Tensions Grow for Muslims As French Debate National Identity

December 19, 2009

Author: Edward Cody

Source: The Washington Post


When Muslim worshipers showed up at the Bilal Mosque early Sunday morning, they found two pig's ears and a poster of the French flag stapled to the door; a pig's snout dangled from the doorknob. "White power" and "Sieg heil" were spray-painted on one side, they recalled, and "France for the French" on the other.

The desecration of the main mosque in Castres, a tranquil provincial town 50 miles east of Toulouse, was an ugly exception in generally easygoing relations between the native French population and a pocket of about 10,000 Muslims, mostly Algerian immigrants and their children, who in recent years have made Castres their home, according to Muslim as well as native French residents. Mayor Pascal Bugis was quick to condemn the outrage, visiting the scene to express dismay, and police vowed a swift arrest of those responsible.

But for Abdelmalek Bouregba, head of the Castres Islamic Association, which administers the mosque, the vandalism was a troubling sign of the times. Signals are flashing everywhere that France is increasingly uneasy with its more than 5 million Muslims, he said, and the atmosphere has soured particularly since President Nicolas Sarkozy's government last month began what it calls "a great debate on national identity."