scum intent on destroying us.”

The organization is calling on the film’s director, Clint Eastwood, and its star, Bradley Cooper, to condemn these sentiments and to work to bolster a more productive, thoughtful dialogue around the issues in the film. The organization’s president, Samer Khalaf, “With all these threats coming in, we wanted to be proactive. When we are not proactive, people end up getting hurt. … We don’t know if somebody’s serious or if somebody’s joking around, so we take all these threats seriously, especially when they’re talking about shooting bullets into someone’s head.” The organization has not received any response from either Eastwood or Cooper.tumblr_ncubjr2RXo1rs3i49o1_1280

French parents alone against Syria jihad recruiters

March 21, 2014

 

When Dominique Bons’ timid son stopped smoking overnight and started praying frequently at his home in the southern French city of Toulouse, she alerted the authorities.

They did nothing because Nicolas was not suspected of any crime. One day last year he disappeared. Then Bons was sent a text message saying the 30-year-old had been “martyred” on December 22 driving a truck bomb in the Syrian city of Homs.

He grew up in a middle class suburb to atheist parents but converted to Islam in 2009. Like his younger half-brother who died in Syria months earlier, he joined the al Qaeda splinter group, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

They are among a growing number of people, an estimated 2,000 so far, who have left Europeans states to fight alongside Islamist rebels in Syria to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. Europe’s authorities are struggling to stem the flow.

Bons is angry that her efforts to alert the government to a potential problem were ignored and is also convinced that the strategy of France and other European countries of jailing those caught trying to get to Syria makes the situation worse.

“It’s crazy,” said Bons, a retired military secretary who has set up a support group for parents of children who have been radicalized. “In jail they will be reinforced in their desire to go back to Syria… It seems like they (the government) are doing whatever they can to ensure that this continues.”

In March, three men aged 21 to 26 were arrested at an airport in eastern France for sentenced to between two and six years for conspiracy to commit terrorist acts.

The population of French prisons is estimated to be up to 70 percent Muslim. Moderate preachers employed by the state are lacking, so a void is filled by untrained imams who preach a Salafist or hardline form of Islam and hatred of the West.

 

THERAPY OVER JAIL

For Europeans, travelling to Syria is a cheap flight to Turkey and a quick trip over the border, so the problem is one faced by many countries.

Most Europeans fighting in Syria join the Nusra Front or ISIL, the two militant opposition groups that are closest to al Qaeda and considered most dangerous by the West.

French volunteers have formed a fighting brigade within the Nusra Front, radio station RFI reported, made up of more than one hundred soldiers with the main rallying point the fact they can communicate in French and not in Arabic.

Between 600 and 700 French nationals or residents are believed to have volunteered for fighting or were involved in recruitment for Syria.

As in France, many European governments take a tough line, sending suspects to jail or making it more difficult to come home. Britain has said it would consider stripping the citizenship of dual nationals who tried to return after fighting in Syria.

Bons wants to see softer touches involving therapy to stop them becoming radicalized but this is rare.

“The problem is that the government thinks all these kids are potential Merahs,” Bons said. “What’s needed is some way to treat them in advance, to do preventative work with the help of psychiatrists and experts in the problem.”

France has said it will set up a hotline for families to alert local authorities if they detect signs their children are becoming radical.

 

RECRUITMENT

A French judge said last month when the first wave of volunteers returns home they step up recruitment and that is partly why the numbers are growing.

Bons does not know who persuaded her sons to go and fight but suspects it was through someone Nicolas met in Les Izards, the suburb where Merah spent much of his childhood, an overwhelmingly immigrant area unlike where they grew up.

Toulouse, as well as Nice, Strasbourg and Paris, are thought to be fertile recruiting grounds. Two teenagers from the city were placed under formal investigation for conspiracy to commit terrorism in late January for trying to get to Syria, and several others have been arrested.

After a video was published where Nicolas appeared clutching a Koran and Kalashnikov rifle in July 2013, calling on President Francois Hollande to convert to Islam and urging others to join the fight, Bons instantly became the face of jihadism in France. He and his brother were on the front page of several newspapers. Dominique said her son looked like a different person in the video “like someone possessed”, whereas before he had been timid.

 

UNSYMPATHETIC

Bons said despite alerting the authorities of her concerns, she has had very little help from the state.

After Nicolas left for Syria in early 2013, Bons wrote to Hollande asking for help to bring him home. The presidency told her it had transferred her request to the interior and justice ministries, but no action was taken.

“At this point, as a parent, you are totally on your own, you have no idea where to turn,” she said.

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said in January that the government planned to set up a hotline for families.

“Families must be on alert for certain behaviors,” he told parliament in January. “We’ll need to come up with ways involving local officials and mayors for these families to alert our services.”

For Bons the worst part is that it is proving difficult to bring the body back for burial in France. She says the French authorities have been unsympathetic and the situation is complex because France has broken off diplomatic relations with Syria.

A few other parents have reached out but most are ashamed. In the absence of support from the authorities, Bons and others parents have set up support groups. Hers is called “Syrien ne bouge, agissons” a play on the word “Syrian” in French which translates to “If nothing is changing, let’s act”.

In Belgium the “Concerned Parents Collective” aims to stop teens leaving the country. In the eastern French town of Strasbourg a loose-knit group of moderate Muslim associations protested in January under the banner “Hands off our children”.

As part of its counter-terrorism strategy, Britain runs a program called “Channel”, which is designed to provide support to “individuals vulnerable to recruitment by violent extremists”, involving police, schools, social workers and other figures from local communities.

Other non-governmental community organizations, such as London-based Active Change Foundation, also run projects to deal with violent extremism and terrorist recruitment.

Bons said she had been contacted by other parents of young jihadis, including a mother in Nice and the group in Belgium. They agree that European governments needed to find better ways to fight radicalism of their children.

“The mothers are on the front line,” Bons said. “There are fathers, too, of course. But mothers will stop at nothing.”

 

Source: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-rt-us-france-syria-20140321,0,2183507,full.story

Mosque project replaced with nursery project

07.10.2013

Liberation

The mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, rejected on Monday a mosque project funded by Saudi money. Estrosi intends to replace the project with a new nursery project. During a press conference, the mayor expressed that the religious site would not be compatible with his ‘Eco-Vallé project, which should attract businesses to the area. According to Estrosi, Dalil Boubakeur, the director of the Grand Mosque of Paris, expressed his support over his decision.