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Friday, 12 October, 2001, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK
France spared Muslim tensions
Muslims at prayer
Only the younger generation shows signs of discontent
By Hugh Schofield in Paris

In France, which with five million has the largest Muslim population in Europe, there is a large degree of satisfaction at the way community relations have survived the terrorist attacks a month ago.

The assaults on Muslims which have taken place in Britain and other European countries have been conspicuous by their absence.


Religion is fine as long as it's in its place - out of public view

Mantes-La-Jolie town official
Around 90% of French Muslims said in a poll that the suicide hijackers were not true members of the faith. And the community's leaders have expressed approval - admittedly guarded - of the US strikes on Afghanistan.

According to Social Affairs Minister Elisabeth Guigou, "French society has reacted with great maturity."

Those in authority see in this a vindication of the country's long-standing policies towards immigration and religion.

In essence these are founded on two principles: assimilation and secularism, or laicite.

Homogeneity

The contrast to the more liberal, multi-cultural philosophy which prevails in Britain for example could not be clearer. In Britain, immigrants are encouraged to sustain their cultures. Diversity is often celebrated.

Paris metro bomb
Fundamentalism has little appeal for today's Muslims
In France, multi-culturalism is a dirty word.

Immigrant children are expected to pass through the mill of the French educational system and emerge at the end with a universally-shared package of knowledge and values.

In theory this makes for a more homogeneous society.

The same is true of religion. "Religion is fine," said Jerome Seguy, a town official in Mantes-La-Jolie, a high-immigration town west of Paris. "As long as it's in its place - out of public view."

Letter of support

Mantes-La-Jolie is the kind of place that could have expected serious tensions in the wake of the New York and Washington attacks.


Maybe I don't approve of what he did in New York, but when I saw him on television I thought 'What a great guy!

Mantes-La-Jolie resident
Half the population - around 24,000 people - are North African immigrants living in ageing tower-blocks.

It has a fearsome reputation for delinquency, drugs and gang violence. But so far all is calm. "The leaders of the local Muslim community came to us as soon as the atrocities took place and issued a letter of support," said Mr Seguy.

"They could see that a border had been crossed. And for the same reason, they now accept the American reprisals."

Resistance

Among many young Muslims, it is clear that attitudes are more complex.


What's the point in blowing up a station in the name of Islam?

Mantes-La-Jolie youth
"You've heard of the French resistance? In World War II?" says one of a group of young men loafing in the Val Fourre shopping-centre. "Well, for us it's the same."

"Maybe I don't approve of what he did in New York, but when I saw him on television I thought 'What a great guy!'" says another.

"It doesn't make sense - the world's richest nation attacking the world's poorest," says a third.

But fundamentalism - integrisme - seems to offer few attractions.

When an old man in Arab garb harangues them about the duties of religion, they listen respectfully - but there are suppressed titters.

"Integrisme is finished," says one young man. "What's the point of blowing up a station in the name of Islam?"

See also:

11 Oct 01 | Americas
Islam 'hijacked' by terror
30 Sep 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Inside Wahhabi Islam
19 Sep 01 | Scotland
Scottish Muslims describe fears
19 Sep 01 | UK
UK to monitor Islamic group
19 Sep 01 | Scotland
Teacher helps trauma-hit pupils
19 Sep 01 | UK Politics
UK targets terrorist finances
17 Sep 01 | UK
UK police in attack manhunt
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