Suburban ethnic and religious tensions fester as France debates shooting
In the aftermath of a killing spree that shocked the nation, France’s Paris-based politicians and national media are deep in debate about its impact on the upcoming presidential election and the need for tighter security.
In the drab Toulouse suburbs where gunman Mohamed Merah killed seven people before being cut down by police commandos, the talk is more of bubbling tensions between ethnic and religious communities and how solutions are nowhere in sight.
The gap is not just between the capital to the north and Toulouse in the southwest. In the gritty outskirts of Paris, within sight of the Eiffel Tower, an “us and them” mentality still haunts the streets rocked by immigrant riots in 2005.
“Politicians in France love to talk about harmony, how there are no communities and everybody lives together,” said Georges Dray, 72, a retired Jewish bar owner who came to Toulouse in the wave of French settlers who left former colony Algeria on its independence in 1962. The Toulouse killings claimed the lives of three soldiers, three Jewish children and a rabbi, before gunman Merah died in a shootout with police.
President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is campaigning for re-election in the April-May poll, has proposed tougher security measures, such as sanctions for people whose frequent viewing of jihadist websites could mean links to radical Islamism. “This is going to raise questions about our system of integration, our approach to (Islamic) fundamentalism and our tolerance of certain practices here. You’re going to hear a lot about that in the weeks to come,” a senior Sarkozy campaign adviser said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Lahsen Edbas, 29, a Muslim grocery store worker in the eastern Paris suburb of Le Raincy, echoed a widespread skepticism about the Paris elite: “Why is all this happening now, just before an election?”