French Muslims feel increased scrutiny amid terror concerns
Many Muslims in France feel increasingly targeted amid growing terror concerns and what some see as anti-Muslim measures, such as the banning burqas in public.
L'Ile Saint-Denis, France
There are more pitas eaten here than baguettes, more halal fast food joints than Parisian specialty chocolate shops. A mere three stops away on the fast RER train from the exclusive clothes boutiques, the world-renowned museums, and the elegant rare bookstores, one disembarks and finds a different Paris.Skip to next paragraph
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L'Ile Saint-Denis, north of Paris, is a suburb of hip-hop clubs, discount beauty stores, and hard-working immigrants. There are Moroccan women with head coverings shopping for fruits, Tunisian merchants selling sweets and olives, Congolese and Senegalese playing a game of football in the park, and bearded Pakistanis chatting over tea at the corner shop.
Many of these people are second-generation immigrants, sons and daughters of those who came here in the big immigration wave of the 1960s. This generation was born right here in France – they speak French and hold French citizenship exactly like any old-timer in a beret feeding the pigeons in the Jardin du Luxembourg.
But, they say, they are still treated differently.
“Look at what is happening now,” complains Kinaz Dicko, a devout Muslim whose parents immigrated to France from Mali. “There is a security alert – check. There are new rumors about Muslim militants and a few arrests – check … and immediately we are all tarred with the same brush: terrorism. Check.”
“Who is a terrorist, ya Haj?” Mr. Dicko’s Afghani friend teases him, slapping him on the back as the two sit at a café near the Tawhid Muslim cultural center.
Dicko stands up, pauses and then suddenly leaps forward, his hand outstretched, his fingers tensed up like claws, his eyes bulging: “Boom!” he cries out, joking around. “Boom, Boom.”
With a growing population comes backlash
Over the past two decades, the number of Muslims living in Western Europe has steadily grown, rising from less than 10 million in 1990 to approximately 17 million in 2010.
While the French government bans official statistics based on ethnicity or religion, according to the Pew Research Center, there are 3.6 million Muslims in France – the largest number of Muslims in any European country, barring Germany, where there are 4.1 million. But there are more Muslims in France percentage-wise (5.7 percent of the total population) than in Germany (with 5 percent) or almost anywhere else in Europe.
In France, like elsewhere in Europe, relations between Muslim and the larger, non-Muslim population, are often fraught.