EXCLUSIVE – A discussion on identity: French Muslims debate social issues and racism

SHAFAQNA – As the French government looks to harden its tone against what officials perceive as a threat to their national values – Islamization, young French Muslims have said to be keen to kick start a broad debate on identity, religion and social inclusion. One young man is leading the debate, Ismael Medjdoub, a student at the Sorbonne in Paris.

“With 40% of France’s Muslim community living in and around Paris, Islam is not likely to go away any time soon,” said Mohammed Ketem, a social worker in excljusive comments to Shafaqna.

He added, “Many live in poor suburban communities known as banlieues., and the residents of these communities have felt increased scrutiny since three young Muslim men, each born and raised in France, killed 17 people in January’s terror attacks in Paris.”

Ismael Medjdoub is a kid from the “banlieue” – suburbs, who straddles in between two worlds. Medjdoub, 21, a third-generation Frenchman of Algerian descent, spends a lot of time on the subway getting to and from work and school — up to four hours every day, including Sunday.

Medjdoub is a student at the Sorbonne in Paris, and would like to get an apartment in the city, but he says his district number — it’s like an American ZIP code — is hurting his chances.

Make no mistake, Medjdoub says that he’s proud to be from a banlieue — his town, called Tremblay en France, is next to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport — but that he knows people look down on those communities.

“Every time that I say to someone I’m coming from suburbs, they have some pity for me that I cannot understand,” he says.

He recalls an incident during his first year studying history at the Sorbonne. He had gone to see his professor, to apologize for a delay in turning in his schoolwork.

“He answered to me: ‘Don’t worry, you are coming from suburbs, so I know what you are feeling,’ ” Medjdoub says. “And I was — ‘What? I mean, come on guy, I am living in a big house with two cats! So you see it’s not the image that you are making of suburbs.’ “

“Muslims in France today want to reclaim their religious identity. They do not want to be forced to practice in secret, behind closed doors,” he stressed.

“Especially the young generation — we are telling them that you are not able to wear the veil, and because they are denied in their identity, the only way they have to answer to the situation is not simply wearing a hijab (headscarf) but a niqab,” he says, referring to an even more obscuring head covering that leaves only the eyes visible.

Despite these challenges, Ismael is adamant: “The fact is that I’m French. … I will never deny my nationality, and I am very proud of it.”

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