By Adam Sage, The Times
September 16, 2011
MUSLIMS will be banned from praying outdoors in France from today in the latest move by officials to remove Islam from the public sphere.
The ban, announced by the government yesterday, infuriated French Muslim leaders, one of whom accused President Sarkozy’s government of treating them like cattle.
They say that Muslims, who pray outdoors only because of a lack of space in mosques in France, feel stigmatised.
But Claude Gueant, the Interior Minister, said that the sight of hundreds of people gathering in the streets of Paris and other cities for Friday prayers was “shocking”.
It comes after laws to prohibit pupils from wearing headscarves in schools and women from wearing the niqab, the full Muslim veil, in public.
Mr Gueant described outlawing street prayers as the latest brick in the wall that is shoring up the secular nature of the French state. He said that he had nothing against Islam, but wanted it out of the public eye.
“Street prayers must stop because they hurt the feelings of many of our compatriots who are shocked by the occupation of the public space for a religious practice,” he said.
Police could be asked to arrest Muslims who continue to pray in the street, Mr Gueant warned, but officials will initially try to persuade them to move into a mosque.
Debate has focused on the Goutte d’Or district in northern Paris. Dozens and sometimes hundreds of Muslims pray in the surrounding streets.
Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front, was accused of racism when she said that the worship amounted to an “occupation” - a word that for many French is associated with the Nazi invasion during the Second World War.
But the government now appears to be on the same wavelength, with Mr Gueant agreeing that street prayers would “upset” his fellow countrymen.
He said that officials had made available a disused fire station in the Goutte d’Or with room for 2700 people for a rent of €30,000 ($A40,330) a year.
But Muslim leaders said that the site would be open to worshippers only on Fridays.
Mohamed Salah Hamza, imam at a mosque in the Goutte d’Or district, said: “We are not cattle. Our demands have not entirely been satisfied.”
He said that he feared worshippers would continue to pray outside.
“I am in an uncomfortable position and I am afraid there will be a climate of anarchy,” he said.
Image: French Muslim pray in the street outside an overcrowded mosque in Paris. (Exploring Islam in Paris: Pt 1 | Life and a Lens)
As a Muslim, I’m sick of people asking me how I feel about 9/11. What do you want me to say, seriously? Do you want me to say, “It was a great plan, mwahahaha!” before I fly off on a magic carpet?
I was born and raised in this country and was just as shocked as everyone else to learn there were people on this earth so vile as to commit such a horrific attack - or to even think about doing it. But I didn’t do it. Neither did 99.999999999 percent of the roughly 1.5 billion people in the world who also call themselves Muslims. So why should I or any other Muslim apologize for what happened?
Nickelback is planning on releasing another album. Should I ask white people to apologize for that?
For much of the day yesterday, the featured headline on The New York Times online front page strongly suggested that Muslims were responsible for the attacks on Oslo; that led to definitive statements on the BBC and elsewhere that Muslims were the culprits. The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin wrote a whole column based on the assertion that Muslims were responsible, one that, as James Fallows notes, remains at the Post with no corrections or updates. The morning statement issued by President Obama — “It’s a reminder that the entire international community holds a stake in preventing this kind of terror from occurring” and “we have to work cooperatively together both on intelligence and in terms of prevention of these kinds of horrible attacks” — appeared to assume, though (to its credit) without overtly stating, that the perpetrator was an international terrorist group.
But now it turns out that the alleged perpetrator wasn’t from an international Muslim extremist group at all, but was rather a right-wing Norwegian nationalist with a history of anti-Muslim commentary and an affection for Muslim-hating blogs such as Pam Geller’s Atlas Shrugged, Daniel Pipes, and Robert Spencer’s Jihad Watch. Despite that, The New York Times is still working hard to pin some form of blame, even ultimate blame, on Muslim radicals:
Terrorism specialists said that even if the authorities ultimately ruled out Islamic terrorism as the cause of Friday’s assaults, other kinds of groups or individuals were mimicking Al Qaeda’s brutality and multiple attacks.
“If it does turn out to be someone with more political motivations, it shows these groups are learning from what they see from Al Qaeda,” said Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism researcher at the New America Foundation in Washington.
Al Qaeda is always to blame, even when it isn’t, even when it’s allegedly the work of a Nordic, Muslim-hating, right-wing European nationalist. Of course, before Al Qaeda, nobody ever thought to detonate bombs in government buildings or go on indiscriminate, politically motivated shooting rampages. The NYT speculates that amonium nitrate fertilizer may have been used to make the bomb because the suspect, Anders Behring Breivik, owned a farming-related business and thus could have access to that material; of course nobody would have ever thought of using that substance to make a massive bomb had it not been for Al Qaeda. So all this proves once again what a menacing threat radical Islam is.
Then there’s this extraordinarily revealing passage from the NYT — first noticed by Richard Silverstein — explaining why the paper originally reported what it did:
Initial reports focused on the possibility of Islamic militants, in particular Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami, or Helpers of the Global Jihad, cited by some analysts as claiming responsibility for the attacks. American officials said the group was previously unknown and might not even exist.
There was ample reason for concern that terrorists might be responsible.
In other words, now that we know the alleged perpetrator is not Muslim, we know — by definition — that Terrorists are not responsible; conversely, when we thought Muslims were responsible, that meant — also by definition — that it was an act of Terrorism. As Silverstein put it:
How’s that again? Are the only terrorists in the world Muslim? If so, what do we call a right-wing nationalist capable of planting major bombs and mowing down scores of people for the sake of the greater glory of his cause? If even a liberal newspaper like the Times can’t call this guy a terrorist, what does that say about the mindset of the western world?
What it says is what we’ve seen repeatedly: that Terrorism has no objective meaning and, at least in American political discourse, has come functionally to mean: violence committed by Muslims whom the West dislikes, no matter the cause or the target. Indeed, in many (though not all) media circles, discussion of the Oslo attack quickly morphed from this is Terrorism (when it was believed Muslims did it) to no, this isn’t Terrorism, just extremism (once it became likely that Muslims didn’t).
As soon as CBS announced yesterday that correspondent Lara Logan had been sexually assaulted while covering the Egyptian protests, the media sprang alive in search of a scapegoat. Two disturbing lines of commentary have emerged: one that cites irrelevant details about Logan’s beauty or her past sexual history, the other blaming Muslims or Egyptian culture for the assault. In the Washington Post, Alexandra Petri noted that this happened to a “known, blonde white woman.” And on her blog, Debbie Schlussel wrote that “she should have known what Islam is all about.” “This never happened to her or any other mainstream media reporter when Mubarak was allowed to treat his country of savages in the only way they can be controlled,” opined Schlussel.
But we would be wrong to assume that in controlling Egyptians, Mubarak somehow also kept women safe. In fact, state-sanctioned violence against women was widespread and well documented. For years Egypt has been cited by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International for using rape, torture, and sexual assault to threaten and intimidate female activists who criticized the regime. These tactics were also used against female family members of dissidents. There is also considerable evidence that members of Mubarak’s security forces ordered the assault of female protesters during the recent demonstrations.
In times of conflict, the perpetrators of sexual violence cross religious and ethnic lines. An estimated 20-50,000 Muslim women were raped during the conflict in Bosnia in the 1990s. Closer to home, yesterday a class action lawsuit was announced by 17 American servicewomen who reported being raped by fellow members of the military. And in searching for spurious links between “American culture” and violence against women, we do not have to look toward military settings or exotic, war-torn locales. Take the most recent Super Bowl. Allegations of rape have hovered over both teams, while news agencies reported a disturbing increase in the sex trafficking of girls and women around the time of the Super Bowl. But we would chafe at allowing outsiders to generalize that all Americans exhibit violent tendencies toward women.
To be sure, sexual harassment is endemic in Egypt. And for the most part, we are fortunate to be able to walk down the street in the United States without the verbal and physical harassment that Egyptian women face on a daily basis. A 2005 Egypt Demographic and Health survey revealed that one third of Egyptian women are victims of domestic violence. Yet a 2010 study by the Population Reference bureau also points out that poor women are twice as likely in Egypt to be victimized. Similar studies in U.S. society have shown correlations between poverty and violence against women. And across all social classes, the statistics are grim. A U.S. Justice Department study showed that 1 in 6 of all American women will be raped during their lifetimes. 50% of all murders of women in the U.S. are committed by a romantic partner. Muslim countries hardly have the monopoly on violence against women.
To read this brutal attack as emblematic of Egyptian culture or Islam does a disservice to all those in Egyptian society who are working actively to end violence against women, women like physician Amal Abd El-Hadi, whose New Woman Foundation is dedicated to ending gender-based violence, and Dr. Aida Seif El Dawla, a psychiatrist who has created programs to rehabilitate victims of violence and torture. There is no excuse for what happened to Lara Logan, but explanations for violence should not be found in a religion, or in broad generalizations about Egyptian culture. Rather than blaming religion, we should work to end underdevelopment, poverty, and a lack of education, problems whose eradication is crucial to a prosperous and healthy society anywhere, whether in Egypt or here at home.
Rachel Newcomb is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Rollins College and the author of Women of Fes: Ambiguities of Urban Life in Morocco.