Marseille: "I'm going to bomb it when it opens"

Marseille: "I'm going to bomb it when it opens"

This article doesn't really differentiate between assimilation (letting go of your culture in favor or another) and integration (trying to find a way to keep your culture while fitting in with another).


The minaret of the new Grand Mosque of Marseille, whose cornerstone will be laid here in April, will be silent — no muezzin, live or recorded, will disturb the neighborhood with the call to prayer. Instead, the minaret will flash a beam of light for a couple of minutes, five times a day.

Normally, the light would be green, for the color of Islam. But Marseille is a port, and green is reserved for signals to ships at sea. Red? No, the firefighters have reserved red.

Instead, said Noureddine Cheikh, the head of the Marseille Mosque Association, the light will almost surely be purple — a rather nightclubby look for such an elegant building.

So is this assimilation? Mr. Cheikh laughs. “I suppose it is,” he said. “It’s a good symbol of assimilation.”

But as Western Europe is plunged into a new bout of anxiety over the impact of post-colonial Muslim immigration — reeling in varying ways from the implications of a recent Swiss vote to ban minarets altogether — some scholars see a destructive dynamic, with assimilation feeding a reaction that, in turn, spawns resentment, particularly among young Muslims.

Vincent Geisser, a scholar of Islam and immigration at the French National Center for Scientific Research, believes that the more Europe’s Muslims establish themselves as a permanent part of the national scene, the more they frighten some who believe that their national identity could be altered forever.

“Today in Europe the fear of Islam crystallizes all other fears,” Mr. Geisser said. “In Switzerland, it’s minarets. In France, it’s the veil, the burqa and the beard.”

The large new mosque, which its builders call “the symbol of Marseillais Islam,” is a source of pride here in France’s second-largest city, which is at least 25 percent Muslim. But it is also cause for alarm, Mr. Geisser said, embodying the paradox that visible signs of integration set off xenophobic anxiety. “All these symbols reveal a deeper, more lasting presence of Islam,” he said. “It’s the passage of something temporary to something that is implanted and takes root.”


Racism in France has moved from being anti-Arab to anti-Muslim, he said, “a terrible regression.”

If 10 years ago Muslims debated politics and assimilation, “today everyone agrees and reacts the same way,” Mr. Mammeri said. “They feel they are attacked. Today we realize being a secular Muslim or a moderate or a radical Muslim is not the right question. It’s about being Muslim.”

When he travels abroad, to New York, Barcelona or Algiers, Mr. Mammeri said, “I’m French; I feel French. But in France, in Marseille every day, you have these same questions, repeated stupidly: what about the burqa, the mosque, terrorism.”


Still, the planned mosque, costing about $33 million, is not welcomed by everyone. Local politicians of the far-right Regional Front have vainly filed lawsuits trying to block construction of what they consider an effort to create an alternative landmark to compete with the city’s cathedrals.

At the Grand Bar Bernabo, a gritty cafe near the site of the new mosque, an older man who refused to give his name said, with a thin smile, “I’m going to bomb it when it opens.” Asked why, he said: “There are a lot of them already, and this will bring more of them, and there will be trouble.”

Jean-Claude, 49, a sanitation worker, said: “People in the area are flipping out, but when it’s done, it’s done. You can say whatever you want, but they’re going to build it.” He only hoped that the minaret — limited to just over 80 feet by local zoning laws — would not be taller than a nearby bell tower.

Gabrielle Martelli said Marseille had a good reputation for tolerance, “but things have been tense here for a long time.”

“There’s a lot of racism here” that goes both ways, she insisted. “When you’ve been insulted and called a ‘sale Française’ ” — a filthy Frenchwoman — “you think: ‘Wait, this is my country.’ ”


Source: New York Times (English)

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