Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The courage of France's Muslim visitors to Drancy deserves praise

The Drancy internment camp
It didn't grab banner headlines in the French press today, relegated as it was to a mid-page position, but the news of yesterday's visit to the Drancy Memorial for Jewish victims of the Shoah by 30 Imams and a significant number of representatives from various Muslim cultural associations is both significant and timely.

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.
"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.”
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.

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.


  1. This is an uplifting post. It is too bad it didn't grab headlines. Could it be it is because so many french people even didn't know about the internment camp of Drancy until few years ago or if they know about it, are ashamed it ever happened?

  2. Hi Nadege, and I too am very disappointed that this event didn't get more prominent press coverage. Although I am aware of France's reticence to confront it's World War Two past and why that may be understandable, it does seem a shame nevertheless that even now, the French press doesn't seem to want to refer to it, even though this visit was designed to reduce religious tension in France.

    The visit to Drancy attempted to build bridges, but unfortunately, France seems hell-bent on burning them right now. Good news on Muslim/Jewish relations doesn't sell here, with the press more interested in sensationalist stereotyping.

    That's why I wrote this piece. To defend and support those who speak the truth on this issue, and to contradict those who lazily invent convenient scapegoats to blame for their imaginary existential ills and self-inflicted identitary hardships....

  3. Hors sujet again : I really enjoyed this video. Not too many saw it somehow. Too much truth I guess?


    1. Ahh!! Bill Maher. What would we do without him! I really do appreciate his reasoning and good old common sense. As for Sarah Palin, she is America's Republican equivalent of France's Socialist Ségolène Royal. In other words they are both airheaded clowns when it comes to national (and let's not even mention international) affairs and politics..

  4. You are right – it was not in the news. I Googled “Muslims visit Drancy in France” and saw that it had appeared on France 24 news, the Jerusalem Post, the Vancouver Sun, your post was listed and Times of Israel, and that’s it. I certainly did not hear about it, which is a shame, because we constantly hear about how anti-Semite the French are, let alone the Muslims. I knew about Drancy because my mother told me she had tried, during the war, to save a little boy but by the time she reached his apartment in Paris they had just taken him to Drancy. So, later she saved a large number of young girls – I’ll have to write a post on it. I am pleased you wrote on this subject.

    1. Hi Vagabonde, and it would be wonderful if you posted that story! It's the kind of story which needs to be told. It's just one of thousands, but as a whole they all remind us of the courage of those discreet heroes and heroines who helped to save many thousands of people from death in the concentration camps. I look forward very much to reading it.