How Arabs are perceived in the French imagination

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, a finding backed up by the Arab News/YouGov study. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 30 November 2020

How Arabs are perceived in the French imagination

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?


Malaysia says China to contribute 500,000 doses of Sinovac vaccines

Malaysia says China to contribute 500,000 doses of Sinovac vaccines
Updated 16 June 2021

Malaysia says China to contribute 500,000 doses of Sinovac vaccines

Malaysia says China to contribute 500,000 doses of Sinovac vaccines

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s foreign minister Hishammuddin Hussein said on Wednesday China had agreed to contribute 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines made by its drugmaker Sinovac BioTech to the Southeast Asian country.

“This timely contribution will bolster the vaccination process and assist the ongoing rollout of Malaysia’s National COVID-19 Immunization Programme,” Hishammuddin said.


Face to face: Biden, Putin ready for long-anticipated summit

Face to face: Biden, Putin ready for long-anticipated summit
Updated 11 min 52 sec ago

Face to face: Biden, Putin ready for long-anticipated summit

Face to face: Biden, Putin ready for long-anticipated summit
  • For four months, the two leaders have traded sharp rhetoric
  • Arrangements for the meeting have been carefully choreographed and vigorously negotiated by both sides

GENEVA:  US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin square up on Wednesday for their first meeting since Biden took office with deep disagreements likely and expectations low for any breakthroughs.
Both have said they hope their talks in a lakeside Geneva villa can lead to more stable and predictable relations, even though they remain at odds over everything from arms control and cyber-hacking to election interference and Ukraine.
For four months, the two leaders have traded sharp rhetoric. Biden repeatedly called out Putin for malicious cyberattacks by Russian-based hackers on US interests, a disregard for democracy with the jailing of Russia’s foremost opposition leader and interference in American elections.
Putin, for his part, has reacted with whatabout-isms and obfuscations — pointing to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the US Capitol to argue that the US has no business lecturing on democratic norms and insisting that the Russian government hasn’t been involved in any election interference or cyberattacks despite US intelligence showing otherwise.
Now, the pair will meet for their first face-to-face as leaders — a conversation that is expected to last four to five hours. In advance, both sides set out to lower expectations.
Even so, Biden has said it would be an important step if the United States and Russia were able to ultimately find “stability and predictability” in their relationship, a seemingly modest goal from the president for dealing with the person he sees as one of America’s fiercest adversaries.
“We should decide where it’s in our mutual interest, in the interest of the world, to cooperate, and see if we can do that,” Biden told reporters earlier this week. “And the areas where we don’t agree, make it clear what the red lines are.”
Arrangements for the meeting have been carefully choreographed and vigorously negotiated by both sides.
Biden first floated the meeting in an April phone call in which he informed Putin that he would be expelling several Russian diplomats and imposing sanctions against dozens of people and companies, part of an effort to hold the Kremlin accountable for interference in last year’s presidential election and the hacking of federal agencies.
Putin and his entourage will arrive first at the summit site: Villa La Grange, a grand lakeside mansion set in Geneva’s biggest park. Next come Biden and his team. Swiss President Guy Parmelin will greet the two leaders.
The three will spend a moment together in front of the cameras, but only Parmelin is expected to make remarks, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity.
Biden and Putin first will hold a relatively intimate meeting joined by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Each side will have a translator.
The meeting will then expand to include five senior aides on each side.
After the meeting concludes, Putin is scheduled to hold a solo news conference, with Biden following suit. The White House opted against a joint news conference, deciding it did not want to appear to elevate Putin at a moment when the president is urging European allies to pressure Putin to cut out myriad provocations.
Biden sees himself with few peers on foreign policy. He traveled the globe as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was given difficult foreign policy assignments by President Barack Obama when Biden was vice president. His portfolio included messy spots like Iraq and Ukraine and weighing the mettle of China’s Xi Jinping during his rise to power.
He has repeatedly said that he believes executing effective foreign policy comes from forming strong personal relations, and he has managed to find rapport with both the likes of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom Biden has labeled an “autocrat,” and conventional politicians like Canada’s Justin Trudeau.
But with Putin, whom the president has said is a “killer” and has “no soul,” Biden has long been wary. At the same time, he acknowledges that Putin, who remained the most powerful figure in Russian politics over the span of five US presidents, is not without talent. Biden this week suggested that he is approaching his meeting with Putin carefully.
“He’s bright. He’s tough,” Biden told reporters. “And I have found that he is a — as they say...a worthy adversary.”
There are hopes of finding small areas of agreement.
No commitments have been made, but according to the senior administration official, there are hopes that both sides will return their ambassadors to their respective postings following the meeting. Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, was recalled from Washington about three months ago after Biden called Putin a killer; US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan left Moscow almost two months ago, after Russia suggested he return to Washington for consultations.
Both ambassadors will be in Geneva during Wednesday’s meeting.
Biden administration officials say they think common ground can be found on arms control. International arms control groups are pressing the Russian and American leaders to start a push for new arms control by holding “strategic stability” talks — a series of government-to-government discussions meant to sort through the many areas of disagreement and tension on the national security front.
The Biden team will press its concerns on cybersecurity. In recent months, Russia-based hackers have launched crippling attacks on a major US oil pipeline and a Brazil-headquartered meat supplier that operates in the US
The Russian side has said that the imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is an internal political matter and one area where Putin won’t engage Biden. But the senior Biden administration official said there “is no issue that is off the table for the president,” suggesting Navalny will come up.
The meeting is sure to invite comparisons with President Donald Trump’s 2018 meeting with Putin in Helsinki, where the two leaders held a joint news conference and Trump sided with Russian denials when asked whether Moscow had meddled in the 2016 presidential election.
Biden has prepared for his one-on-one by reviewing materials and consulting with officials across government and with outside advisers. Aides said the level of preparation wasn’t unusual. Biden, in a brief exchange with reporters upon arriving in Geneva on Tuesday night, sought to offer the impression that he wasn’t sweating his big meeting.
“I am always ready,” Biden said.


Indonesia takes the bite out of dengue fever with mosquito trial

Indonesia takes the bite out of dengue fever with mosquito trial
Updated 16 June 2021

Indonesia takes the bite out of dengue fever with mosquito trial

Indonesia takes the bite out of dengue fever with mosquito trial
  • Authorities hope to repeat dramatic success of three-year Yogyakarta study

JAKARTA: Indonesia is hoping a major trial in regions plagued by dengue fever will reduce the number of disease-carrying mosquitoes and lower the incidence of the viral illness in the country.

The trial involves the release of mosquitoes infected with the Wolbachia bacteria, which stops the insects from transmitting the dengue virus, a health ministry official said on Tuesday.

A similar experiment from 2017 to 2020 in Yogyakarta, a city of 3.6 million people on Java, led to a dramatic fall in the number of new dengue cases, with numbers falling by up to 77 percent.

The number of patients with mild dengue symptoms also fell by 86 percent in areas of the city where mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia were released.

The results of the study, conducted by the World Mosquito Program (WMP) at Monash University in Australia and Indonesia’s Gadjah Mada University, were published in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this month.

However, Didik Budijanto, the health ministry’s director of zoonotic disease prevention, told Arab News that while the ministry welcomed the study, further tests will be needed before the strategy is adopted.

Denpasar in Bali is among locations where further tests are planned, he said.

According to the Bali health agency, 1,803 cases and three deaths were registered on the resort island from January to May.

Meanwhile, the provincial capital Denpasar is among the two most infected regions on the island, where 364 out of 962,900 residents were infected with the disease.

Trials were held in Yogyakarta to see how the Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes affected the incidence of dengue among 8,100 city residents, aged between three and 45, who took part.

According to the WMP, over 4,500 dengue patients were hospitalized in the city in the five years before the trial.

However, experts believe the number could be as high as 14,000, with 2,000 people needing hospital treatment every year.

Indonesia records an estimated 7-8 million dengue cases out of the more than 50 million that occur worldwide annually. As of May, the country reported 13,372 cases with 134 deaths.

Scott O’Neill, WMP’s program director, said that the test results proved that the strategy could significantly reduce dengue numbers.

Joint principal investigator Adi Utarini, from Gadjah Mada University, said that she is optimistic that cities across Indonesia can live without dengue in the future.

“The trial’s success allows us to expand our work across Yogyakarta and into neighboring urban areas,” she said.

However, Budijanto said that the government will carry out further checks before the trial is expanded.

“We just want to make sure science and technology do not outpace regulations and the people can still benefit from it,” he said.

Budijanto told a press conference to mark ASEAN Dengue Day on June 15 that the government had set a target to reduce the national dengue incidence rate to below 37 per 100,000 population and the number of fatalities by 0.2 percent by 2030.

In 2018, the International Society for Neglected Tropical Diseases launched a petition demanding that the World Health Organization follow ASEAN’s move by declaring a World Dengue Day, focusing global efforts on tackling the disease which threatens up to half the world’s population. The petition has collected over 26,500 signatures.

“Growing population densities, unplanned urban development, poor water storage, and unsatisfactory sanitary conditions are all common factors that contribute to the worsening burden of this mosquito-borne disease — not just for ASEAN, but for many countries around the world,” the society said in its online petition.


Uncertainty looms over successor as head of ‘world’s largest family’ dies in India

Uncertainty looms over successor as head of ‘world’s largest family’ dies in India
Updated 16 June 2021

Uncertainty looms over successor as head of ‘world’s largest family’ dies in India

Uncertainty looms over successor as head of ‘world’s largest family’ dies in India
  • Chana, aged 76, is survived by 38 wives, 89 children, 36 grandchildren

NEW DELHI: A question mark was on Tuesday hanging over who would become the new head of reportedly the world’s largest family, two days after the death of 76-year-old Ziona Chana.

Chana, patriarch of a Christian religious sect of 2,000 people that practiced polygamy, died in Aizawl, capital of India’s Mizoram state, on Sunday, without naming a successor.

The cult leader, who was believed to have suffered from diabetes and hypertension, is survived by 38 wives, 89 children, and 36 grandchildren.

His eldest son, 60-year-old Para Nunparliana, told Arab News: “The successor will be decided by the church. First, the burial will take place, and then the church will decide.” He has two wives and 11 children and is widely tipped to be the next in line to head the 163-member family.

Meanwhile, Chana’s daughter Thartei Chhuanthar, 50, told Arab News: “A special burial chamber is being prepared for our father, and he will be laid to rest in the next two to three days.”

Mother-of-four Chhuanthar is Chana’s fifth child but does not know how many siblings she has. “It’s difficult to say,” she said.

She grew up in the remote village of Baktawng, more than 50 kilometers from her present home in Aizawl and spent a major part of her life with the extended family.

“My father was shy and a man of few words. He did not speak much, but he did love everyone equally. There was no favoritism. He was gifted, and he wrote songs for the children to learn on every Sunday school,” she added.

The Chana family lives in a four-storey building with 100 rooms in Baktawng, and a separate school and playground has been allotted to it in the village.

The family runs the Chana Pawl sect with most of its followers residing around Chana’s house in Baktawng.

Chhuanthar said that while the family was Christian, its members did “not follow normal practices of the church. Chhuanthar kohhran means church of the new generation. They believe that they are the selected ones, going through the great road toward heaven. And will reach their destination in the flesh.”

Claims that Chana headed the world’s largest family have been disputed, with media reports suggesting that Winston Blackmore, leader of a polygamous Mormon sect in Canada, has around 150 children from 27 wives, making a total family membership of 178 people.

However, in a condolence message to the Chana family, Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga described it as “the world’s largest family,” and it has featured twice on TV show “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!”

During the 1990s, Baktawng village became something of a global tourist attraction on the back of the family’s notoriety.

Founded by Pu Khuangtuaha in 1942, the polygamous sect was taken over by his brother, Pu Chana, after Khuangtuaha’s death and later by his son, Ziona Chana.

“I expect that after our father’s death, my elder brother Para will take over too,” Chhuanthar said.

Chana first married at the age of 17, with his last wedding taking place in his 50s. During a 2007 interview with Arab News, Chana said: “I want to expand the family as much as possible.”


Afghan translators of departing foreign forces face a mortal danger: Taliban retaliation

Afghan translators of departing foreign forces face a mortal danger: Taliban retaliation
Updated 16 June 2021

Afghan translators of departing foreign forces face a mortal danger: Taliban retaliation

Afghan translators of departing foreign forces face a mortal danger: Taliban retaliation
  • Planned withdrawal by US and NATO troops will leave thousands of interpreters and other assistants exposed
  • Process of resettlement in Western countries complicated by need for recommendation letters and other documents

KABUL: Back in the spring of 2013, Tajik Mohammed was enjoying his leave in the small garden of his family home in the lush village of Kapisa when he learnt that the Taliban had put him on a blacklist. His crime? He was working as a translator for the US military.

Under cover of night, the high-school graduate was forced to flee 110 kilometers south to Kabul, the Afghan capital, where he has remained ever since. His family followed after the Taliban “threw a hand grenade one day” at their house, thinking he was there.

Mohammed, 32, worked for American troops in restive Ghazni province, which lies on the main highway leading to the Taliban’s bastion of support in the south.

He subsequently lost his job for failing to return to duty on time because he could not travel by air from Kapisa to Ghazni. He pointed out that if he had taken the trip by road, the Taliban would have killed him.

He and thousands like him are living in fear. In April, US President Joe Biden announced that he would be withdrawing the estimated 3,500 American troops stationed in Afghanistan by September, 20 years after the Al-Qaeda attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.

Officials at the US embassy said they could not provide data on the percentage of applicants who had been turned down for special immigration visas or the number of former translators and employees who had been killed over the years. (AFP)

The withdrawals started on May 1. Departing with the American forces are their NATO allies and thousands of foreign military contractors. They leave behind those Afghans who have worked as translators, cooks, cleaners, and guards. Many are fearful that the militants will seek retaliation.

US-led efforts to reconcile the Taliban with the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul have not borne fruit since talks began in Qatar last year.

Last week the Taliban, a grouping of mainly Pashtun militants who harbored Osama bin Laden and ruled Afghanistan for five years until 2001, said that they no longer considered the former employees of foreign forces as “foes.” But the militants noted that the workers needed to show “remorse” and should not use “danger” as an excuse to bolster their push for a “fake asylum case.”

In the past, the Taliban openly preached that Afghan translators should be killed. “You are a legitimate target for the Taliban even if you have served for one day for the foreign forces. I have no faith in the Taliban’s promise,” Mohammed told Arab News.

“Who killed so many journalists and civil society activists? Of course, (it was) the Taliban. But they did not take responsibility for them. We risked our lives while working for the foreign forces and now that they are leaving, there is no guarantee at all for our future and we face risk again,” he said.

Mohammed is a member of the Afghans Left Behind Association (ALBA), a union of 2,000 former translators and workers. The group was recently formed with the purpose of highlighting the voices and concerns of those who say they will be targeted once NATO forces leave.

Last week, ALBA held its first large-scale gathering under tight security in Kabul. A number of the former translators wore masks to protect their identities. No One Left Behind, an American non-profit organization that advocates for the relocation of Afghan interpreters to the US, said that according to US media reports more than 300 translators or their relatives had been killed since 2014.

Omid Mahmoodi, an ALBA press officer, said the Taliban killed at least one member of the union, named as Sohail Pardis, as he was driving in Khost province in southeastern Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan.

In April, US President Joe Biden announced that he would be withdrawing the estimated 3,500 American troops stationed in Afghanistan by September. (AFP)

Another translator said he had moved to Kabul from his native Nangarhar province after receiving a threatening telephone call, naming him as an “apostate” who “deserved to be killed.”

Thousands have submitted applications for special immigration visas (SIVs) which allow them to emigrate to the US. Successful applicants need to prove that they served with US forces for at least two years and demonstrate that they provided “faithful and valuable service.”

This is usually attested by US military officers in the form of a letter of recommendation. Successful applicants typically also need to show that they have received evidence that they had been threatened. Those who are unsuccessful often lack documentation or are the subject of “derogatory information.”

The translators have been the eyes and ears for American troops and accompanied them during military campaigns against the Taliban and other militants. They have helped with the arrests of insurgents as well as the controversial searching of homes.

They have also acted as cultural advisers in what is a highly conservative society, helping foreign troops understand tribal, ethnic, and religious sensitivities, while in addition coordinating with Afghan forces.

Mohammed has recently applied for an SIV at the American embassy in Kabul. Thousands of translators from Afghanistan and Iraq have relocated to America using this mechanism as a reward for helping the US troops. “The answer I got through an embassy email asked me why I was terminated, where my recommendation letters were, etc,” he said.

“But the people we worked with in the US military have gone home, changed their addresses and even their profession, so it is tough for us to get hold of them, get the answers and pass them to the embassy here.”

Officials at the US embassy said they could not provide data on the percentage of applicants who had been turned down for an SIV or the number of former translators and employees who had been killed over the years.

Feraidoon, a 28-year-old former translator in Ghazni, told Arab News that he had had his SIV rejected in 2015 but had recently applied again. “The embassy says I do not have sufficient recommendation letters. We have no trust in the Taliban and see no commitment in them because they consider us as traitors, sell-outs and spies,” he said.

Mohammed Basir, 46, who worked for five years with French troops in Kapisa until 2013, said he had appeared in press conferences while translating on TV and had become a “known face” and feared reprisal. “The Taliban will spare no time to behead us if they capture people like me,” he added.

The Taliban said those who worked with foreign forces needed to show “remorse” and should not use “danger” as an excuse to bolster their push for a “fake asylum case.” (AN photo/Sayed Salahuddin)

A number of former translators whose cases were denied in the past have fled Afghanistan, according to ALBA. Akhtar Mohammed Shirzai escaped to India in 2013 with his family. He has been living there since in the hope that he will be able settle in a coalition country because he served with NATO’s media branch.

He applied for an SIV from India in 2016 but was rejected because he did not have a letter of recommendation from his superiors in Kabul. He applied again in May and is now waiting anxiously.

On the Taliban’s offer of an amnesty, Shrizai said: “I heard about it, but I personally do not believe in that because the Taliban are not monolithic. There are different groups with different ideologies and thinking among them.”

In Kabul, Ayazuddin Hilal, who worked for American forces in a number of regions, said the former translators “could not attend wedding ceremonies or funerals back in their villages and even in secure areas where they live. Residents of the area do not treat them well because of their service for the foreign forces.”

He noted that a friend and colleague had also wanted to move to Kabul because of security threats in Nangarhar but was killed by a bomb blast. “I hope the politicians in the US and other capitals take a wise decision on our fate,” he added.

Twitter: @sayedsalahuddin