Hong Kong protesters in standoff with police after tear gas breaks up rally

Hong Kong riot officers were seen wearing respirator masks while firing tear gas at protesters. (File/AFP)
Updated 27 October 2019

Hong Kong protesters in standoff with police after tear gas breaks up rally

  • Police deny accusations of brutality, saying they have shown restraint in life-threatening situations
  • The police had arrived earlier in the afternoon, warning protesters to leave the Tsim Sha Tsui district

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police fired volleys of tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters, many wearing banned face masks, who had converged on the Kowloon harbor-front tourist district on Sunday to denounce perceived police brutality over months of unrest.

There was a standoff as dusk began to fall, with protesters gathered on the pavements of the key shopping and hotel artery of Nathan Road, which police had earlier cleared in slow-moving cordons.

Riot police stood by outside the Chungking Mansions high-rise warren of South Asian restaurants and backpacker hostels, shields and batons at the ready, as protesters shouted colorful obscenities at them in Cantonese.

The police had arrived earlier in the afternoon, warning protesters to leave the Tsim Sha Tsui district, opposite the British colonial-era Peninsula Hotel.

The number of protesters had grown by the minute, streaming down Nathan Road to the water’s edge, facing the dramatic skyline of Hong Kong island opposite, but many fled after the tear gas and pepper spray were fired.

Ambulances took one man away on a stretcher. The cause of his wounds was not immediately clear.

Police detained some protesters as they gathered, many yelling profanities while police used loudhailers to warn others away. The crowds at the waterfront had largely dispersed after a couple of hours and headed north up Nathan Road, where many luxury brand shops closed their shutters.

The rallying cry of the protesters was also for the protection of “Muslims, journalists and the people.”

A police water cannon fired bursts of blue-dyed water at a small group of people outside a Nathan Road mosque during protests last weekend, drawing criticism from some in the Muslim community. There was a large crowd of police outside the mosque on Sunday.

’NO TO TOTALITARIANISM’

Billy, 26, a salesman, who did not want to give his full name, said he turned out on Sunday because he was angry at the spraying of the mosque.

“Hong Kong people, regardless of our religion ... we come here to say no to our totalitarian government,” he told Reuters, adding he wanted to protest peacefully. “I have a little bit of fear ... because our police sometimes they are uncontrollable and they threaten the safety of our people.”

Cindy Chu, 65, a retired nurse, said the police used to be a force for good.

“It’s so simple. They are disturbing the Hong Kong people,” she said. “And what for? What authority do they have to do that? It’s Hong Kong, not China.”

Chu said she was there to support journalists. When asked if she really wanted to give her full name, she said: “I am not afraid. If Hong Kong people are afraid of things like that, then the ending is not good.”

She too was wearing a face mask, banned under a colonial-era law re-introduced by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam this month.

Pro-democracy activists have in recent weeks attacked police with petrol bombs and rocks and slashed one officer in the neck with a knife. Police have responded with tear gas, water cannon, rubber bullets and occasional live rounds, wounding several protesters and a few journalists.

Police deny accusations of brutality, saying they have shown restraint in life-threatening situations. There had been a week-long lull in clashes.

Protesters are angry about what they see as creeping Chinese interference in Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula intended to guarantee freedoms that are not enjoyed on the mainland.

China denies meddling. It has accused foreign governments, including the United States and Britain, of stirring up trouble.


How Arabs are perceived in the French imagination

Updated 50 min 34 sec ago

How Arabs are perceived in the French imagination

  • The collective representation of Arabs in France is, without a doubt, a legacy of the colonial era
  • Perception of Arabs is characterized by an ambivalence where rejection and attraction are combined

PARIS: Contrary to popular belief, the presence of Arabs in France is not related to the waves of economic immigration of the 1960s. Rather, it goes back to the early Middle Ages, around the year 717, when the Arab-Berber armies — under Umayyad command — crossed the Pyrenees to take Septimania from the Visigoths.

It became one of the five provinces of Al-Andalus, with Arbuna (Narbonne) as its capital. Often forgotten, this event is nonetheless a significant step in the history of France.

Therefore, it was in the eighth century that Arabs materialized in the French imagination. Perceived as the infidel (non-Christian), Arabs were referred to indifferently as “the Moor,” “the Ismaili” or “the Mohammedan.” They were then targeted by the propaganda of the “cultured” elite of the time, which referred to them with insulting adjectives and degrading representations.

Islam, described as heretical, faced all sorts of slander and disinformation. Relayed and fueled by men of ecclesiastical power, writers and other chroniclers, these stereotypes persisted for centuries and “fed” minds during the Crusades and beyond.

However, according to the circumstances, the perception of Arabs is characterized by an ambivalence where rejection and attraction are combined. This is reflected in the admiration for Arab soldiers who fought for France and who were involved in the battles for Sevastopol, Sedan, Verdun and Monte Cassino, and occasionally on the wrong side of history, as in Dien Bien Phu. Once demobilized, the survivors returned to their countries — under colonial domination.

The negative stereotypes strongly resurfaced during the colonial era, as if to justify the violence against the dominated populations. The Republic was responsible for guiding these “savage indigenous” peoples towards the light of “civilization.” Under the Third Republic, anti-Arab propaganda entered the classroom. At the time, textbooks boasted of the “civilizing work of colonization” and used 19th-century raciology to reconcile dominant prejudices with republican principles.

In the wake of the Second World War, France lacked the manpower for its reconstruction. It brought in tens of thousands of workers every year. This was the dawn of an era of mass immigration favored by full employment — the Thirty Glorious Years (1945-1975).

The inward flow rose from 50,000 in 1946 to 3,868,000 in 1975. Of this mass of humanity, film producer Francis Bouygues said, somewhat paternalistically, “foreigners have many qualities, and they are courageous people.”

For employers, migrant workers were simply a factor of production. Their presence in France was necessary, provided it was temporary. This “ideal” vision of economic immigration, which denies the social aspect of the issue, fell apart in the 1970s because of family reunification.

For the racist part of the population, the idea that “Arabs” could settle in France permanently was unbearable. This sparked a rash of racist hate crimes between 1971 and 1983, which claimed dozens of lives.

Originally economic, immigration gradually became a political and electoral issue. All political tendencies have tried to control it, except for the far right, which instead exploits the slightest incident to wake up old demons.

The collective representation of Arabs in France is, without a doubt, a legacy of the colonial era. If the old stereotypes seem to have gone out of fashion, the fact remains that the perception of the other varies between rejection and attraction according to crises and events.

When France became the football world champion in 1998, it celebrated Zinedine Zidane — the son of a migrant Algerian worker, regularly named among France’s favorite personalities. The euphoria of that moment gave birth to the slogan “black-blanc-beur,” a term coined to denote “living together.” This myth was shattered seven years later by the riots in Clichy-sous-Bois.

Given the extent of the violence, authorities instituted a curfew, backed by the state of emergency law. Ironically, this landmark law was passed in April 1955 under the government of Edgar Faure in the context of the Algerian War. During this period, it was also applied in metropolitan France, but on North Africans alone. This is the origin of the notorious “looks-based checks” which continue to this day.

The Islamization of perception was legitimized by the Iranian revolution, the headscarf affair of 1989 and attacks carried out by terrorists claiming to be Muslim. But it was the Sept. 11 attacks in the US that ultimately fixed the image of the Islamist terrorist in the collective imagination.

We are witnessing the crescendo of an uninhibited racism, regularly reported by exhibitionist media and writers in need of work. The big paradox is when we know that the great majority of French of Arab origin, practicing or not, evolve in perfect harmony with the values of the Republic. In addition, they effectively contribute to the development of France in all areas.

The most relevant example is undoubtedly that of the thousands of doctors of Arab origin, generally from the Maghreb, who practically carry the French health system. However, these doctors, like others, feel stigmatized because of their origin, the consonance of their name and their real or supposed religion.

This feeling of exclusion is stronger in women, according to the Arab News en Francais/YouGov survey conducted in September. It is clear that the rejection experienced by this category of French citizens nowadays resembles the rejection of the Arabs in the past. How long will these prejudices and representations remain?