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)
Short Url
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.


Qur’an burnt in Brazil mosque attack

Qur’an burnt in Brazil mosque attack
Updated 11 sec ago

Qur’an burnt in Brazil mosque attack

Qur’an burnt in Brazil mosque attack
  • The unknown criminals broke into the building’s hussainiya before the first morning prayer and dirtied the walls and some chairs
  • The mosque was founded more than 40 years ago by members of the Lebanese community in Ponta Grossa

LIMA: A mosque in the Brazilian city of Ponta Grossa was invaded and desecrated by vandals on Nov. 26. 

The unknown criminals broke into the building’s hussainiya before the first morning prayer and dirtied the walls and some chairs, destroyed masbahas, and set fire to five volumes of the Holy Qur’an.

When the Iran-born Sheikh Mahmoud Shamsi left his house — which is in the same development as the mosque — for the first prayer, he smelled smoke, but thought it came from the street.

“Two hours later, when I got into my car, I realized that someone had stolen its radio player. That’s when I went to the hussainiya and saw that everything was messed up,” Shamsi told Arab News.

According to Sleiman Zabad, the president of the Imam Ali Mosque, the criminals set fire to a central table in the hussainiya, on top of which there was a volume of the Qur’an and a painting with a sacred verse.

“He certainly saw it as a kind of (Christian) altar and decided to destroy it. That’s why I think his intention was to desecrate the mosque, and his motivation was religious intolerance,” Zabad affirmed.

The mosque’s kitchen was also broken into, with the walls dirtied by the unknown assailants. Sheikh Shamsi said that another four volumes of the Qur’an were taken out of a wardrobe and burned.

“I think the person wanted to burn more things but heard when I went to the mosque for the morning prayer and ran away,” the sheikh added.

The mosque was founded more than 40 years ago by members of the Lebanese community in Ponta Grossa, a city in the Southern Brazilian State of Paraná. Now, more recent immigrants and refugees from Pakistan, Tunisia, Syria, and sub-Saharan countries also attend the mosque for prayers. It congregates about 400 people, both Sunni and Shi’a.

A few years ago, unknown invaders broke into the mosque and destroyed a few chandeliers. Nobody was arrested after the break-in.

According to Zabad, there is no atmosphere of religious intolerance in the city, and Muslims are totally integrated into the local society.

“On social media, however, people sometimes attack us,” he said.

The vandals have not yet been identified. The mosque’s security cameras were not working so the police still do not have images of the suspects.

Zabad said that there is expensive electronic equipment in the hussainiya but nothing was taken. Sheikh Shamsi said there was money inside his car, which also was not stolen.

Numerous civic and religious organizations have manifested their repudiation of the attack and expressed support to the Muslim community.

Rio de Janeiro’s Commission to Combat Religious Intolerance issued a statement on Saturday affirming that the invaders “not only wanted to attack the mosque’s building and the sacred symbols of our Muslim brothers but they wanted to attack mainly the Muslim community’s morals and psychology, given that the attack was carried out on Friday (the Muslim sacred day) and attained Islam’s holy book.”

Ivanir dos Santos, one of the committee’s founding members, told Arab News: “It’s a shameful episode of religious intolerance and disrespect to the Muslims. We hope that the police authorities will investigate and discover who the perpetrators are. And we hope that they will be held legally accountable for that vile act of intolerance and Islamophobia.”

According to Carlos Menezes, who heads Rio de Janeiro’s Islamic center and is also a member of the committee, the rise in cases of religious intolerance in Brazil over the past few years was a signal that sooner or later something like the recent mosque invasion would happen to the Muslim community.

“Brazil has always been a tolerant country, but we have been noticing a growing number of occurrences of that kind lately, especially against African Brazilian religions,” Menezes told Arab News.

He added that hate speech on the Internet has become more common in Brazilian cities where there are larger Islamic communities. The attack in Ponta Grossa somehow materialized that menace.

“Unfortunately, the current Brazilian president has been stimulating intolerance in society. Intolerant people feel free now to manifest their opinions,” he added.

Since the presidential campaign in 2018, President Jair Bolsonaro has been backed by large evangelical protestant segments. Members of his administration on several occasions have emphasized that Brazil is a Christian country, causing embarrassment among non-Christians.

Menezes said that since the Taliban resumed control in Afghanistan, Islamophobic verbal aggressions on social media have been growing.

“Now that the first physical attack occurred, other people may feel stimulated to do the same,” said Menezes, who also directs the Shi’a Human Rights Observatory, which monitors hate speech.

But the strong reaction of several Brazilian religious organizations to the aggression brings hope that the nation will not tolerate new acts of hate, Menezes added.

One of the first religious institutions to express its repudiation of the attack was the Israeli Federation of Paraná State. The organization manifested its “deep solidarity to Sheikh Mahmoud Shamsi and his congregation” and said that such acts are “inadmissible.”

“My parents are Lebanese and I was born here in Brazil. It’s a country which welcomes everybody,” Sleiman Zabad said.

“That kind of thing can never happen again. Not only to Muslims but to nobody. I will be equally sad if someone attacks the Bible,” he concluded.


UN marks International Day of Solidarity with Palestinian people

UN marks International Day of Solidarity with Palestinian people
Updated 33 min 9 sec ago

UN marks International Day of Solidarity with Palestinian people

UN marks International Day of Solidarity with Palestinian people
  • OIC, Arab League, and Palestinian activists addressed UN delegates on Monday
  • ‘If the judge is your enemy, to whom do you complain?’ prominent activist asks UN delegates

NEW YORK: The president of the UN General Assembly and heads of various international organizations marked the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people and called on the international community to recognize their aspirations for self-determination and sovereignty.

Taking place on Nov. 29 every year, the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people is not only an opportunity for parties to express their concern for the plight of the Palestinians, but also an opportunity for the international community to assess progress in resolving the Palestinian question.

Abdulla Shahid, president of the UN General Assembly, said: “Peace in the Middle East has remained at the forefront of the global agenda since the foundation of the UN, and much of that conversation has revolved around implementing a just settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

“Scattered across the Middle East and beyond, Palestinian families, uprooted in 1948, are losing hope of ever returning to their original homes, especially as illegal settlements outside of Israel’s demarcated borders proliferate.

“Palestinians in the Gaza strip continue to live in appalling conditions, with limited access to basic amenities and services, including running water, electricity, medicine, and education.”

He added: “Deprived of statehood, they cannot even advocate on their own behalf as a peer member of the global community,” alluding to the fundamental issue for many Palestinians: The lack of a country to call their own.

A representative for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation expressed support for the Palestinian cause in their “struggle to recover their legitimate rights.

He said: “The International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people comes this year at a critical juncture over the Palestinian cause, given the continued practices of Israel, the occupying power, to perpetrate its colonial occupation on Palestinian land.”

Israel does this, he continued, by way of policies based on “aggression, forced displacement, ethnic cleansing, settlement Judaization, land confiscation, destruction of property, and denial of the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people.”

He also specifically highlighted the plight of Palestinian families in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem, many of whom are at risk of imminent eviction by Israeli authorities, warning that Israeli actions “fuel violence and extremism” and threaten to “ignite a religious conflict with unpredictable repercussions.”

Representatives from the Arab League and African Union also spoke, expressing their support for a two-state solution based on 1967 borders.

Also present was Mohammed El-Kurd, a prominent Palestinian activist from Sheikh Jarrah, who told delegates: “Our lives are consumed by the anxiety of living on the brink of homelessness. The UN has called this a war crime, but more importantly: I know this is theft.”

El Kurd expressed his dismay at coming to the platform as one of “countless Palestinians” who have spoken before him at the UN, but have failed to end the colonization of their land — or even make any discernible progress.

He lamented the “quasi-democratic” way in which the Israeli judicial system legitimizes settler claims to Palestinian land and recalled a question asked by his own grandmother, who was expelled from her home during the Nakba, a period in the 1940s of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Israelis.

According to El-Kurd, his grandmother asked: “If the judge is your enemy, to whom do you complain?”


WHO warns that new virus variant poses ‘very high’ risk

WHO warns that new virus variant poses ‘very high’ risk
Updated 53 min 1 sec ago

WHO warns that new virus variant poses ‘very high’ risk

WHO warns that new virus variant poses ‘very high’ risk
  • The UN health agency says "considerable uncertainties” remain about the new variant that was first detected in southern Africa
  • “Many of us might think we are done with COVID-19. It’s not done with us,” warned Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general.

BRUSSELS: The World Health Organization (WHO) says the global risk from the omicron variant of the coronavirus is “very high” based on early evidence, and it could lead to surges with “severe consequences.”
The UN health agency, in a technical memo to member states, says “considerable uncertainties” remain about the new variant that was first detected in southern Africa. But it says the likelihood of possible further spread around the world is high.
Taking an act-now-ask-questions-later approach, countries around the world slammed their doors shut again to try to keep the new omicron variant at bay Monday as more cases of the mutant coronavirus emerged and scientists raced to figure out just how dangerous it might be.
Japan announced it would bar entry of all foreign visitors, joining Israel in doing so just days after the variant was identified by researchers in South Africa. Morocco banned all incoming flights. Other countries, including the US and European Union members, have moved to prohibit travelers arriving from southern Africa.
Travelers infected with the new version have turned up in a widening circle of countries over the past few days, including now Spain, and cases in Portugal and Scotland have raised fears that the variant may already be spreading locally.
“Many of us might think we are done with COVID-19. It’s not done with us,” warned Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general.
Days after the variant sent a shudder through the financial world nearly two years into the pandemic that has killed over 5 million people, markets had mixed reactions Monday, with European stocks and oil prices rebounding and Wall Street opening higher, while Asian markets fell further.
US President Joe Biden called the omicron variant a cause for concern but “not a cause for panic.” He said he is not considering any widespread US lockdown and instead urged vaccinations and mask-wearing.
The infections have underscored the difficulty in keeping the virus in check in a globalized world of jet travel and open borders. Yet, many countries are trying to do just that, against the urging of the WHO, which noted that border closings often have limited effect and can wreak havoc on lives and livelihoods.
Some argued that such restrictions could provide valuable time to analyze the new variant. Little is known about it, including whether it is more contagious, more likely to cause serious illness or more able to evade vaccines.
While the initial global response to COVID-19 was criticized as slow and haphazard, the reaction to the new variant came quickly.
“This time the world showed it is learning,” said EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, singling out South African President Cyril Ramaphosa for praise. “South Africa’s analytic work and transparency and sharing its results was indispensable in allowing a swift global response. It no doubt saved many lives.”
Late last week, von der Leyen successfully pushed the 27-nation EU to agree to ban flights from seven southern African nations, similar to what many other countries are doing.
Cases had already been reported in EU nations Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands before Portuguese authorities identified 13 omicron infections among members of the Belenenses professional soccer team. Authorities reported one member had recently traveled to South Africa. A game over the weekend had been abandoned at halftime for lack of players.
Spain also reported its first confirmed case of the variant.
And after Scotland reported its first six cases, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned that “there might already be some community transmission of this variant.”
Taking no chances, Japan, which has yet to detect any omicron cases, reimposed border controls that it had eased earlier this month.
Israel likewise decided to bar entry to foreigners, and Morocco said it would suspend all incoming flights for two weeks starting Monday.
The UK has reported about a dozen omicron cases.
Despite the global worry, scientists cautioned that it is still unclear whether omicron is more alarming than other versions.
So far, doctors in South Africa are reporting patients are suffering mostly mild symptoms, but they warn that it is still early. Also, most of the new cases are in people in their 20s and 30s, who generally do not get as sick from COVID-19 as older patients.
“We’ve seen a sharp increase in cases for the past 10 days. So far they have mostly been very mild cases, with patients having flu-like symptoms: dry coughs, fever, night sweats, a lot of body pains,” said Dr. Unben Pillay, a general practitioner in Gauteng province, where 81 percent of the new cases have been reported.
The variant has provided further proof of what experts have long been saying: that no continent will be safe until the whole globe has been sufficiently vaccinated. The more the virus is allowed to spread, the more opportunities it has to mutate.
“The emergence of the omicron variant has fulfilled, in a precise way, the predictions of the scientists who warned that the elevated transmission of the virus in areas with limited access to vaccine would speed its evolution,” said Dr. Richard Hatchett, head of CEPI, one of the founders of the UN-backed global vaccine sharing initiative COVAX.
In some parts of the world, authorities are moving in the opposite direction.
In Malaysia, officials went ahead with the partial reopening of a bridge connecting it to Singapore. And New Zealand announced it will press ahead with plans to reopen internally after months of shutdown, though it is also restricting travel from nine southern African nations.


500 Afghan refugees to be airlifted to Italy, says defense minister

In this handout image courtesy of the US Navy, Afghan evacuees disembark a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily, Italy on August 22, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
In this handout image courtesy of the US Navy, Afghan evacuees disembark a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily, Italy on August 22, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 29 November 2021

500 Afghan refugees to be airlifted to Italy, says defense minister

In this handout image courtesy of the US Navy, Afghan evacuees disembark a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily, Italy on August 22, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Refugees will be relocated in cities nationwide
  • Italy completed troop withdrawal on June 30

ROME: A new Italian Air Force airlift is bringing 500 more Afghan refugees to Rome, Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini said on Monday in Parliament.

The refugees are Afghan citizens and family members who worked with the Italian armed forces while they were deployed in Afghanistan, mostly in Herat province. They have all so far been displaced in countries close to Afghanistan.

Guerini named the operation “Aquila Omnia-Bis.” At the end of it, nearly 5,000 Afghans will be taken to Italy.

He told parliamentarians: “Last summer's evacuation of Afghan citizens from Kabul was a very complex operation, but the incessant and silent work of the Italian armed forces has continued in the last few months too. Thanks to the collaboration between the defense, foreign affairs and interior ministries and the National Information Services we can say we are satisfied.”

Over 1,500 Italian military have been working on this airlift since it began in the second half of August.

A source in the Italian Defense Ministry told Arab News that, in the past few days, the first seven Afghan citizens of this second humanitarian airlift had reached Italy, including a woman in her final month of pregnancy. 

She was transferred to Grassi Hospital in Ostia, on the outskirts of Rome, immediately after landing at Rome Fiumicino. She gave birth to a girl.

After an isolation period in special facilities, all the refugees will be relocated in different cities nationwide.

More arrivals are expected in the coming days.

Italy completed its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan on June 30, ending a 20-year deployment.

According to the Italian Foreign Ministry, 50,000 Italian soldiers were deployed to Afghanistan in the period after the 9/11 attacks. Over that period, 53 soldiers died and 723 were injured.

Italy was one of the five countries most involved in Afghanistan along with the US, Turkey, Britain and Germany as part of the Resolute Support Mission.


Italian company designs anti-omicron COVID-19 vaccine

An Italian medical company said it has designed a version of its COVID-eVax vaccine to combat the new omicron variant. (Reuters)
An Italian medical company said it has designed a version of its COVID-eVax vaccine to combat the new omicron variant. (Reuters)
Updated 29 November 2021

Italian company designs anti-omicron COVID-19 vaccine

An Italian medical company said it has designed a version of its COVID-eVax vaccine to combat the new omicron variant. (Reuters)
  • Pre-clinical tests ‘within weeks,’ Takis Biotech CEO tells briefing attended by Arab News
  • But lack of funding ‘prevents us from continuing clinical trials’

ROME: An Italian medical company said it has designed a version of its COVID-eVax vaccine to combat the new omicron variant.

Takis Biotech added that this new version of the vaccine — developed with Rottapharm Biotech, another Italian company — will be ready for pre-clinical tests “within weeks.”

Luigi Aurisicchio, CEO and scientific director of Takis, told a press briefing in Rome attended by Arab News: “As we seek to defeat the pandemic, it’s imperative to be proactive while the virus evolves. In recent months, we’ve generated almost in real time modifications of COVID-eVax against the alpha, beta, gamma, delta and many other variants.”

He said unlike previous variants, omicron has a high number of mutations so it is difficult to predict whether the current vaccines are still protective.

“This is why we’re moving as fast as possible to adapt our vaccine against this variant. Thanks to what we’ve learned since the beginning of the pandemic, we designed the COVID-eVax vaccine — the omicron version — in a few hours,” he added.

However, Aurisicchio said a lack of funding “prevents us from continuing clinical trials to carry out the development of this Italian vaccine.”

Takis said there is “a lot of promising pre-clinical data” regarding the new version of the vaccine, which “has completed phase 1 in humans, with over 90 percent of the volunteers enrolled for the trial developing a specific immune response against the spike protein.”

Lucio Rovati, president and scientific director of Rottapharm, said: “Given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our lives and on the world economy, Italy can play its part and make its own experience available.”