Mideast Media Ask: Can France and Islam Coexist?
Who is to blame? The French people? France's government? The Muslim immigrants themselves?
When it comes to the riots that swept France over the last two weeks, commentators in the Arab online media are divided. Some blame French secularism, many blame a more general European racism, but some blame the Arab immigrants themselves.
The BBC's press survey suggests the dominant view is that racism is the primary cause of the unrest. Abdul Bari Atwan, a leading Arab columnist, writes in Al Quds al Arabi that the violence is "a warning to all European governments. It is an expected outcome of policies that look down on foreigners and deal with them as if they were a terrorist time bomb."
Fehmi Koru, writing in Turkey's Yeni Safak, says "the French system, which promises 'equality, freedom and justice' to every citizen, does not act at all equally and fairly towards those with 'Muslim' roots who form part of its society. This shows itself mostly in religion-based separatist practices. For example, the education system uses simplistic excuses to practice exclusion on the basis of religion.
But Ahmed Al-Rabei says the problem is less racism than the failure of Arabs in France to combat it. The immigrants must hold themselves accountable "for the degree of contradiction between the grand size of this community and their meager accomplishments in the field of politics, economics, culture and academic life," he writes in Al Sharq Alawsat.
"The second-generation Arab community in France has not been able to organize itself in a civilized manner, nor achieve any major accomplishments within French society that may lead to them playing a more substantial role, thus weaken the policies of extreme racist factions," he writes."The French Arabs should live as French citizens and will have to prove that they are part of French society. Such action entails higher level of achievement, mobilization to enhance the living and educational standards of French Arabs and defeating those who stigmatize the Arab minority.
"Firstly, they must divest themselves of the 'Ghetto' complex, mix with French culture; make the most of democracy and civil institutions to achieve real accomplishments and not to be portrayed as an angry group out to cause destruction."
The conservative Iranian daily Jomhouri-ye Eslami, quoted in the Middle East Media Research Institute, says "repression" makes integration of Muslims into European society impossible.
"...Every looted store reflects the repression that the residents of the Elysée have imposed upon the poor and downtrodden people of their country. This is the exposure of all the lies that the French politicians maintain in their glittering and sparkling demands [to be considered] defenders of human rights everywhere," they write.
"Discrimination is also rising in England, Germany, America, Canada, and many other Western countries... are suffering from this disease... The French people see the discrimination, the repression, and the hypocrisy of the French politicians. These matters, in addition to the problems of poverty and hunger, were too hard to bear, and have led them to rebel against their politicians. The domestic reality in France is now revealed. The politicians of Paris can no longer hide the ugly face of the country's racist discrimination..."
Qatar's Al Watan daily on November 7 said that the French government should not be blamed completely for the events, saying that the immigrants were partly to blame for their impoverished conditions, according to a press survey in the Cairo-based Middle East Times.
"The first three immigrant generations of Africans and Arabs have contributed to widening the gap between them" and the "original residents by closing up on themselves, taking easy jobs and neglecting their education. Their children are today paying the price for a problem that has been growing for half a century."
Tariq Ramadan, a leading Islamic intellectual, said colorblind secularism and class discrimination are more to blame than racism. Writing in the French Islamic Web site Oumma (in French), he says the the phenomena of racism and of the ghettos must be dealt with through education, which has to reflect the contribution of the immigrants to French society.
"The school curricula include very little about the history and traditions of those people who make up French society today. If formal education does not acknowledge the contribution of the parents, it will be difficult to make them believe that their sons are appreciated," he writes. According to Ramadan, the legitimate demands of the French and British Muslim citizens are not being heard, "and their violence, though illegitimate in its means, can, unfortunately, be understood."
But expatriate Iranian writer Amir Taheri counters that poverty, racism and cultural alienation alone cannot account for the widespread violence.
"After all the Paris region is also home to substantial numbers of Asian, mainly Vietnamese and Chinese immigrants who are as poor, as culturally alienated and as subject to racial pressure as are the inhabitants of the 'exploding suburbs.'
"The indigenous French do not consider the Asian community as a threat to the very idea of Frenchness if only because it has no universal pretensions," he writes.
"The Muslim immigrant minority, however, is perceived as a threat because Islam regards itself as a universal faith and an alternative to Western civilisation. Most indigenous Frenchmen are persuaded that their own culture and civilisation is the best that mankind has ever produced and that Islam's pretensions are misplaced, to say the least.
"Assimilation is far more difficult now because the Arab and African Muslim communities are neither European nor Christian. They may be prepared to become a bit more European but would demand that, in exchange, other Frenchmen also become a bit more like them," Taheri writes.
"In other words what they demand is a new French identity, a synthesis of the traditional concept of Frenchness with new Arab, African and Islamic ones. You cannot play multiculturalism without admitting the possibility that your own culture may, at some point, be affected by other cultures, including ones that were once regarded as alien or even threatening."
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