Experts analyze survey that took the pulse of French people of Arab origin

Experts analyze survey that took the pulse of French people of Arab origin
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Updated 02 December 2020

Experts analyze survey that took the pulse of French people of Arab origin

Experts analyze survey that took the pulse of French people of Arab origin
  • VIrtual debate organized by French-language edition of Arab News in partnership with the Arab World Institute in Paris
  • Findings of Arab News-commissioned survey that took the pulse of French people of Arab origin analyzed in debate

DUBAI: When emotions run high, visions tend to be scattered and opinions end up being mistaken for facts. This is why Arab News has been partnering with the leading polling agency YouGov to produce solid research-based reports on the region.

As part of the same initiative, its French language digital edition, Arab News en Francais, recently commissioned a far-reaching study on the perceptions of French people of Arab origin on life in France.

The findings of the survey were the subject of a virtual panel discussion on Monday featuring leading experts, academics, decision-makers and diplomats.

The event, organized by Arab News and its French-language digital edition Arab News en Francais in partnership with the Arab World Institute (AWI) in Paris, tackled a number of thorny issues under the rubric of “Integration in France: Perception problem or systemic crisis?”

In his keynote speech, Jack Lang, the IMA president, described the Arab News en Francais-YouGov poll as an “excellent” initiative. “I just want to convey my intimate feeling. I think France is a country that has succeeded in interweaving cultures and civilizations.

What makes France a strong country is that it is, to borrow Nelson Mandela’s phrase, a ‘rainbow nation.’

“Now we are talking about the integration of Arab citizens. But after the Second World War, we were talking about the integration of Italian workers,” Lang said.

He said the designer Riad Sattouf’s description of France as “a masterpiece” is “true” because “France is a symbol of strength. It is also true that there is discrimination against citizens of Arab origins. The discrimination is more social than cultural, but we must continue to fight it.”

In a special welcome address, Ludovic Pouille, the French ambassador to Saudi Arabia, also thanked Arab News en Francais for the study on French citizens of Arab origin and the virtual debate.

“Unfortunately, we are living in times of great violence” he said, saying that “the whole world” is affected by terrorism.

“Beyond this terrorist threat, we are also victims of hatred via social networks. We must fight terrorism in all its forms and the hatred it produces.”

Pouille added: “It should be remembered that France has deep respect for Islam. Islam is the second religion in France and all French Muslims benefit from a protective framework such as there is for all religious denominations, and we remain vigilant against hate speech and racism.”


He reiterated a point he made in an exclusive commentary for Arab News en Francais on Monday: “France would not be France without Arab and Muslim contribution.”

Senator Nathalie Goulet expressed concern over the situation in France. She recalled that as part of her duties, in 2014 she had requested “investigation into jihadist networks.”

This led to “the financing of Islam in France and the report submitted to the senate was passed unanimously.” Responding to the remarks of Lang, Goulet, who represents the department of Orne, said: “I listened to Jack Lang. I think we don’t live in the same country.

The situation is not good. You cannot talk of integration of people born in France and having an immigrant background. French Muslims are French.”

In his comments, Dr. Ghaleb Bencheikh, a Franco-Algerian Islamologist and president of the Fondation de l’Islam de France (FIF), said the concept of a supranational identity has “become some kind of a refuge.”

According to him, the ideology of the majority triumphs to the detriment of all the other minorities combined. Pointing to the prominence of social networks, he said these offer a wide audience to demagogues whose remarks negatively influence public opinion and lead to the stigmatization of a segment of the population.

“Some people talk about republican secularism. I find this to be nonsense. Indeed, secularism is not a value; it is a legal principle,” Bencheikh said.

Dr. Myriam Francois, who has done her PhD in Islamic political movements in Morocco from the University of Oxford, felt the French government is not fully playing its role in society.

“Many groups are simply neglected by the government. Yet, in theory, everyone has the same right to upward social mobility,” she said.

She contended that since the French people are a revolutionary people, it is therefore “normal for them to turn against the government if it does not fully grant them their rights.” This, she said, explains in part the resurgence of violence.

Francois said discrimination exists at all levels of French society, adding: “We tend to Islamize social issues. Muslims are one of these marginalized groups, but are far from the only ones.”

She continued: “The problem lies in the rejection of the ‘other.’ Today, we need a republic that represents the entire French population, such as it is today. We must campaign to give everyone their place.

It’s not just up to white men to give their opinion.” Francois’ views were seconded by Dr. Melyssa Haffaf, program director at Georgetown University. “Discrimination is the heart of the problem,” she said.

“It is above all social and economic discrimination that provokes violence and hateful reactions in France.” Haffaf said there is evidence to show that it is often non-Muslims who speak out about the place of religion.

“However, their vision can be influenced by political ideologies and distorted by stereotypes. We should therefore give the floor more often to those directly affected by this issue, and give Islam (as well as other cultural minorities) the place they deserve within the country.”

Whatever the differences of opinions among the panelists, all agreed that the state ought to play a more prominent role in the integration of Arabs in France.

Haffaf said: “The republic is an entity made up of elected men and women who must be more honest with respect to the different communities that have shaped the country over the centuries to get to today’s France.”

She contended that the Enlightenment was not unique to Europe. “Islam has also proved itself,” she said. “Its history must be introduced to young people through education. Diversity cannot be an opinion; it must be a fact.”

For his part, Bencheikh said that to fill the void where the state is absent, the FIF, through its mobile university, will promote debate, dispel doubts, allay concerns and speak with citizens.

While agreeing with the general consensus on the topic, Francois said the French government should also rethink its actions to avoid “creating social trauma.”

“How do you put up with a policeman going to ‘harass’ a woman by the beach only because she is dressed in a certain way?” she said.

“We cannot tolerate this. We must recognize the place of all citizens.” In conclusion, Goulet said that while “not everything is perfect, all is not dismal either.”

Recovering the lost “elements of the republic’s spaces” is a long process, she said, but “it is indeed necessary to hold politicians more accountable, and to put republican principles at the heart of education.”

Summing up her arguments, she said: “We must stop seeing Islam as a religion foreign to France. This creates a counterproductive divide. Real change should start with addressing this misconception.”

Top Russian diplomat defends mercenaries’ presence in Mali

Top Russian diplomat defends mercenaries’ presence in Mali
Updated 26 September 2021

Top Russian diplomat defends mercenaries’ presence in Mali

Top Russian diplomat defends mercenaries’ presence in Mali
  • France has announced it is reducing its force fighting extremists in Mali and the region
  • Mali has been trying to contain an Islamic extremist insurgency since 2012.

UNITED NATIONS: Russia’s top diplomat on Saturday defended the Mali government’s right to hire a private Russian military company to help fight terrorists, accusing French troops in the country of failing to get rid of them and scolding the European Union for demanding that the Russian mercenaries leave.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the company has a “legitimate” right to be in the West African nation because it was invited by the transitional government, and insisted Russian government is not involved.
France and Germany have both objected to the presence of mercenaries from the Wagner Group, which reportedly is linked to the Kremlin, in Mali, which also hosts a more than 18,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission. Wagner has been accused of human rights abuses in the Central African Republic and involvement in the conflict in Libya.
Lavrov said France has announced it is reducing its force fighting extremists in Mali and the region. And in a stinging rebuke of their performance, he said, the French forces “should have been combating terrorists who have established a presence in Kidal (in northern Mali), but they didn’t manage to do that.”
“Terrorists continue to reign in that area,” he told a news conference on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s annual meeting of world leaders.
Mali has been trying to contain an Islamic extremist insurgency since 2012. Extremist rebels were forced from power in Mali’s northern cities with the help of a 2013 French-led military operation. However, the insurgents quickly regrouped in the desert and began launching frequent attacks on the Malian army and its allies fighting the insurgency.
The extremists have expanded their reach well into central Mali, where their presence has inflamed tensions between ethnic groups in the area.
Lavrov said the European Union has been announcing that Russia will be “pushed away, deterred and engaged with.”
So, he said, he asked EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell at a meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s high-level gathering: “What will you engage in with us?”
In June, Col. Assimi Goita was sworn in as president of a transitional government in Mali after carrying out his second coup in nine months. Mali faces increasing isolation from the international community over the junta’s power grab.

At least 3 killed, many injured in US train derailment

At least 3 killed, many injured in US train derailment
Updated 26 September 2021

At least 3 killed, many injured in US train derailment

At least 3 killed, many injured in US train derailment
  • Officials said the train had about 147 passengers and 13 crew members onboard

JOPLIN, Montana: At least three people were killed Saturday afternoon when an Amtrak train that runs between Seattle and Chicago derailed in north-central Montana, an official with the Liberty County Sheriff's Office said.
Dispatcher Starr Tyler told The Associated Press that three people died in the derailment. She did not have more details. Amtrak said in a statement that there were multiple injuries.
The Empire Builder train derailed at 4 p.m. near Joplin, a town of about 200, Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said in a statement. The accident scene is about 150 miles (241 kilometers) north of Helena and about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from the border with Canada.
The train had about 147 passengers and 13 crew members onboard, Abrams said.
Megan Vandervest, a passenger on the train who was going to visit a friend in Seattle, told The New York Times that she was awakened by the derailment.
“My first thought was that we were derailing because, to be honest, I have anxiety and I had heard stories about trains derailing,” said Vandervest, who is from Minneapolis. “My second thought was that’s crazy. We wouldn’t be derailing. Like, that doesn’t happen.”
She told the Times that the car behind hers was tilted over, the one behind that was entirely tipped over, and the three cars behind that “had completely fallen off the tracks and were detached from the train.”
Speaking from the Liberty County Senior Center, where passengers were being taken, Vandervest said it felt like “extreme turbulence on a plane.”
Amtrak was working with the local authorities to transport injured passengers and safely evacuate all other passengers, Abrams added.
Photos posted to social media showed several cars on their sides. Passengers were standing alongside the tracks, some carrying luggage.
The images showed sunny skies, and it appeared the accident occurred along a straight section of tracks.

Dhaka airport opens COVID-19 test labs for UAE-bound foreign workers

Dhaka airport opens COVID-19 test labs for UAE-bound foreign workers
Updated 26 September 2021

Dhaka airport opens COVID-19 test labs for UAE-bound foreign workers

Dhaka airport opens COVID-19 test labs for UAE-bound foreign workers
  • The privately run PCR labs at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport are aimed at outbound travelers who require proof that they are virus-free on arrival at their destinations

DHAKA: Bangladesh on Saturday opened six COVID-19 testing facilities at its largest airport in the capital Dhaka to facilitate international travel, mainly for its UAE-bound migrant workers impacted by flight restrictions in the wake of the pandemic, a government official said.

The privately run PCR labs at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport are aimed at outbound travelers who require proof that they are virus-free on arrival at their destinations.

They are the first at an airport in Bangladesh, one of three international hubs in the country, with a capacity to carry out more than 5,000 tests a day.

“We have set up all necessary facilities and equipment. We will conduct a test-run tonight and hand over the facilities to the civil aviation authorities,” Dr. Shariar Sazzad, the health officer in charge at the airport, told Arab News.

The tests are not covered by insurance, with each international traveler required to pay for COVID-19 screening.

“Each of the tests will cost around $20 at all six facilities at the airport,” Sazzad said.

Instalment of the testing facilities comes after the UAE in August lifted flight curbs for travelers from a list of previously suspended countries, including Bangladesh, provided they were fully vaccinated with a jab approved by the World Health Organization and tested negative for COVID-19 six hours before departure.

Since then, thousands of Bangladeshi migrant workers had been rallying for authorities to install PCR labs at the airport. On Sept. 6, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina directed authorities to establish PCR testing facilities at all three international airports in Dhaka, Chattogram and Sylhet.

With nearly 1,250 cases a day, Bangladesh has struggled to combat a surge in COVID-19 infections driven by the highly contagious Delta variant. As of this week, only 9.3 percent of its population of 170 million people had received both doses of the COVID-19 jabs.

The South Asian nation’s economy has taken a beating from a lack of foreign remittances after thousands of migrant workers were unable to return to work due to travel curbs imposed by host nations.

The UAE is the second-largest destination for Bangladeshi migrant workers in the Gulf and the Middle East, with more than 1 million employed in the country.

However, tens of thousands of workers were impacted by flight curbs imposed by the Gulf state, with several left stranded in Bangladesh after returning home for a break.

Mohammad Abul Bashar, a 38-year-old construction worker in Dubai, is one example. He traveled to Bangladesh six months ago and is “desperately waiting” to return to the UAE.

“I was supposed to resume duty in the first week of September but couldn’t take the flight since there were no COVID-19 testing facilities at the airport,” he told Arab News.

“Now I am waiting to renew my visa and hope to travel within the next two weeks,” Bashar said, adding he was “so relieved” that PCR labs had finally been launched at the airport.

Salahuddin Chowdhury, another migrant worker, said that the delay in setting up the PCR labs had “caused huge losses for many.”

“I have been working as a salesperson at a shop in the UAE for six years and was supposed to return by mid-August. The delay has cost me around $300, which is a month’s salary,” Chowdhury, 27, told Arab News.

“I’m hoping to fly by the end of this week,” he added.

While workforce recruiting agencies welcomed the move to set up PCR labs at Dhaka airport, they urged authorities to launch more flights “to help as many workers as possible.”

“Every day, around 1,000-1,500 migrant workers would travel to the UAE (before the outbreak). Since more than 35,000 workers are now waiting to return to their workplaces, I think aviation authorities should introduce extra flights from Dhaka for the next few weeks,” Tipu Sultan, president of the Recruiting Agencies Unity Forum, told Arab News.

He also urged authorities to shoulder the costs of the tests.

“A majority of these migrant workers are extremely poor and spend a lot of money to secure a job in the overseas market, incurring huge debts for the visa and tickets. The $20 COVID-19 tests will be an extra burden on them,” he said.

Instead, Sultan suggests that the government either subsidise the cost or pay for it through “the expatriates’ welfare fund, which is also funded by the migrant workers.”

Shariful Hasan, migration program head for BRAC, a Bangladeshi-origin international NGO, agrees and said it was imperative for government ministries to make a “coordinated effort” and ease travel for migrant workers.

“Our migrant workers are desperate to return to work at any cost. Authorities should remain vigilant and ensure the smooth functioning of PCR labs installed at the airport,” Hasan told Arab News.

“These facilities will serve the migrant workers a lot, especially if other host countries also introduce the same travel rules as the UAE.”

Moscow-Ankara tensions on display at Lavrov press conference

Moscow-Ankara tensions on display at Lavrov press conference
Updated 26 September 2021

Moscow-Ankara tensions on display at Lavrov press conference

Moscow-Ankara tensions on display at Lavrov press conference
  • Russian foreign minister criticizes Turkey over Crimea, Syria
  • Lavrov praises ‘wise’ Saudi approach to resolving Israel-Palestine conflict

NEW YORK: Russia’s foreign minister on Saturday accused Turkey of a “lack of diplomatic professionalism,” and announced that his government currently has no intention of recognizing the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan.

At a press conference held at the UN and attended by Arab News, Sergei Lavrov also reiterated Russia’s support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and praised the Saudi-led approach to immediate Arab-Israeli reconciliation upon the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.

Earlier this week, a Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman said elections held by Russia in Crimea — which Moscow annexed in 2014 — have “no legal validity” in Ankara’s eyes.

Lavrov said the Turkish position exhibited “a lack of diplomatic professionalism, a lack of professionalism in foreign policy, because professionals understand full well that the Crimean issue has been put to rest once and for all.”

He also defended Russia’s recent assault on rebel-held territory in Syria’s Idlib province, saying there needs to be an “uncompromising assault on terrorism on Syrian soil.”

He added: “There was a special agreement on Idlib between the presidents of Russia and Turkey, and our Turkish colleagues took upon themselves the obligation to separate normal opposition forces from terrorists. This was to have been done a long time ago now, but it has not happened to date.”

Lavrov also said Russian recognition of the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan is “not currently on the table.”

He added: “The reality that is currently unfolding (in Afghanistan) is based on statements by the Taliban, who have proclaimed their intent to combat extremism, to combat terrorism, including the Islamic State (Daesh) and Al-Qaeda, (and) not to project instability on neighbors. What’s most important, probably, is for these promises to be honored.”

For Moscow, he added, the top priority is that the Taliban fight terrorism. “They (the Taliban) announced that they’re determined to fight ISIL (Daesh) and other terrorist groups, and we’ll do everything possible to support them to ensure that this be made a reality,” he said.

Lavrov reiterated Russia’s longstanding position that a two-state solution is the only viable resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and supported US overtures in this regard.

“It’s very important that the Biden administration has reaffirmed its commitment to a two-state solution,” said Lavrov, adding that the conflict remains of paramount importance to regional stability. 

He endorsed the Saudi-led approach of the early 2000s toward resolving the conflict and its resulting regional tensions.

“At the initiative of the king of Saudi Arabia, an Arab Peace Initiative was adopted which stipulated that as soon as a viable Palestinian state is established, which meets all the criteria set out at the UN, then immediately the Arab states would normalize relations with Israel. I think this was a very wise approach,” said Lavrov.

Gwadar attack on Chinese nationals was planned in Iran, claims Pakistan

Gwadar attack on Chinese nationals was planned in Iran, claims Pakistan
Updated 26 September 2021

Gwadar attack on Chinese nationals was planned in Iran, claims Pakistan

Gwadar attack on Chinese nationals was planned in Iran, claims Pakistan
  • Chinese mission warns citizens to be vigilant amid ‘severe’ security situation

KARACHI: A suicide bomber who targeted Chinese nationals in the Pakistani port city of Gwadar last month came from Iran, counterterrorism police in the southwestern Balochistan province said on Friday, adding that the mastermind behind the attack was a resident of Chahbahar in the neighboring country.

Earlier in August, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed had said that the Gwadar attack was carried out by a young suicide bomber who ran toward a vehicle carrying Chinese citizens as it neared a fishermen’s colony before detonating himself.

The Chinese diplomatic mission in Islamabad also issued a statement soon after the incident, seeking “practical and effective measures” to ensure the safety of its workers in Pakistan.

On Friday, the counterterrorism department of the Balochistan police said it had arrested three members of the Balochistan Liberation Army, a proscribed separatist outfit that claimed responsibility for the Gwadar attack after one suspect shared details of the incident during the investigation.

“He … disclosed that Rasool Bux, resident of the Sheeran Chahbahar area of Iran, is the mastermind of the attack,” the department said in a statement.

It added: “Arif s/o (son of) Dur Muhammad alias Dura disclosed that his brother Ahmed transported the suicide bomber from the Ramin area of Iran. He (Arif) received the suicide bomber on his arrival on (the) night (of) 10/11 August and provided a place for him to stay near (the) customs warehouse.”

A counterterrorism department spokesperson said its officials “along with a sensitive law enforcement agency” conducted an intelligence-based operation in Balochistan’s Turbat city and arrested three militants suspected of facilitating the attack.

“On 21 September 2021, Counterterrorism Department Balochistan had got credible source information that one terrorist of … The Baloch Liberation Army was present at Turbat Bazar,” the statement said.

“He intended to carry out terrorist activity on the General Public, LEAs (law enforcement agencies) and Govt Installations. On this information, (a) raid was conducted, and one Terrorist namely Shoaib s/o Izzat Ali R/o (resident of) Gwadar was arrested. Another raid was conducted on his pointation, and two more arrests were made with the recovery of explosive material.”

The department’s officials said the arrested individuals also told interrogators that Rasool Bux, the alleged mastermind of the Gwadar attack, had transported four other militants who had targeted Gwadar’s Pearl Continental Hotel in 2019.

A spokesperson said more raids were being planned to arrest remaining members of the network.

According to Pakistani officials, two local children were killed and a Chinese national injured in last month’s Gwadar attack, which came a few weeks after another strike that killed nine Chinese workers at a hydroelectricity dam in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The Chinese diplomatic mission in Pakistan condemned the incident in Gwadar and offered its condolences to the victims’ families.

It also described the security situation in Pakistan as “severe” in a statement, asking its citizens “to be vigilant (and) strengthen safety precautions.”