French Muslims condemn hostage taking

31st August 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 31 (AFP) - While members of France's Muslim community are not all that happy with a new law banning the Islamic headscarf in state schools, they roundly condemn the kidnapping of two journalists in Iraq over the issue.

PARIS, Aug 31 (AFP) - While members of France's Muslim community are not all that happy with a new law banning the Islamic headscarf in state schools, they roundly condemn the kidnapping of two journalists in Iraq over the issue.  

"This law only concerns French Muslims. They alone should speak out," said an employee of a Koranic library in Paris, outraged at the demands of Iraqi hostage-takers who want France to repeal the controversial headscarf law.  

A group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq has kidnapped French journalists Georges Malbrunot, 41, and Christian Chesnot, 37, demanding that Paris revoke the ban, set to go into effect on Thursday.  

The shadowy group extended its ultimatum by 24 hours late Monday, Arabic-language television network Al-Jazeera reported, broadcasting images of the two men asking President Jacques Chirac to revoke the ban.  

The majority of Muslims in the Paris region are opposed to the French law on "conspicuous" religious insignia, which they see as unfairly targeting Muslims although it also applies to other faiths.  

But France's five-million strong Muslim community stand united in condemning the hostage-takers' blackmail as immoral and un-Islamic.  

"A journalist is untouchable. He transmits ideas. He should be protected in every country. It is very sad," said Mohamed Ben-Sheik, who sells prayer mats, Koranic tapes and religious books in Paris's 11th district, home to a large Muslim community.  

He said he feared people would bundle all Muslims togther with such fanatical groups.   In a nearby shop Youssfi Taoufik, a follower of Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam, condemned the hostage-takers as "satanic people".   

"This is a national debate that should be settled at a national level," argued Abdelaziz Jawari, a member of the Committee for the Muslim Religion in the Yvelines west of Paris who opposes the French headscarf ban.  

In Sarcelles, a rough suburb northeast of Paris, 19-year-old Mohamed called the hostage-taking "shameful", saying: "What are they doing interfering in France's affairs? Who do they think they are? They're terrorists and that's it!"  

In nearby Saint-Denis, Bally Bagayoko, a 31-year-old former social worker, condemned the kidnapping as an "unacceptable act" but said the crisis had at least given France's Muslims the chance "to show we can stand as one with the French people".  

"They are mixing up things that have nothing to do with each other," lamented Sonia, a 19-year-old student from the southern Paris suburb of Evry, her face framed in a black hijab. "This is not the way to plead a cause."  

Along with her friend Arnaud, a convert to Islam, Sonia is against the headscarf ban, which she says "stigmatises and creates divisions between communities" - although she is willing not to wear the scarf to university.  

According to Ahmed Benlahoucine, a Muslim leader in Puteaux, west of Paris, several students who were preparing to defy the ban have changed their mind because of the hostage-taking.   But many remain deeply critical of the law, which is meant to reinforce the strict separation between religion and state.  

"It is going to cause problems in every school," said Jawari, who complained that there had not been a real debate on the matter.  

"It will lead to the creation of more Muslim religious schools, like Jewish schools," according to another young woman who identified herself as Mira.  

Taoufik said he rejected all "politicised headscarves" - but his voice was lost in the crowd.

 

© AFP

Subject: French news

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