Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The city has served as a refuge for people fleeing persecution, pestilence, and poverty. Recently its sizable immigrant influx has been largely of Muslim origin, and today when you gaze from one of Marseille's many beaches across the Mediterranean toward the unseen North African coast, you can almost imagine a human deluge on its way as the spreading unrest in the Arab world pushes more refugees and job seekers toward the shores of Europe.

If you listen to far-right politicians, you'll think this immigrant wave means, inevitably, an onslaught of Islamic puritanism that will challenge European ways and force every woman to dress like a Taliban bride. But then you realize that many of the men and women jostling around you on the Marseille sand are from African and Arab backgrounds, and that the young women are wearing bikinis, not burkas. Thanks to a remarkably efficient public transport system, you can get to Marseille's beaches from any part of town in less than 45 minutes.

And so for several months of the year, rich and poor, white and black, African and Arab, Muslim, Christian, and Jew, all find their own space on the sand, strip off most of their clothes, and settle down to socialize—and be socialized— under the Provençal sun. Ask them where they're from and you won't hear Algeria or Morocco, the Comoros islands or even France. Almost always they'll simply say, Marseille.

As more European countries become nations of immigrants, Marseille may be a vision of the future, even a model of multiculturalism.

The city center "is a district with a very numerous North African population," says Gaudin. At the heart of Marseille, on the plaza at Porte d'Aix, casbah merchants sell voluminous djellabas and Islamic veils, tea shops serve honeydripping sweets, and travel agencies specialize in pilgrimages to Mecca. The whole neighborhood is a hive of immigrants trying to find space for their new lives and old culture, even as both evolve into something different. One of the city's oldest mosques, El Takwa, is here; in the cafés, the older gentlemen sipping espressos wear the distinctive skullcaps of the Comoros islands; many women wear scarves over their heads, the hijab of conservative Muslims.

...During the Muslim holiday of Id al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, I sat near the market on the Rue Longue des Capucins—which could be a street in Algiers or Tangier—having a glass of rosé (something I could not easily have done on that occasion in Cairo). I watched a bearded man carrying what I thought was a naked baby through the market. Then I realized it was a skinned lamb that was ready to be butchered. The annual slaughter of sheep during these Muslim high holy days has become a political issue as the government tries to confine the practice to official abattoirs on the edge of the city. But even there, those who resent the encroaching Muslim culture point to the torrents of blood as symbols of barbarism.

..."We French are being replaced by another people and their culture, religion, and way of life," says Stéphane Ravier of the far-right National Front. "The wave of immigration has been so huge in the last 20 years that we are being submerged."

"There are more than 70 mosques and prayer rooms in Marseille," says Mayor Gaudin, but clearly that's not adequate. The idea of building a grand mosque gained traction. "The population approved—by 60 percent. They understood that each religion ought to have a significant monument," says Gaudin. The cornerstone for the mosque was laid in May 2010. The rector of the main mosque in Paris came for the occasion. A Socialist Party politician proclaimed it would signify the "fraternal cohabitation of the communities." Construction was to be completed by 2013.

Three months later I asked a taxi driver to take me to the site, a complex of buildings that had once served as a municipal slaughterhouse. "I'm the one you ask to take you there?" asked the driver, who clearly didn't approve of the mosque. "The invasion has already begun," he said as we made our way through the streets up the hill.

...What worries some Marseillais is not the caricature of Talibanization invoked by right-wing extremists but what they see as the creeping Islamization of the city's largely working-class population—and not only those issus de l'immigration. "I think that Muslim culture is definitively taking over the lower levels of society," says Michèle Teboul, of CRIF. "There are many mixed marriages with Muslims."

"That's real integration," I say.

"That depends," says Teboul. "It depends if there is a mixture of the two cultures and not one culture gaining the upper hand over another," she says. In France, as she sees it, the institutionalization of secularism and the prevalence of political correctness have weakened the value systems in society and left people without any strong sense of tradition. "Loving your homeland, loving your country, having values— whether religious or other—has been put aside by the politically bien-pensant, and that has helped to break up families that no longer have points of reference, especially those that are underprivileged." Islam, says Teboul, offers a structure to the lives of many people who feel they are adrift. "I'm convinced of that," she says.

...Farouk Youssoufa, the youth counselor who works with immigrants in north Marseille, sees the lure of crime up close every day. "There's drug selling," he says, as we watch dozens of girls and boys practice a hip-hop dance for a celebration of Marseille's diversity. "Five or six years ago there were a lot of car thefts. These days there are a lot of holdups. That's become the fashion." Youssoufa's wife is one of the instructors at the youth center. I ask if she has ever thought of wearing a hijab. "I hope so," she says, surprising me at first. "But when I get older," she adds. "How much older?" I ask. Maybe when she is 40, she says, obviously thinking that future is very far away.

What will Marseille be like by then? It may well be the first western European city with a majority of its residents from Muslim backgrounds. Many other cities will have as many as Marseille does today, and most will have their own uneasy experiments with integration. But it's hard to imagine that on the Mediterranean coast here the beaches will be any less crowded or that the people on them will identify themselves as anything more, or less, than from Marseille.
Source: National Geographic


Johnny Rottenborough said...

The prejudices of the author (Christopher Dickey) are on show in this article about Geert Wilders. According to Dickey, Wilders offers a message of ‘paranoid hate’, his party is ‘xenophobic’, his speeches are ‘rants’, he conjures up false fears, his stance is ‘extremist’ and ‘smells of cynicism and self-indulgence’. Dickey ends the piece with the words: ‘Wilders Rising … Be Warned’.

Maria José said...

Graz Attacker Just 14-Years-Old

An attacker who spent several weeks sexually harassing women in Graz, Austria has finally been caught. The unidentified "man" who ambushed his victims, pushed them up against the wall and attempted to touch and kiss them, has turned out to be just 14-years-old.

The attacker was discovered to be a 14-year-old school boy from Turkey.

Anonymous said...

I used to think of National Geographic as extremely high quality well informed, only to realize when several years back, opening an article about the traces of Persia in Iran, that it was a leftist propaganda tool.


But that means there is a gap to be filled by those who see quality combined with history and facts as something significant for our Western civilization.

Was this Marseille reportage written by a muslim..? No. "By Christopher Dickey
Photograph by Ed Kashi"

Anonymous said...

Btw, are there any problems with at the moment..?

Anonymous said...

Plus belle la vie
French TV series, every night, taking place in Marseille

Now, approching the presidential elections, even Carla Bruni, claims to watch this series

Plus belle la vie, in short, a propaganda series...?

Anonymous said...

Whoever believes in liberty, equality and faternity HAS to struggle against the coran and islam, the "sacred" book o which is not only opposed, sometimes in frightful ways, to these values, but to human rights as well. Tahe a coran and annotate in it with a Stabilo-Boss whatever contradicts human rights or even just plain morals and one page out of three will have colour on it.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, coran IS the best weapon of the West against islam, so read it, read it, undestand it and be ready to contradict any lie about its contents you happen to hear by people (including muslims) who did not read it thouroughly.

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