|The Drancy internment camp|
The internment camp of Drancy, near Paris, was a holding zone from which over 67,000 Jews, including 6000 children, were deported to Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War by both French and German authorities.Thousands of others died within the camp before deportation.
The Imams and others went there to lay wreaths of flowers in memory of the victims and Hassen Chalghoumi, the Imam for Drancy, whose calls for religious reconciliation in France have led to him being attacked by radical Muslims who have mounted a hate and threats campaign against him and is under police protection as a result, said the following during a short speech.
His speech was praised by the site's director, the Jewish writer who had helped to organise the visit, and Interior minister Manuel Valls, who is implementing a policy to deport Imams and others who preach religious violence in France."At a time of growing racism and fear of Islam in France, we are saying ‘no, it is possible for us all to live together’. [...] "Today, we are demonstrating that Islam in France is not necessarily subject to foreign influence or interference. Most French Muslims aren’t fanatics. We represent an Islam that values human life; that rejects fundamentalism, racism and barbarity.”
This is a significant event because it is the first ever of its kind in France. More importantly however, it comes just at a time when tensions between France's Jewish and Muslim communities have been running exceptionally high since the Merah massacre, with regular reports of religious sites being attacked and, although less common, reports of physical assaults by members of one community against those of the other.
And it also comes hard on the heels of much-commented polls results which show that three-quarters of French citizens consider that the Muslim faith is not compatible with the values of the French Republic.
But contrary to what French public opinion believes, the Muslim religion is not incompatible with France.
That is because Chalghoumi's words reflect the truth. As he says, the vast majority of France's Muslim community is not under foreign influence, they are not fanatics, and they "reject fundamentalism, racism and barbarity."
Yes, there are a few dozen Salafists, yes, there are some who seek to join terrorist groups, and yes there are those who refuse to obey the law on religious grounds, but the fact remains that the they represent a tiny minority of the Muslim community here, which is overwhelmingly composed of those 95% or more Muslims we meet every day. They are shopkeepers, businessmen, waiters in cafes, friends, associates and work colleagues who go about their daily business just as French people do. They harbour no hate for others, and if they do have a particular grief it is not against the Jews but against government policies and the kind of casual racism which is endemic here, which hinders their attempts to fulfil their ambitions and which has led to disproportionately high unemployment within their communities.
The Imams' visit to Drancy and Chalghoumi's speech reflect the real convictions and sentiments of almost all French Muslims, and their outspoken courage deserves praise and support.