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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 February, 2004, 14:38 GMT
French Muslims fear 'state within state'
Les Minguettes, 1984
Les Minguettes was the seat of angry Muslim protests in the 1980s
Young French Muslims in the Lyon suburb of Les Minguettes - which 20 years ago saw angry protest marches as Muslims fought for full French nationality - are again angry at what they see as continued exclusion.

Already frustrated by poverty and what they perceive to be discrimination, their anger has been further increased by the French Parliament's passing of a law banning headscarves and other religious symbols from schools.

Some have even said that there is a risk French Muslims may choose to live in their own "state within a state".

"French society needs to accept us, because if they don't, it's going to lead to Muslims opening their own schools," said Lokman, a 22-year-old student and part-time teacher in Les Minguettes, told BBC World Service's Looking For God In Les Minguettes programme.

"Then they'll really keep to themselves. Already, there isn't much dialogue between the two groups. Then there won't be any at all.

"You'll have Muslims on one side, and everyone else on the other.

"It will be like having a state within a state."


Les Minguettes is home to 21,000 people of North African origin.

It was the place where, in 1981, the first riots by a second generation of French immigrants took place.

By 1984, large numbers of these people were marching, in the belief they would eventually become equal to the French. But today, many of them have effectively abandoned France, arguing that Islam is their home.

When I go for a job interview and the boss sees my beard, he'll start wondering if I belong to an Islamic group
Lokman, student
"When young people work, they want to work in a firm with Muslims - so it's happening a little already, this state within a state," Lokman said.

"They know they'll be given time to recited their prayers; they know that during Ramadan they'll be able to go home a little earlier, because their boss is a Muslim, so he understands.

"If they had a choice, they would work with a Muslim."

Another of the frustrated young Muslims in Les Minguettes is Sami Hamaclouf, a 22-year-old studying Arabic literature at the University of Lyon.

Sami, who also works as a secretary for a halal meat wholesalers, said her headscarf had prevented her from working in many places.

Jacques Chirac
President Chirac wants to preserve France's secularism
"I never even went looking for a job, because I was afraid of the refusals I would get because of my headscarf," she said.

"You just don't hire a veiled girl. So I work for Muslims. This discrimination has pushed me to stay among my community, even if Muslims are much-criticised for that.

"I'm no different to anyone else here in France, except my faith is in Islam."

Lokman also said he had struggled to get a job because, although he dresses in Western clothes, he has a beard.

"When I go for a job interview and the boss sees my beard, he'll start wondering if I belong to an Islamic group," he said.

"People do not understand many of the Islamic practices. For us, the beard is part of the Islamic code of dressing, as found in the Koran. It's a way of covering the body, like the veil or headscarf for the woman."

'Quest for identity'

Sami said she had started wearing the headscarf at 14, and that it was a "spiritual and religious choice" inspired by her older brother.

I think what really bothers people is that along with being Muslim, I am also totally French
Sami Hamaclouf
She added she had learned that wearing a headscarf was a commandment of God.

However, in first year of wearing it, she was "straight away summoned to the headmaster's office, and told to take off my headband and show off my hair," she recalled.

"Then the headmaster started lecturing me about the Taleban and the oppression of women in Algeria.

"I didn't know about any of this. I'd been brought up in France. Algeria was the country of my holidays. It was then that I realised people did not understand me, or my quest for my own identity."


Many of the Muslims in Les Minguettes feel not enough has changed in 20 years.

Their parents who marched 20 years ago to demand their rights sang a deeply ironic version of the classic French song Sweet France. The same concerns still appear to be there - prime among them, Sami said, that politicians "still take us for idiots".

Protesters against the headscarf ban, AFP
The headscarf could increase tensions, some Muslims believe
"They cleared themselves of responsibility by saying that they have Muslim friends.

"It looks nice, and it's supposed to mean they understand us," she said.

"But I ask them, 'do you listen to us, do you really understand us?' No!"

However, she did concede that the Les Minguettes marches had produced a positive effect.

Sami said that while first-generation Muslims had been afraid of being expelled, and so "kept their Muslim side hidden," young French Muslims now felt their fight was more "anchored."

"We can be French, aware of our citizenship, happy in this country - and still practise the religion and culture that belongs to our parents," she said.

"I think what really bothers people is that along with being Muslim, I am also totally French."


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