French Muslims of Arab origin feel their faith is viewed negatively: Poll

French Muslims of Arab origin feel their faith is viewed negatively: Poll
Contrary to popular belief, around half of those surveyed believe that their sense of belonging to French society has not been impacted by their religion. (AFP/File)
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Updated 01 December 2020

French Muslims of Arab origin feel their faith is viewed negatively: Poll

French Muslims of Arab origin feel their faith is viewed negatively: Poll
  • Arab News en Francais/YouGov survey sheds light on opinions of French Arabs on their place in the secular republic
  • Members of the ethnic group are generally familiar with French history, from Louis XIV to the latest developments

LONDON: In the tense environment of the terrorist assassinations which have affected France in the last weeks, the question of the integration of French people of Arab origin — more specifically Muslims — and their conformity with “the values ​​of the republic” is back to the fore of political discourse.

By focusing on a minority of Muslim extremists, right-wing politicians and polemicists who monopolize television platforms continue to instill in people’s minds the idea that French Muslims as a whole are separate citizens and “enemies of the inside” summoned to prove their sense of belonging.

But as the new Arab News en Francais/YouGov study shows, French people of Arab origin are well integrated. Among the representative sample of 958 French Arabs surveyed, a significant proportion had a good level of education, 65 percent of them were employed, 10 percent were unemployed and 55 percent had completed higher education.

They are generally familiar with French history, from Louis XIV to the latest political developments.

Contrary to popular belief, around half of those surveyed believe that their sense of belonging to French society has not been impacted by their religion (48 percent) and their origin (45 percent). The other half of those polled are divided between those who think that Islamic or Maghrebi origin has fostered their sense of belonging and those who think that it has been an obstacle to their inclusion in French society.

Although integrated, the French of Arab origin suffer from a bad image that sticks to their skin. Almost two-thirds of those polled (64 percent) believe that Arabs in France are perceived negatively. This feeling is even stronger among those aged over 55 (73 percent). The term “Arabs” gradually came to the fore in the early 1970s to designate Maghreb immigrant workers and their families, and was gradually taken over by the far right and the National Front.

It was then assimilated to delinquency and violence in the suburbs, but also linked to degrading imagery inherited from the colonial empire, as shown for example by the use of terms such as “savage” or, in more recent times, “savagery.”

The semantic shift towards the term “Muslim” took place at the start of the 1990s. It was already common in the 1950s and 1960s to designate the status of colonized people in Algeria. The term has returned to the fore, notably following the Creil headscarf controversy of 1989, and has been associated with religious conservatism and rejection of secularism.

From 1995, France was also affected by a wave of radical Islamic attacks, giving rise to a growing conflation between Muslims and terrorists. This trend has intensified since a surge in violent extremism in 2015 in France, especially as they are exploited for political ends. Islam and “Muslims” are regularly singled out in the media. Far-right polemicist Eric Zemmour has made it his specialty, going so far as to compare Islam to Nazism.

Politicians like former Republican presidential candidate Francois Fillon made it clear that “there is a problem with the Muslim religion” and that “a significant part of the Muslim community refuses to integrate.”

It is therefore not surprising that, in this climate of tension around Islam, more than two-thirds (67 percent) of Muslims polled in the YouGov poll believe that other French people have a negative perception of their religion.

But — and this is another lesson from the opinion poll — the negative image of religion is not just about Islam as such. Indeed, 61 percent of Jews of Arab origin also say that their religion is frowned upon by French citizens. In contrast, the perception is completely reversed for Christians of Arab origin, 92 percent of whom say that their beliefs are viewed positively.

These negative perceptions translate into discrimination, particularly in hiring. In the Arab News en Francais/YouGov survey, about three in 10 respondents said religion or racial origin has had a negative impact on their careers. This feeling is especially true for men, whether it concerns ethnicity (35 percent) or religion (33 percent).

Women, on the other hand, believe that neither religion (61 percent) nor racial origin (53 percent) has had an impact on their professional trajectory. For 36 percent of those polled, it was even the ethnic origin of their name that penalized them the most in their hiring process. A survey carried out by Institut Montaigne in 2015 showed that in France, Mohammed is four times less likely to be recruited than Michel.


Indonesia takes the bite out of dengue fever with mosquito trial

Indonesia takes the bite out of dengue fever with mosquito trial
Updated 2 min 26 sec ago

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


Italian island in plea for help after 600 migrants arrive in 24 hours

Italian island in plea for help after 600 migrants arrive in 24 hours
Updated 15 June 2021

Italian island in plea for help after 600 migrants arrive in 24 hours

Italian island in plea for help after 600 migrants arrive in 24 hours
  • Eight boats carrying 634 people, including a five-month-old baby, have arrived at Lampedusa, south of Sicily, since early Tuesday
  • Lampedusa’s mayor, Salvatore Martello, said that almost 1,370 people are now staying at the Imbriacola migrant reception center, a facility designed for 250 occupants

ROME: The Italian island of Lampedusa is struggling to cope after more than 600 migrants landed on its shores in less than 24 hours.

Eight boats carrying 634 people, including a five-month-old baby, from North Africa have arrived at the Mediterranean island, south of Sicily, since early Tuesday, overwhelming migrant facilities and leaving services on the brink of collapse.

More than 380 migrants of various nationalities were crowded onto one fishing boat alone.

“We intercepted a boat at dawn with 85 people on board. A small boat carrying 13 Tunisians landed later, followed by another with 12 men from Morocco and Sudan,” Admiral Roberto Isidori, commander of the Sicilian Coast Guard, told Arab News.

“All those on board were in very bad condition.”

Four other boats carrying at least 100 people reached the island — viewed as a gateway to Europe by migrants — in quick succession.

These groups were in addition to the 442 people who landed on Monday.

Mayor of Lampedusa Salvatore Martello. (AFP)

Lampedusa’s mayor, Salvatore Martello, told Arab News that almost 1,370 people are now staying at the Imbriacola migrant reception center, a facility designed for 250 occupants.

“The conditions facing migrants are very hard as we are experiencing a heatwave,” he added.

Agrigento authorities have arranged for 100 migrants who have been identified and tested negative for COVID-19 to be transferred by ferry to Porto Empedocle, an industrial port in the south of Sicily.

“From there we will try to send them to other reception centers, although all the facilities in Sicily and Calabria are already full beyond capacity,” Isidori said.

Other migrants could also be transferred on quarantine ships and patrol boats.

“In Lampedusa, the situation is unsustainable, both for the migrants and the local population, which is showing generosity to those people who endured a long, dangerous trip reach the island,” Urania Papatheu, a Forza Italia senator, told Arab News.

“What is happening is intolerable and unacceptable. It’s time for the EU to take action and hear to the calls for help from the Italian government. Enough with words from the EU. The time has come for facts and solidarity — Italy cannot be left alone.”

About 40 migrants from Algeria who landed on the southern coast of Sardinia also have been transferred to the migrant reception center in Monastir where they will be kept in quarantine.


Ryanair CEO says diverted flight had to land in Belarus

Ryanair CEO says diverted flight had to land in Belarus
Updated 15 June 2021

Ryanair CEO says diverted flight had to land in Belarus

Ryanair CEO says diverted flight had to land in Belarus
  • Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary appeared before a British Parliament committee to give evidence on the May 23 diversion
  • The pilot was put under “considerable pressure” to land in Belarus

LONDON: The pilot of a Ryanair flight that was diverted to Belarus last month, leading to the arrest of a dissident Belarusian journalist, had no alternative but to land in Minsk, the airline’s head said Tuesday.
Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary appeared before a British Parliament committee to give evidence on the May 23 diversion. The scheduled flight from Greece to Lithuania changed course and landed in Belarus’ capital.
Opposition journalist Raman Pratasevich, who had been a passenger on the plane, was arrested.
O’Leary told British lawmakers that Minsk air traffic control warned the flight crew of a “credible threat” that if the plane entered Lithuanian airspace, “a bomb on board would be detonated.”
The captain repeatedly asked to communicate with Ryanair’s operations control center, but Minsk air traffic officials told him — falsely — that “Ryanair weren’t answering the phone,” O’Leary said.
“This was clearly a premeditated breach of all the international aviation rules, regulations, safety,” he said.
O’Leary said the pilot was put under “considerable pressure” to land in Belarus instead of the more standard options of Poland or other Baltic countries.
“He wasn’t instructed to do so, but he wasn’t left with any great alternatives,” he told members of the Parliament committee.
After the plane was on the ground, several “unidentified persons” boarded the aircraft with video cameras, according to O’Leary.
They “repeatedly attempted to get the crew to confirm on video that they had voluntarily diverted to Minsk,” the Ryanair executive said. The crew refused to provide such confirmation, he said.
Western countries have called the forced diversion a brazen “hijacking” by Belarus. Outraged European Union leaders swiftly slapped sanctions on the country, including banning Belarusian airlines from using the airspace and airports of the 27-nation bloc and telling European airlines to skirt Belarus. UK authorities took similar actions.
O’Leary said he did not support continuing such flight bans in the long term.
“We cannot have a situation whereby airlines, air travel, our customers and our citizens run the risk of being hijacked and diverted under false pretenses,” he said. “But equally, far more UK citizens will be disrupted as a result of long-haul flights between the UK and Asia, for example, now having to fly around Belarus or avoiding Belarusian airspace.”