Poll shows how the French see their problems

The Eiffel Tower in ParisSince the purported role of Islam in the recent French riots seems particularly important to some readers outside of France, the results of a new poll just published in the French Catholic weekly La Vie are quite interesting for this blog. The survey is about whether France is losing its national identity. This is a persistent question in a country worried that its international influence and the prestige of its culture and language are fading while globalisation, immigration and Islam are playing a larger role in French life. The survey was conducted on November 28-29, only days after the rioting in a Paris suburb that some readers say should be called “Muslim riots.”

The overall picture the poll gives is one of a country mostly concerned about basic economic and social issues. Its threshold for integration is high and its Catholic tradition colours its view of other religions, despite the widespread secularisation of daily life. There is a minority clearly concerned about Islam. But religion as a general concern ranks low, so it’s not clear whether the roughly 30 percent concerned about immigration and Islam’s compatibility with French values see Muslims as religious believers or a socioeconomic underclass. Most likely it’s both.

The CSA institute gave 1,000 French questions with a list of answers and asked them to mark as many responses as they thought were relevant. The figures indicate the percentage of respondents choosing the response.

What are the main fears concerning French society? Unemployment 45 Poverty 44 Racism 29 Crime 28 Economic crisis 28 Pollution 25 Terrorism 21 Religious fundamentalism 19 Loss of French identity 14 Immigration 8 AIDS 8

What are the most important things residents of France should do? Participate in economic and social life in France 94 Respect the French flag 92 Speak French 92 Know the institutions of the French Republic 90 Know French history 84 Share the same values 80 Know the words of the Marseillaise (national anthem) 59 Share the same lifestyle 52 Be born in France 32 Have the same religion 14

Which religions are compatible with French national identity?

Merkel muddles mosques and minarets

from Madeline Chambers in Hanover, GermanyGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel at CDU party conference, 3 Dec. 2007

Chancellor Angela Merkel suffered a slightly bumpy landing at the annual conference of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party in Hanover this week when she jumped on a popular bandwagon by saying that mosques shouldn’t stand higher than churches in Germany.

Mosque-building is a sensitive subject in Germany. Her fellow conservatives in Bavaria have been saying for some time that minarets should not dwarf church steeples. Local residents are up in arms about plans to build several mosques across Germany – in Berlin, Munich and Cologne.

However, Merkel — a Lutheran pastor’s daughter who grew up in communist East Germany — seems to have got mixed up with her terminology for sacred architecture.

Why we don’t call them “Muslim riots” in Paris suburbs

A burning car in Villiers-le Bel, 28 Nob 2007As soon as a riot starts in one of the poor suburbs around Paris, we get emails from readers and see comments on blogs accusing the media of hiding the supposedly key fact about the unrest. That fact, they tell us without providing any proof, is Islam. Why don’t we call this violence “Muslim riots?” they ask. What are we trying to hide by not identifying the rioters as Muslims? Do the MSM have a hidden agenda? Don’t we have the courage to “tell the truth?”

We’ve had rioting this week and the same questions came again. This blog has discussed this issue already in a post last month called “Smoke without fire – there was no Paris intifada in 2005.” That dealt with the 2005 riots in detail. This latest unrest is a good opportunity to explain why we don’t write “Muslim riots” — and ask in return why readers so far from the events are so convinced that we should.

We mention race and religion in Reuters news stories when they are relevant to the event being covered. It would be absurd to write “Presbyterian second baseman XYZ…” in a baseball story. He may be a Presbyterian, but he is not at second base as a Presbyterian, but as a baseball player.

Smoke without fire – there was no “Paris intifada” in 2005

Car burns during riots in Paris suburb Aulnay-sous-Bois, Nov 3, 2005One of the most persistent canards about Islam in France is that Muslim groups played a key role in stoking the three weeks of rioting in the suburbs of Paris and other French cities in late 2005. Stories still regularly pop up on the Internet talking about “Muslim riots” or mentioning that cries of Allah-o-akbar were heard amid all the burning and trashing that went on. These cries, reported in the French press at the time, were taken as a sign the Islamists were behind the unrest. Bloggers coined the term “Paris intifada.” Some talked about “Baghdad-on-the-Seine.” Others were frustrated because the media did not make clear what role religion played in the unrest.

The French television channel France 2 has just broadcast an excellent documentary called Quand la France s’embrase… (When France Flares Up) about the 2005 riots in the suburbs and the 2006 student protests in the centre of many French cities. They interviewed dozens of police, politicians, community leaders and residents. They showed a lot of previously unbroadcast on-the-spot video footage taken on cellphones (sometimes by the rioters themselves). Their conclusion is actually not new. Most journalists covering the riots at the time (myself included) came to same conclusion after some initial confusion caused in part by false statements from politicians who should have known better. But the documentary is an excellent analysis of those confusing days, with new information filling out the story better than anything done before.

Rioters and police face off in Clichy-sous-Bois, Oct. 29, 2005The unrest was spontaneous and hardly organised at all, the documentary concluded. The rioters protested against widespread discrimination, unemployment and the government’s failed integration policies. Many were from North African immigrant families, and therefore from a Muslim background. But religion was not the driving force and Islamists did not organise or stoke the unrest. Some politicians accused Islamists early on in the saga, but this was more a case of clueless suits seeking a scapegoat than solid facts the police observed on the ground, the documentary concluded.