Tidbits of Arabic News translated into English

Monday, January 19, 2015

Attack on French Newspaper: Have Your Say on the BBC Arabic

The BBC Arabic did a call-in show this week about the attack on the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo. It was not a debate on whether or not the attack was justified, because I don't think the BBC Arabic wanted to go down that path. That would have turned ugly. As the moderator said when he opened the show: We all condemn this attack. We don't want to debate that. We want to have a conversation on what the fall-out and consequences from the attack will be for Muslim communities living in France.

BBC Arabic moderator. His name is Mohamed Saif al Nasser. That means Mohamed Sword the Victorious

And then the moderator said: to re-cap, twelve people were killed in the offices of the newspaper, amongst them two police officers, and by the way, one of them was Muslim. 
The first caller was a Muslim lady living in France called Ibtisaam Azauia. Her first name means 'Smile'.

Ibtisaam: What has happened is so sad, and unfortunately, the people who committed this terrorist act are giving everyone in the world a bad picture of Islam. Today, I ask that there not be a mixing of this terrorist act and the Muslim and Arab population in France and in Europe in general. And I am afraid that this will end up giving more fuel for extremist political parties. 

BBC Arabic Moderator: Some people think that the image of Muslims in the West is already really bad. 

Ibtisaam: Well, let's not generalize. Actually, it's not all French people who think all Muslims are terrorists, but there is a negative impression. So I ask for all the leaders not to allow anyone to take advantage of this attack. In France, there is an extreme far-right party. And we don't want them taking advantage of this crime to become even more extremist.

While Ibtisaam was talking via her phone from France, the BBC Arabic showed us all these images of vigils in France:

Then the BBC Arabic moderator started talking to a mayor of a town in France. The mayor's name is Mr. Omar, and he is originally Arab. The name of the town sounded like "A Teas-Spoons"

Mr. Omar: I am totally in agreement with your caller Ibtisaam, except I think that things are worse than how she put it. The image of Islam is really bad in the west and this is only going to make things worse. We Muslims in France see that these acts end up justifying racism and enabling extremists from the other side who don't want Muslims and Arabs in France. I don't mean to say that French people are racist, but let's remember that in the last elections the far-right party got 20% of the vote. That means a fifth of the population feels this way. So I don't say everyone, I would just say that 20% of the population is voting for far-right people. This plays a role in increasing hatred. 

BBC Arabic moderator: Well, the French Prime Minister Hollande said that France has to stay united. Is he saying something, pushing for something, that doesn't actually exist on the ground in France?

Mr. Omar: We Muslims think that we are part of French society. If we thought of ourselves as outside the society, that's what the extremists want. So we work with others as fellow French citizens, we deal with people as though we are French, not as though we are outsiders or foreigners. That is the problem, there's lots of people who just keep thinking of themselves as outsiders. 

Then Enes, also a Muslim in France, called to say: Yes, the far-right people are going to use this attack to justify more division within our society. This is very frightening. Today we saw a mosque attacked, and a Muslim family in a car was attacked. Who knows what is going to happen next?

Moderator: Alright, but tell me about Arabs in France. Do they actually see themselves part of France? The people who carried out the attack are French, so what is going on?

Enes: These ideas of killing people randomly do not exist within our mosques. These extremist violent ideas are just amongst people in their homes. They become extremist maybe by looking online. But this is not the general idea amongst Muslims in France. 

Then the moderator went back to talking to the Mayor from A Teas-Spoons.

Moderator: Does French society play a role in pushing youth into these violent ideas? Can French society and institutions stop these kids from going that route?

Mr. Omar: Amongst institutions, there is no racism. In fact, quite the opposite. French institutions fight against racism and give everyone their rights. That is what is said, but on the ground, it's a different story. People are not always so committed and it's not all positive. For example, company bosses are not required to hire kids of Arab or Muslim backgrounds as much as they hire everyone else, so these kids cannot find jobs. And actually, there is a failure in their upbringing, in their education. So can we say that France has succeeded in bringing these kids out of their problems? No, of course not, because if they had succeeded we wouldn't see these types of terrorist attacks. Because extremism comes from poverty, it comes from ...

Moderator: So do you think this attack will push France towards rethinking some of its policies, or will it lead to people entrenching themselves in their current positions?

Mr. Omar: I really would hope it will be the former! There's the far-right party that thinks security is the most important thing, but it cannot just be a political approach, it has to be ... and what is happening is that French people of French descent are now scared when they see a Muslim person and they think right away that this is a terrorist, and this attack will just make these feelings even more common. 

[I can agree with that! A lot of people tell me that I am very innocent-looking, but I can sense that there's people who are scared of me, too. And they very often are red-haired, which makes me sad, because Anne of Green Gables and Pippi Longstocking are my friends from childhood.]

Then a man called Jihad from France called in. Jihad is a man who is originally from Lebanon. 

Jihad: This attack will not change the fundamentals of French society. Of course, there will be an impact, but France is led by human rights, by respect for freedom, and gives these freedoms to everyone. 

Unfortunately, Jihad's phone line was kind of bad, so I could not exactly figure out what he was saying. I only only heard bits and pieces - I think he said the news media in France can be extremist; and he said that the basis for all this is ignorance. For example, people think all Arabs are Muslim, or all Muslims are Arab, when in actuality many Arabs are Christians. 

Then Jihad said something about how when you walk in somewhere, people greet you with friendliness. And he added: my name is Jihad, and when people hear that ... I think he was saying that even though Jihad's name is Jihad and this has a bad context in the west, people still treat him as a normal person. At least, that's what I think he said. 

Then Shayma' called in. Even she had had problems understanding Jihad, so it wasn't just me!

Shayma': I couldn't hear everything that Jihad said, but yes, people are very scared of Islam in France. Maybe there are exceptions, but most Muslims in France feel this, this pervasive feeling that people are scared of us. Right now, we feel as though we are under danger. Right now, a Muslim girl wearing a hijab might be afraid to go out on the street alone because someone might want to take revenge on her for the attack. 

Moderator: Let's talk about that. In Australia there was also a terrorist attack recently, but the response in the form of internet campaigns was supportive of Muslim Australians, and we all remember the hashtag iwillridewithyou. Is French society capable of that, or is French society just different?

Mr. Omar the mayor of A Teas-Spoons answered this: Well, I'm not so sure. I was voted into office by French society. There are responsibilities on both sides. First, for Muslims, we have to make our situation better, make our behavior and manners better, because in the end, people don't know if you pray, fast, or give charity; they just see how you treat other people. And there is a problem here. For example, there's people that right after finishing their prayers you see them go out and vandalize people's cars. So Muslims have to work on this. But there's also a responsibility on the French side. There is racism for example against giving jobs to poor people. Also, we know that Muslims and Arabs may get lots of benefits from civilized western democracy, and they might exaggerate in the benefits they get from others and that others get from them [really not sure what that last line meant.]

Moderator: Alright, let's talk about the future. People are saying that security at the newspaper was lax, and I'm not saying that to take away blame from the people who actually carried out the attack. But this is a newspaper that has been attacked before; it was known to be a vulnerable site, and yet this attack happened which extremist political parties are now taken advantage of. So what do you think?

Mr. Omar: Of course the far right parties will benefit from the attack, and all other parties who want to decrease trust amongst French society. But as for Muslims, it's going to make us have to put forth greater efforts to change the picture, to improve our image. And one of the big problems is that French media is kind of against Muslims. We do not at all say this to justify the attack, but we do remember that the newspaper Charlie Hebdo insulted Islam and Muslims a lot ...

Moderator: Yes, but it also insulted all other religions all the time.

Mr. Omar: Yes, yes, yes!

And that was the end of Mayor Omar of A Teas-Spoons. He signed off the air at that point.

So the BBC Arabic moderator turned back to Jihad who was still waiting patiently with his fuzzy phone line.

Jihad: I just wanted to add one thing, and that is to say that one of the people who died in such cold blood was a French Muslim named Ahmed. I would like to ask everyone listening to ... something something about far-right political parties and asking your parents what their opinions are. Then Jihad continued: We are against any act against Muslims, Arabs, Christians, any extremist act. Criminals do not pay attention to who is around them. That's why we have to speak out against all of them.

Moderator: You're right, as we saw, the Muslim police officer was killed by this attack, and the image of Islam has been killed right along with it.

Jihad signed off, and then the moderator went over to his BBC Arabic colleague monitoring the on-line comments.

Some of the comments said: The attack is normal because of the insulting pictures the newspaper had printed.

Other comments said: The newspaper was wrong in printing those pictures, but this attack is completely wrong and killing people is something completely wrong and goes against the teachings of Islam, because the Prophet Mohamed never insulted anyone, including those who insulted him.

A man named Attiya had written: The newspaper insulted Muslims, and this is the gentlest revenge the cartoonists could have received.

Another person wrote: I don't agree with murder, but I'm not sad about what happened, because these people insulted the Prophet and millions of Muslims.

Abdul Kareem wrote: Under the headline of free speech people say a lot of things, but your rights end where another person's rights begin.

The BBC Arabic moderator cut in to say: These comments seem to justify the attack, but our real topic today is what the future impact will be.

So the colleague looking at online comments said: Yes, most of the comments says the impact will be huge and negative. They compare it to what happened following the 2001 attacks in the US, which were followed by attacks on Muslims.

One person wrote: there will be more hate towards Muslims and more power to the far right.

An optimistic person wrote: This won't have any impact. French people are very moderate and they have the biggest Muslim population in all of Europe and we can move beyond this crime.

Some one called ZuZu had written: the key to stopping this is dialogue between the West and Muslims.

Another wrote: We need more laws against people who insult religions. Why do they allow insults towards holy things but they don't allow anything to be said against the Holocaust?

Another comment: It is obvious who is behind the attack, it was obviously the French police and the French far-right parties because they managed to do this in the middle of the day in the heart of Paris, it's obvious who masterminded this.

Another comment: It was actually Israel who carried out the attack. They are punishing France for its votes in support of Palestinian statehood.

Another: There are extremist Christians and Jews in Paris who make things worse for Muslims.

Whew. Enough with online comments. Now it's back to the phones. Hamza from France is on the line.

BBC Arabic Moderator: Hamza, doesn't the Muslim community hold some of the blame for not doing enough to teach Islam in a good way, to promote the correct principles?

Hamza from France: Well, there's lots of Islamic countries that teach that everyone but us Muslims are going to hell, we need to recognize that this kind of thinking exists. But there's also Muslims that teach tolerance and acceptance. We cannot go one way and block everyone else out. Now so many journalists have died, and police officers. We cannot allow these kinds of people to represent Islam ...

Then Salah called in.

Salah: Yes, we cannot deny that Muslims in France are scared right now, but I think what happened was a conspiracy. Listen to me, it was all Israel's fault.

Moderator: Mmm. Mmmmm.

He did not look amused:

Salah continued: Because Islam is very far away from committing such acts!

Moderator: What you say is actually not surprising because we just saw in the comments people saying the same thing. However, you say there is fear amongst Muslims. What exactly?

Salah: I think that is a Muslim person went out alone, and ran into the hands of six or seven racists, of the French people, then yes, things could go wrong.

Moderator: Do Muslims hold any blame at all? Lots of guests are saying that Muslims are not giving a good picture of Islam to the west and so it is only natural that French people view them as something to be scared of. And they vote for the far-right parties because they are scared.

Salah: Let me tell you, my dear man. I am married to a French lady who became Muslim. If there was not a good image of Islam, would she have become Muslim? And it's not just Muslims in France, it's Muslims in the Arab countries. Those countries play a part in messing up the image of Islam. The other day I saw a beautiful film about the Prophet, may peace be upon him. And in Tunisia the other day a bunch of people gathered around the French embassy holding signs saying We Are Charlie. So why should people think that we are so bad?

Moderator: Because, quite simply, if there's a cartoon we are offended by, then we should make a better cartoon. If it's an offensive film, we should make a better film. And the response towards a cartoon should not be through guns, because this just makes the religion look worse.

Then, the show brought on via camera a man who was sitting in front of the Eiffel Tower. I think this man is connected to one of the major mosques in Paris.

Moderator: Is there still time for us to improve the image of Islam in the west, or is it too late?

Man by the Eiffel Tower: First, I would like to say that I am very sad. The attack has been a big shock. However, there's still a big hope because these kinds of acts take away the obstacles towards integration in France (?). These acts are not about religions, they are crimes point blank and they threaten security here, but not anything else (I think he meant the attack would not threaten French unity between people of all backgrounds.)

Moderator: But a lot of French people don't think that this is just a crime. They think it is a crime, yes, but a crime based on Islamic principles, and it is leading to a lot of criticism of Islam and is helping out extreme political parties.

Man by the Eiffel Tower: We've been working for years to open up a dialogue with French society. There's a difference between the French street and French politics. We cannot give it up to people who want more disunity. French people are very aware. There are those that want to insult Islam and they will take advantage of this attack to press their opinions even further [I really don't know what his main point was.]

Moderator: Well, it's very logical for those people to take advantage of this attack, it plays right into their hands. So what about the opposite end. What is the role of the mosques, of the Muslim leaders, of the biggest mosque in Paris, for example?

Man by the Eiffel Tower: Well, the mosques in Paris have to be aware of how kids are being brought up and ensure that the right message of Islam is being spread. But the Islamic institutions are not responsible further than that! The first responsibility lies with the French government!

Moderator: How is that? If like you say there is a bad image of Islam in France, and the government cannot do anything about it, how is it that you have no responsbility?

Man by the Eiffel Tower: Well, religious institutions do not work alone. There are media outlets that give the prime voice to the extremist Muslims and make it seems as though all Muslims are like that. I think they need to do a better job of showing everyone's opinions. Because most Muslims do not have such extremist opinions.

It was almost the end of the program by now. The moderator took another phone call from a man called Mohsen, and he said:

Mohsen: Muslim leaders are lacking, the people funding us are lacking, and the TV channels are lacking, and people are talking in too many languages and ...

And the last comment went back to the Man by the Eiffel Tower. He closed by saying:

It's going to be okay because Muslims contribute to French society, we vote, we have economic power, and if we're unhappy with something we can take it to the polls.

To watch the full show click here to go to the video on the BBC Arabic's YouTube site.

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