Immigrints Cool Toward Saddam - and the Coalition

FRANCE. IMPACT ON MUSLIMS. Saddam Hussein has called the Gulf conflict a holy war and tried to enlist Muslims around the world in the battle. How are they responding? In some areas with large Muslim populations, such as Pakistan and Southeast Asia, people are in turmoil over their governments' backing of the US-led coalition. At the same time, in some Western nations, Muslims are facing new forms of discrimination.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

AMAR Larmi says he speaks for himself, but his words could be those of almost any of the more than 4 million Muslims, the large majority Arab, who live in France. ``The big fear is for the day when there will be deaths among the French soldiers in this war,'' says the white-collar worker for an auto supply company who came to France from Algeria 20 years ago. ``The Arab on the assembly line at Renault, the Muslim walking down the street, they're going to become targets.''

Mr. Larmi is sipping hot, sweet tea at a small Arab restaurant in La Goutte d'Or, a Paris neighborhood known as Little Algiers, because of its high concentration of Arab Muslims.

In La Goutte d'Or, there is little enthusiasm for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, but also little support for France's involvement in the Gulf War. For the visitor who stops to inquire, there is notable concern for the Iraqi people, a refusal to see the country of a ``brother people'' destroyed.

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But mostly there is a reticence, at least with a stranger, when the war is brought up.

``War is bad for both sides, but that is all I want to say about it,'' says Mohamed, a shopkeeper selling North African goods. ``I just want to live here in peace.''

Echoing that sentiment is ``Mr. Kader'' (he refused to give his first name), who runs a cassette-tape shop where his young son proudly completes math homework on a mini-calculator.

``I'm just worried about filling my modest pockets so I can take care of my family,'' he says. ``I think Saddam is crazy, and I think France is losing its political independence from America, and that is too bad. But those things are not really my concern.

``The children are a little upset by this war,'' he concludes, ``and that I worry about.''

The atmosphere of La Goutte d'Or is reflected in a survey of Muslims living in France published this week in the daily Figaro. To the surprise of many French, the survey showed very little support for Saddam - 22 percent - with the same level of support for the Western coalition.

Among the Muslim population, only 9 percent said they see the war as ``a conflict between Islam and the West,'' while one-third said it is primarily related to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Reflecting in part their estimation of the economic rung they see Muslims occupying in the West, the next largest group - 26 percent - said the war is a conflict between rich and poor countries.

But the largest numbers relate to worries about the effect this war could have on Muslims in France: Nearly three-fourths said they fear rising racism and greater difficulty for Muslims trying to find jobs, while 70 percent said they fear Muslims will become targets of terrorist acts.

More than half say the war could lead France to deport Muslim immigrants.

The concerns result in part from anti-Arab acts that have already increased since the war. In Corsica, where 20 percent of the work force is Arab immigrants, vandalism of Arab-owned property, mounting threats, and a few personal attacks have caused many families to leave the island. Some companies are reporting high unannounced absences among Arab employees.

To counter a drift toward division among religious groups, religious leaders in Lille, in the north of France, assembled Tuesday for a public ceremony emphasizing the common ground of Christians, Muslims, and Jews.

In La Goutte d'Or, Mustapha (a Moroccan who declined to give his last name) says concerns about what the war could mean for Muslims in France are on everyone's mind. ``I could be mistaken for an Iraqi, I risk being seen more and more as the enemy.''

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