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Fear of Terror raises Tensions among French-ruled island of Corsica’s Muslims

Muslims and non-Muslims attacked each other with fists and weapons that reports said included machetes and a harpoon

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Terrorism. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
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AJACCIO, CORSICA, September 03, 2016: Some referred to the attacks in France as the summer of terror. Communities all over the country these days are working to heal the wounds and avert what many French Muslims think could be a backlash against them by politicians and citizens angry over extremists’ attacks.

Inter-communal tensions have boiled over on the French-ruled island of Corsica. Muslims and non-Muslims clashed on a beach in August, after reports that a tourist had taken a photo of a Muslim woman bathing on a beach in the town of Sisco touched off a riot.

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Muslims and non-Muslims attacked each other with fists and weapons that reports said included machetes and a harpoon.

Fear has risen further after the island’s militant separatists, in defiance of the Paris government, said they are ready to take matters into their own hands if the Islamic State group carries out an attack on the island.

There have been no specific terrorism warnings on Corsica, but, as summer winds down, the island’s beaches became a focal point in France’s battle of cultures – marked by attacks on the French mainland, such as the truck attack in Nice that killed 86 people in July and the murder, also in July, of an elderly Catholic priest during Mass in Normandy. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for both attacks.
Dolls and teddy bears are placed at a memorial in a gazebo on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, southern France on July 20, 2016.

Who defends Corsica?

Corsica’s isolation and its fierce separatist drive have many feeling like Paris is not doing enough to protect them. After the bloodshed in France, the Corsican National Liberation Front warned the Islamic State that any attack against the Corsican people would precipitate a “determined response,” without hesitation or guilt.

“Beyond that statement, I think Corsica’s entire population is asking, ‘who is going to defend us. Are we obliged to defend ourselves? And by what means?’” asked Francis Nadizi, regional secretary of the far-right National Front party headed by Marine Le Pen.

Corsica has one of France’s highest ratio of firearms per capita – one more reason why officials are taking the separatists’ statement seriously. They also are not ignoring the possibility of a terrorist attack on their soil.

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“There is real concern because unfortunately the events of recent months have shown that no one is safe, and there are elements specific to Corsica that make us fear a rising risk,” said Gilles Simeoni, the island’s top elected official, told VOA.

In remarks published recently, Simeoni warned there has been a breakdown of the “integration machine” – a reference to questions about the local Muslim population’s willingness to integrate into Corsican society.

Mosques hit by arson

Even before this summer’s beach riot, there have been confrontations. Attacks have included arson fires at Muslim places of prayer.

Signs of the tensions are less than subtle. In public restrooms and fences, graffiti demand: “Arabi Fora,” Corsican for “Arabs Out.”

Dolls and teddy bears are placed at a memorial in a gazebo on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, southern France on July 20, 2016. Image source: VOA
Dolls and teddy bears are placed at a memorial in a gazebo on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, southern France on July 20, 2016. Image source: VOA

In December, a mob smashed windows and ransacked a prayer hall in the island’s main city, Ajaccio. The incident happened after Muslim youths ambushed firefighters and police who were responding to reports of illegal bonfires.

The prayer hall’s director, Abdel-Mounim el Khalfioui, said the tensions – including those surrounding the controversy over burkinis – have intensified the conversation about what it means to be Muslim in Corsica.

“Integrating into a society does not mean rejecting one’s culture of origin in order to adopt another. That for me is not integration,” el Khalfioui said. “Integration is respecting the laws, respecting the land that welcomes you, respecting its traditions, respecting people, but at the same time holding on to your culture of origin.”’

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Islamic garments an issue

But some Corsicans disagree. Like many people on the French mainland, they say Islamic vestments drive a wedge between Muslims and the rest of the population.

“I think, quite sincerely, that it is a provocation,” said the National Front’s Nadizi. “They will begin by the visual aspect of their vestments, before staking their communitarian claims.”

“It could be that people will see it as a provocation, like if a man sees a naked woman walking on the street. She is going to tell him, ‘I am free,’ but he sees it as a provocation,” said Sabri Merdaci, a 24-year-old building maintenance worker born on Corsica to Algerian and Tunisian parents. Merdaci wears a beard and sometimes a galabiyya, or tunic. “We see it as a choice that one makes in regard to religion, to identity, as it relates to Islam,” he said.

Merdaci said he avoids beaches where French women often sunbathe topless.

Given the hostility already shown to their community, some of Corsica’s Muslims worry any retaliation against Islamic State could spill into retaliation against them.

In a meeting last week, a group gathered to vent their concerns about the Corsican separatists’ warning to the Islamic State. “We took this as a provocation for those who may want to carry out an attack in Corsica, and so it is us who would have to pay,” said Mohamed Jouablia, head of an association of Tunisian immigrants.

“It means someone does something wrong and the group reacts, goes after the other. It is collective punishment, and that is disgusting. It is unacceptable. It is that which worries us,” said another member, Zerdalia Dahoun, a native of Algeria. “The concept of justice is dangerous. Inciting people to do justice themselves has roused the extreme on both sides,” she said. (VOA)

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Muslims in Malaysia Rally In Kuala Lumpur To Keep Status

Mahathir’s new government won a stunning victory in a May 9 general election amid anger over a massive corruption scandal.

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Malaysia, Malay
Protesters rally near a mosque to celebrate the government's decision not to ratify a U.N. anti-discrimination convention, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Dec. 8, 2018. Thousands of Malaysian Muslims are rallying against any attempt to strip ethnic Malay majority of their privileges. VOA

Tens of thousands of Malaysian Muslims rallied Saturday in Kuala Lumpur against any attempt to strip the ethnic Malay majority of its privileges, in the first massive street gathering since Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s alliance won a historic vote in May.

The rally, backed by the country’s two largest opposition Malay parties, was initially aimed at protesting a government plan to ratify a U.N. treaty against racial discrimination. Critics allege that ratifying the treaty would end Malay privileges under a decades-old affirmative action policy. The plan to ratify was eventually abandoned, but organizers decided to proceed with what they called a “thanksgiving” rally.

Rare racial clashes

Racial clashes have been rare in multiracial Malaysia since deadly riots in 1969. A year later, Malaysia instituted a preferential program that gives Malays privileges in jobs, education, contracts and housing to help narrow a wealth gap with the minority Chinese. Ethnic Malays account for nearly two-thirds of the country’s 32 million people, with large Chinese and Indian minorities.

Malaysia, Malay
A protester covers his face with headbands reading “No to ICERD” during a rally to celebrate the government’s decision not to ratify a U.N. anti-discrimination convention called ICERD at Independent Square in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Dec. 8, 2018. ICERD stands for International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. VOA

Saturday’s rally came less than two weeks after more than 80 people were arrested in a riot at an Indian temple in a suburb outside Kuala Lumpur. The government was quick to stress that the violence was the result of a land dispute and was not a racial riot. Still, the government warned Saturday’s rally-goers not to make any provocative statements that could fan racial tensions.

Mahathir said the government allowed the rally as part of democracy, but warned against any chaos. The rally was held under tight police security, but ended peacefully after rain started to fall.

Former Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has been charged with multiple counts of corruption, was among opposition lawmakers at the rally.

In the streets, 55,000

Police said there were at least 55,000 people on the streets. Many wore white T-shirts and headbands with the words “Reject ICERD,” referring to the U.N. treaty, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The protesters gathered at three locations before marching to a nearby historic square, chanting “Long live the Malays” and “Crush ICERD.”

malay
Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, right gestures to Myanmar’s Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi, to move in closer for the group hand shake as Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak, left, watches during the opening ceremony of the 28th and 29th ASEAN summits at National Convention Center in Vientiane, Laos, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016. VOA

“Yes, we did not ratify ICERD, but we are still here to say that we are still against it,” said shopkeeper Rosli Ikhsan. “Even if the government has said they won’t endorse it, we are still protesting with all our might from all of Malaysia.”

Mahathir’s new government won a stunning victory in a May 9 general election amid anger over a massive corruption scandal involving Najib and his government, but many Malays still support Najib’s party, the United Malays National Organization, and the Malaysian Islamic Party, which controls two of the country’s 13 states.

Some analysts say Najib and his party were using the rally to shift attention away from corruption charges against Najib, his wife, his party’s president and former government officials.

Also Read: Syrian Stranded at Malaysia Airport in a Political Limbo

“For me, ICERD is bad,” university student Nurul Qamariah said at the rally. “It’s bad because it will erode the position of Malays. This is a country for Malays. We want Malays to be superiors, but why do these people want to make Malays the same level as Chinese and Indians?” (VOA)