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France

French anti-terror spirit of unity lingers but issues remain

media A spray-painted shut mouth of a statue in the streets of Paris, 11 January 2015. Reuters/Charles Platiau

"Beautiful but fragile" was how right wing UMP Member of Parliament Henri Guaino described Sunday’s demonstrations of unity all over France when 3.7 million people turned out in reaction to last week’s terrorist attacks which left 17 innocent people dead.

There were indeed many deeply touching moments that day and many many people now profess a lingering desire to try to prolong that positive spirit in their daily lives. This can only be welcomed. 

There is a certain understandable reluctance to break the spell and the last to break it will be the left wing Paris intelligentsia whose comfort zone is this sort of giant love-fest. 

But many on the right are beginning to suggest that a naïve refusal to acknowledge or address real issues has contributed to the events of last week. 

"Nothing would be worse than to see the French and their leaders give way to a heady self-regard .... getting drunk on the image of Sunday's mobilisation only to fall back tomorrow, as after the Merah affair [Mohommed Merah killed 3 people at a Jewish school and a Muslim soldier near Toulouse in 2012] into the denial and blindness to which we have succumbed for too long" wrote the editor Alexis Brézet in Monday's edition of the right wing daily Le Figaro, which has frequently criticised the left, claiming that it has been too soft on ensuring respect for democratic values in certain areas.

                                                              Anti-Semitism

French teachers regularly report difficulties in teaching about the holocaust in certain schools with a large Muslim population.

Anti-Semitic graffiti don’t raise an eyebrow in these areas, often on the outskirts of France’s big cities.

Click for RFI reports of the Charlie Hebdo killings

While the vast majority of Muslims want simply to get on with their lives, such an anti-Semitic backdrop clearly reveals hate and perhaps breeds further hate among some. 

The Front National 

“A big washing machine to cleanse people’s consciences”, was how Front National leader Marine Le Pen described Sunday's demo in Paris. 

A Socialist MP was charged by François Hollande with organising the demonstration.

Nicolas Sarkozy and the leaders of all the other main political parties were telephoned and formally invited to take part. Marine Le Pen was not.

Inviting her would have been an insult to the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo, who loathed her party, said some. She retorted that not inviting her was an insult to her supporters, who won 25 per cent of the vote, more than any other party, in France’s EU elections in May.

While some said she relished playing the victim, others said she had been treated clumsily and wondered if her exclusion would encourage more people to support her party.

She called upon her supporters to shun the Paris rally and instead show their support for freedom of speech by joining demonstrations in provincial towns, in line with her theme that politicians [and the Paris-based media] are out of touch with ordinary people.

                                                              French Muslims

French Muslims, overwhelmingly Sunni, tend to attend different mosques mostly according to whether they are from a Tunisian, Algerian or Moroccan background. 

Although Dalil Boubakeur, Rector of the Paris Mosque, nominally represents French Muslims, his election followed a quarrelsome vote and some Muslim groups now maintain he does not represent them.

Many Muslims who attended yesterday’s demo in Paris welcome the rising profile of the Imam of Drancy, Hassen Chalghoumi, who has been hugely energetic in prioritising good relations between different religions and communities in France.

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