Paris’s Muslims and Jews are now more anxious than ever

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SHAFAQNA – After the attacks, Muslims hope to escape a backlash. Jews hope the majority has finally understood the threat.

UNDER a traffic bridge not far from the famous Saint-Ouen flea market in northern Paris is another, more dismal curbside market, where immigrants sell scraps of used clothing, single shoes and bashed-up electronic equipment. The dominant language here is Arabic, and new arrivals from Syria exchange information on how to reach Britain. After the November 13th attacks, carried out by members of Islamic State (IS) and directed from the movement’s headquarters in Syria, the main concern is over how border controls could be affected. “This will only make people blame us, though we’re escaping IS ourselves,” worries Abdel Manal, recently arrived in Paris from Aleppo. Election posters for the far-right National Front are plastered on the walls, showing a threatening young woman in a niqab head-covering, but the local Muslim residents don’t seem to fear a backlash.

“The Front are just trying to provoke people,” says Mubarak Bariki, a Tunisian-born male nurse. The perpetrators of the attacks were “doing something which is haram (forbidden)”. Some in the market insist that that the attacks were fictions invented by America and Israel to hurt Muslims. “There’s no such thing as IS,” said one young man.

In relatively liberal Paris, Muslims do not seem to fear retribution. In other French cities, anti-Muslim slogans have been chanted at memorial rallies and graffiti daubed on mosques. The desire not to be identified with the perpetrators motivated a group of imams, joined by rabbis, to lay candles and flowers at the Bataclan theatre, site of the greatest carnage in Paris. But as new details emerge about the identities of the attackers, at least two of whom were French-born, questions are inevitably being raised about the failed integration (or radicalisation) of too many of the children of France’s immigrants from its former colonies in north Africa. The national census does not mention religion, but demographers estimate that 5-10% of French are Muslim.

“After 25 years of speaking about [the issue of] French Muslims, all the governments have failed,” says Olivier Roy of the European University Institute, an expert on radicalisation in France. One problem, he argues, is that Muslim communities are highly fragmented. Politicians tend to appoint their own interlocutors. These purported local leaders have little following, while imams are credible only inside their own mosques. While the public imagines Muslim youth as disenfranchised and poor, many are actually middle-class individualists who “despise those who are chosen by the government to speak on their behalf.” Many of the security personnel who responded to the attacks were Muslims. Liberals argue that they should be considered better representatives of France’s Muslims than the murderers.

French Jews are much better integrated than Muslims. For them, Friday’s violence was a reminder of the second round of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, which targeted a kosher supermarket in Paris, and of the attack in 2012 at the entrance to a Jewish school in Toulouse. Following the supermarket attack, Jewish institutions throughout France were guarded by soldiers. French Jews reacted with ambivalence, at once glad of the protection and distressed at their status as endangered subjects. The attacks spurred an already rising wave of emigration: about 9000 Jews are expected to leave France for Israel this year.

French Jews hope the latest killings, which targeted public spaces seemingly at random, will reinforce the sense that all citizens are in the same boat. “What has happened should make everyone realise that we need better security for all of France, not just the Jews,” says Levi Matusof, rabbi of a congregation in Paris’s 16th arondissement. In a practical sense, there may be no other choice. Patrick Klugman, a deputy mayor of Paris and a former president of the Jewish student union, says there is simply nothing more that can be done to improve security at Jewish institutions. “Now we should hope that because many of the casualties were young French Muslims, they can also speak out,” Mr Klugman says.

 

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