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May 4th, 2012
02:56 PM ET

Ahead of elections, French Muslims feel like scapegoats for nation’s problems

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

Clichy-sous-Bois, France (CNN) - There's no doubt in university student Ouissem Satouri's mind about who he is. He’s Muslim. And he’s French. And there’s no contradiction between the two.

“I’m sitting here with you in a French cafe, wearing French clothes and having a French book in my bag, and I'm never asking myself if I am French or not,” says Satouri, who’s studying politics in Paris. “I am speaking French, I am living in France, I am dreaming in French, I want to live in France. I am French. But I am Muslim also.”

“You don't have to ask yourself if you are Muslim or French,” he says. “You don't have to take a position.”

Though France is home to Western Europe’s largest Muslim population, the question of whether someone could be both has surfaced here recently, ahead of a cliffhanger presidential election on Sunday. Many French politicians refer to Muslims as “immigrants” even though many, like Satouri, are the French-born kids of immigrants.

The far-right National Front party captured a record share of the vote in the first round of the election last month. The head of the party, Marine Le Pen, has been making a political issue of halal meat. Factor in a burqa ban imposed last year and negative media coverage sparked by the recent killings in Tolouse by a French Muslim and many Muslims here are feeling increasingly alienated from mainstream French society.

Though Le Pen didn’t make it to the second round because she didn’t finish in the top two, center-right President Nicolas Sarkozy has reached out to her supporters with “anti-immigrant” rhetoric, as he fights to hold onto his job in the face of a strong challenge from Socialist Francois Hollande.

A woman carries a baby on a street in Clichy-sous-Bois, a poor and largely Muslim suburb of Paris.

“We feel that we are excluded from this debate, that we are stigmatized,” says Satouri, whose parents were born in Tunisia. “And it's a big problem for us today. It's a bad climate. You can do nothing with a climate like that.”

Many of the country’s estimated 4.7 million Muslims are finding it hard to integrate, says Louisa Zanoun, a historian of immigration.

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“I'm thinking of young men,” she says. “It’s difficult to find work, employment, they're not easily trusted.”

“It affects them in their day-to-day lives, with the police for instance,” Zanoun says. “It's about the perception that French society and the authorities have of those people - that they are unable to integrate, that their religion is a barrier. It's all about the values of the republic.”

For the past century, the French state has aggressively insisted on secularism in the public sphere. What began as an effort to break the Catholic Church’s grip on the nation is seen by many Muslims today as an effort to stifle their religion.

Ouissem Satouri, of the Association of Muslim French Students, doesn't feel any conflict between being French and Muslim, but worries the his country is trying to exclude him and his fellow Muslims.

Zanoun thinks the current atmosphere is a corruption of what the French Republic was founded for.

“Originally, it was supposed to be inclusive,” she says. “It was about including all the people who believed in the values of the Republic. Nowadays, it's very exclusive because to belong to the Republic, you have to give up your religion. You have to give up your culture. Now some immigrants are not prepared to do that. And why should they?”

The heated political climate of a presidential election is only making matters worse, says Zanoun, herself the child of Muslim immigrants from Algeria. In the first round of the election, nearly one out of five voters backed the National Front's Le Pen.

“I would say that for the majority of Muslims, they feel maybe a bit more ostracized and especially with what happened at the election in the first round,” Zanoun says, calling the Le Pen support “very frightening.”

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A half-hour’s drive from the center of Paris, in the largely poor suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, Muslim community activist Samir Mihi expresses little surprise that the far right did so well in the first round of voting.

“In a time of crisis, you look for a scapegoat,” he says with a mix of resignation and frustration. “The scapegoat is the foreigners, so of course the National Front wins votes in these conditions.”

Many French people do feel the country is in crisis. Unemployment is hovering around 10%, and the European currency, the euro, has been battered by government debt problems across the continent.

On top of that, the nation was shocked by the deadly shooting rampage in Toulouse earlier this year. Over the course of 10 days, a gunman shot dead three soldiers, all of North African heritage, and a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school.

Police identified the killer as Mohamed Merah, a young man born in France to Algerian parents, and killed him after a siege of his apartment lasting about 32 hours.

In the wake of the killings, France deported a number of people the government called Islamic radicals.

Mihi is critical of the way many officials talked about the killings, and the way they talk about Muslims and immigrants in general. “Most people who talk about Islam don’t know this religion. All they see is what’s in the media around the world with terrorism,” he says. “That’s what makes a lot of people afraid and think that Islam and the Republic aren’t compatible with each other.”

Like Ouissem Satouri, he rejects the dichotomy: “For me it’s not a conflict at all. You can be religious and respect the laws of the republic.”

Mihi got involved in community activism after riots erupted in his suburb in 2005, as residents went on the rampage after two young Muslim men died in an electric power station, apparently hiding from police. One of the men was a neighbor of Mihi’s.

Seven years later, the suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois still feels like it could be a thousand miles from Paris, instead of a few dozen. Almost all women wear headscarves on the street. Old men sit outside cafes on a weekday afternoon while young men sit on railings or lean out of apartment windows and curse at people who drive by.

Mihi says there have been some changes for the better in Clichy-sous-Bois since the riots – a new police commissioner, new housing. But some things remain the same.

“The problem is that the things that haven’t changed yet are about the people who live here,” he says. “They’re changing the habitats, but not giving them work. It’s nice to live in a new apartment but if you don’t have work, you’re still in the same condition.”

Mihi was born in Algeria, but came to France with his family when he was a year old. He doesn’t consider himself an immigrant. He says he’s French. He’s voting on Sunday, but says that neither Sarkozy nor Hollande has done anything to reach out to him as a Muslim or a Frenchman. He’s planning to cast a blank ballot.

But he will go to a polling station to hand in the blank sheet, and expresses shock at the question of why he is bothering to vote at all. “Because it is my right!” he exclaims, every inch the Frenchman.

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: France • Islam • Politics

soundoff (1,099 Responses)
  1. safe weight loss

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    safe weight loss http://mail.kjes.tp.edu.tw/~alumni/userinfo.php?uid=13517

    September 25, 2013 at 6:36 am |
  2. richard labo

    "It's so hard to sympathize with any former colonizing European country when they complain about Muslims or any other people destroying THEIR culture or posing some sort of threat. The irony..."
    Good point .... but we had the decency to leave .... you're still here.

    September 19, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
  3. almaya1usa

    I come from a muslim background with a large family in the west. I never understood why so many in my extended family begged my parents to help them leave the Middle East and emigrate to Europe or America, then immediately became much more conservative than they were in their last home. The men began insisting that their daughters be covered, even while some were small children. They were only in their new homes for a short time when they began talking about how life would be better if the kafirs were all pushed out of the country. When I left islam, I was held up as an example to all my family and community as to why women should never be allowed to be educated or travel alone. I really think many of the problems in islam today have to do with a lack of education and the teaching of intolerance to males from a young age. Peace to all, let's keep trying to change the world.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • jyves95

      Educating young children? Dream on. Your best chance would be to train lions and tigers to eat at the table with a fork and a knife... and teach them how to flush the toilets.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • Tasrif

      education is for all, there is no where in the Quran written that girls cannot get education. Shame on u dat u left Islam without knowing ur own religion.

      September 23, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  4. SJM

    "They’re changing the habitats, but not giving them work. It’s nice to live in a new apartment but if you don’t have work, you’re still in the same condition.”
    So they've been given a place to live, now the French gov't is supposed to "give" them a job? And they wonder why they're viewed as not fitting in!

    September 19, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • jyves95

      Jobs? what for? They believe that the Government have to subsidize them. Otherwise, they'll call them racists.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  5. gosh

    first all, islam is a religion. being french is a nationality. there fore, they should be able to co exist.

    June 22, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • jyves95

      Being French is also a duty, like respecting the law. The French law above religious laws. Therefore, it's not compatible. France is a country with separation of state and church. It is not an Islamic country or a Islamic puppet country. Being Muslim is only compatible when living in an Islamic country. Muslim who follow the French law are called bad Muslims and those are the only one that I can respect.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  6. gosh

    @ ray
    muslim scientists made algebra
    stop hating on muslims...9/11 was becuz a small group of idiots went radical

    June 22, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • jyves95

      A small group? that represent more than 80% of the muslim group? LOL!!!!
      Salafists are on the rise worldwide and they are the base of all islamic terrorist groups.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  7. Ikramuddin Akbar

    QUISSEM ! Being a Muslim I'm proud of you, you are a courageous man. Open and clean.no rancors for others.This is the real essence of Islam. May Allah give you more strength.Ameen.I want Islam and Muslims in europe and Americas. non muslims label muslims as terrorists ask them who killed Lord mountbatten.Terrorism has been smuggled from west to east what had been and has been the role of IRA, who were or are the killer mafia of Italy, what kind of satan rules in some south american countries, who brought drugs to Asia, the hippies yes the hippies of europe and America.Evil of terrorism had been dancing in europe for decades slaining millions of people,dont forget, murders of jews and muslims in europe.Terrorism began in eastern europe. how bolivia is known to the world. what happens between USA and mexico borders. And to the shame of these people, according to a survey less than 1 percent girls are virgin in UK. where does christianity stand? Will jesus come on earth to turn them around? Till then?The purpose of all religions that we follow is to live honorably, with selfrespect, and i am sorry to say these people's religions have failed long ago. Now these are either a gay religion or a monarch religion .We are not worried about western propaganda against Islam and muslim,we dont care and damn care about them.they have been doing this from the birth of Islam.and they know Islam is Alive,it has come to stay.

    June 2, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • opus

      Spoken like a true terrorist.

      September 20, 2012 at 8:11 am |
  8. דיווחי תנועה

    Thank you a lot for sharing this with all folks you really recognise what you're talking approximately! Bookmarked. Kindly also discuss with my website =). We may have a link exchange agreement among us

    May 29, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
  9. Alfred

    Scapegoats don't riot.

    May 9, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
  10. Patrie

    As mainstream French society becomes increasing liberal (gay rights, equality for women, etc) the 6 million muslims in France inspired by conservative Islamic ideas are becoming increasingly backward and intolerant with demands that meat served in school meals be halal, demands for separate male/female public swimming pool hours, increased wearing of burkas and headscarves by the women and an increasing alienation from French culture and society.

    Muslims have an agenda in the west, and European countries have made a big miscalculation in opening the doors to this foreign and potentially dangerous presence in their societies.

    May 8, 2012 at 3:54 am |
  11. matt in nw

    math, science,art and a say in how their country operates ... the more any person has of these, the better their lives get, violence falls, and a culture flourishes.

    religion.... the more people have of this, the more devided people become. even among believers, some are never devout enough, not pure enough ect.

    Europe welcomed these PEOPLE into their countries – not the hard line 'submit or fall' doctrine of Islam.... lose the religion and join the community.

    May 8, 2012 at 2:26 am |
  12. HeavenSent

    Muslims are truly filthy humans...not worthy of heaven.
    Amen.

    May 7, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Ellie

      I'm not muslim, but I have to say that that's rather ignorant of you.

      May 8, 2012 at 12:54 am |
    • bel123

      French deserve every crap + shiiiiit.
      They complains about muslims trash in their country, but at the same time they vote for somebody who welcome trash muslim immigrants,
      Go figure it out .... .. ..

      May 8, 2012 at 8:03 am |
    • bel123

      I don't agree with you.
      Muslims are not filthy.
      They are just sub-humans.
      Or you can say: they are the closest species to human

      May 8, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • Alfred

      CNN is a horrible, unreliable, irresponsible media outlet. Their professional contributors spew perverse inaccuracies that cast the Islamic community in France as victim despite the violent Moslem rioting of recent memory in French cities, and their editors abdicate responsibility while the lowest elements of the public enjoy a CNN-branded megaphone to recite their vile hate speech.

      Two things you won't find at CNN are the truth and anything resembling a commitment to reasonable ethics.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • notsick

      ask ur mom. iam ur real dad

      September 17, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • Imran

      Lolz..

      September 23, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  13. W.G.

    They feel like scapegoats ? Well , lets check the evidence . They suck downs social relief money like it´s tea !
    They turn their areas into slums overnite They sell drugs and commit crimes , they involve themselves in terrorism .
    They murderr children and justfy it . Wow ! Now I´m beginning to hate them too

    May 7, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • danielwalldammit

      "They" ...such a useful word!

      May 7, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • BG

      Oh, sorry.

      * you *

      May 7, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • Hello

      I'm sorry, but you're saying that as if every criminal in the world is a muslim, every terrorist is a muslim, and that every drug dealer or murderer is a muslim. There are bad people and good people in this world, their religion doesn't influence what they do. If they can't difference right from wrong, then they will do bad things. There are some muslims that are radicalists, that don't know right from wrong but thats only a small percentage of the 1.6 billion muslims in the world.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:56 am |
  14. Rumpel Stiltskin

    Maybe they should stop telling everyone they are going to take over and end democracy in France converting it to a muslim nation.

    May 7, 2012 at 7:35 am |
    • danielwalldammit

      ...and yet another powerful use of teh word "they." Very helpful word, that.

      May 7, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • BG

      "teh word..."
      :lol:

      May 7, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • notsick

      moslims will take over the word and get rid of all pigs

      September 17, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
  15. Muslim Lies to Supersede Jewish Issues

    These are the things of how wars are made.

    When one group is being oppressed, subjugated, harassed, demeaned, and lose everything. And a favored group is placed in front of the press camera.

    Jews are being targeted all over the world while these nice looking Muslim males are thrust in front of a media-solicited scare that doesn't exist.

    I'm fed up with this.

    May 7, 2012 at 7:14 am |
    • notsick

      jews are nothing but a mutation of pigs and monkeys

      September 17, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • notsick

      jews are the cause of all world problems. facts of history tell all

      September 17, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
  16. Reality

    Once again, ONLY FOR THE EYES OF Ouissem Satouri AND HIS FELLOW MUSLIMS:----->

    We have come to your rescue:

    From the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi Ali, Richardson and Bayhaqi––

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:

    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    "1. Belief in Allah"

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

    "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

    "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

    "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings
    be upon him) alone."

    Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

    Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

    Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the "two-minute" cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

    Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..

    May 7, 2012 at 12:14 am |
    • saulawa

      something programmed 1400 years back cannot be deprogram in just 2 minutes ! A true believer in ALLAH will never accepts those deprogram principles.

      May 7, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • Reality

      Hmmm, said Muslims will "deprogram" as soon as they have complete access to the Internet. Currently, this is not the case in many Islamic countries.

      May 7, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • notsick

      i spent thirty days and nights with ur mom and sisters

      September 17, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
  17. NASA announces new Muslim outreach program, but Astronaut Ahmed refuses to learn how to land

    http://thepeoplescube.com/peoples-blog/cardboard-muslim-astronauts-for-nasa-outreach-program-t8524.html

    May 6, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
  18. n2it

    It's so hard to sympathize with any former colonizing European country when they complain about Muslims or any other people destroying THEIR culture or posing some sort of threat. The irony...

    May 6, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Allen

      ...and impossible to sympathize with religion of choice of the "crowds of angry youths" and the shooter of Tolouse.

      May 7, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • danielwalldammit

      LOl, that's a fair cop.

      May 7, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  19. Bahamas

    Where are the articles about non-muslims being persecuted by the followers of islam in muslim countries?
    Why does Cresent news network see the need to constantly mollycoddle these muzzies?

    May 6, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Rich

      Because they're afraid of being attacked.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:20 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.