From Suburbs To Confusion
Abdullah Iskandar, Al-Hayat, 2003/04/27
When last week, French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy decided to address a rally of French Muslims, he did not expect the hostile reception he received.
Despite belonging to a right-wing party, he had succeeded where his left-wing predecessors had failed in establishing the French Council for Islamic Worship, the first institution of its kind that represents Muslims in France, whose members were elected last month.
Sarkozy, who aspires to succeed President Jacques Chirac, was aware of the delicate negotiations with regards to the relationship of the followers of Islam and the state that preceded the establishment of the Council. And when he went to address the Muslim rally, he was also aware of the fact that five million Muslims are among the French voters, and that such votes could be decisive in the next elections. But the minister had once commented that he was annoyed by the smell of spices at the entrance of buildings where new immigrants lived. He was jeered because of such comments and also for insisting that French law applied to all French citizens, and as such, Muslim women, like others, will need to have their photo placed on their French ID cards.
Such problem is unlikely to be resolved in the foreseeable future, especially if the solution is to come from the newly formed Council. The mission of the Council, which the fundamentalists object to, is restricted to playing the role of the negotiator with the public authorities in the practice of worship. But some currents regard such role as lacking in the display of the Islamic character and in expressing it.
What about the Islamic character and how is it perceived?
According to research by sociologists that are reflected in the French media, the Islamic personality assumes a certain pattern: first generation immigrants arrive in France for economic reasons. He has a large family and moves into the suburbs. Those with a profession or a craft succeed in life and assimilate with society. The rest becomes tramps and hobos, at best seeking ad hock jobs. They may also join smuggling gangs and descend into a life of vice. An alternative for them is to be led toward Islamic fundamentalism to join a jihad.
In the former situation, the values of tolerance of the French society are praised. In the latter failed case, emphasis is placed on the hardship, and some say the impossibility of assimilation of Muslims in a society that separates state and religion.