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Last Updated: Friday, 9 December 2005, 14:23 GMT
Young and Muslim: The French exchange
Setting out: Ibrahim from Paris and Arjmand from Keighley

This autumn riots and violence broke out across France, prompting people to ask what had gone wrong.

At the heart of the debate is France's relationship with its minorities and, in particular, the largest such group - French-born children of North African immigrant parents.

The UK faced similar questions following riots in northern towns in the summer of 2001, when large groups of predominantly Pakistani-Muslim young men vented their anger on the streets.

All this week the BBC World Service's World Today programme has been following two young Muslim students - one French and one British - around each other's troubled areas to try and find out what went wrong.


A week after crossing the Channel to investigate racial and religious tensions in one another's countries, students Arjmand Ghaffour and Ibrahim al-Helw have finished their journey.

Ibrahim, who went to Burnley in northern England, and Arjmand, who visited Clichy-sous-Bois outside Paris, met to discuss their experiences.

In a cafe in London, Ibrahim started by asking Arjmand whether he has got one big lasting memory that he is taking away from his week in the French suburbs.

Below, you can read what Arjmand and Ibrahim have to say as they set out on their journey. You can also listen to their previous reports.


My name is Arjmand Ghafoor. I am 20 years old, studying history and politics at the University of Warwick.

Arjmand arriving in Clichy near Paris
I was born in a town in the north of England called Keighley. My father moved to England from Pakistan in the 1960s. The reason I have come to Paris is to try to understand why the riots happened only a few weeks back.

I want to get beyond the sound-bites and cliches and try to understand the situation on the ground.

What would make young people like myself destroy their own communities? Clichy-sous-Bois was at the heart of the riots and I hope to meet a number of residents from this community.

I have my theories as to why the riots might have occurred, and I want to put them to the test by speaking to the people of Clichy.

Beyond this, there remains the question of the integration of France's ethnic minorities, and if possible I'll want to challenge more senior members of the French establishment on whether their model really works.

Is there an identity crisis for people who are born French people, but not treated as French people? How do they go about dealing with that?


I'm 21 years old and I studied psychology in one of the few universities based in the suburbs outside Paris. I'm French Egyptian and I have lived in Clichy Sur Bois for more than 10 years.

Ibrahim: Wants to know about the British system
For the last four weeks the image of the suburb has been changing because of two events which have been considered as unjust. Two young boys died running away from the police and people have expressed anger over this. Some with violence. Two days later, the situation calmed down because people called for calm.

But then one of the mosques in Clichy was attacked, several hundred worshippers were inside at the time praying during the holy month of Ramadan.

Again people were angry against the police -and again there was violence.

Some young people in Clichy have felt injustices for many years and could not contain their anger. Even those who called for calm were disappointed with the authorities.

French firemen putting out a fire in Lyon
Three weeks of violence
Emergency powers
National rethink of policies

They tried to calm the situation and received no help or apology.

I don't know what to expect to find during the week I am spending in the UK. I'm visiting Burnley where I have heard there were race riots in 2001.

Arjmand has told me that there were segregated communities in Burnley and the activities of some far-right politicians had resulted in more tension. I want to find out if British people who are members of minorities have equal chances in education, employment and living conditions

Having seen what happened to my city, are there any comparisons with how authorities in the UK treat issues such as ethnicity, culture and the social integration of immigrants and their families who feel marginalised by the French Republic.

In France I have always felt I have had to make a choice between being French and being a Muslim of Egyptian origin, even if I see my identity as being made up of all these components.

I want to find out whether people in the UK, born here to immigrant families, have strong feelings of being British. I have heard that issues of identity are not treated in the same way in the UK as in France. I have heard that expressing your religion is accepted, even if you work as a teacher or police officer.



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