thu 18/10/2018

A Nation Divided? The Charlie Hebdo Aftermath, BBC Three | reviews, news & interviews

A Nation Divided? The Charlie Hebdo Aftermath, BBC Three

A Nation Divided? The Charlie Hebdo Aftermath, BBC Three

Troubling investigation of the disaffection of French Muslims

Trouble ahead? Shaista Aziz visits an uneasy Paris

All the politicians lined up to chorus "Je suis Charlie" after the nauseating massacre of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists in Paris in January, but three months later, how is that emotional declaration of solidarity against murderous extremism holding up? For this documentary, British Muslim Shaista Aziz went to Paris to find out.

Her inquiries suggested that France is split in two over the issue of Western values versus Islamic fundamentalism. So is much of the rest of Europe, but France's rigorous insistence on maintaining the state's secular status, and therefore banning such faith-based accoutrements as the full-face veil, has made the issue especially acute.

Aziz almost couldn't get into the French parliament building, thanks to her hijab

A writer and stand-up comic, Aziz makes a good reporter because she asks pertinent questions with a refreshing lack of wordy clutter. One of her most vivid moments was an encounter with Pierre Larti, a leading light in France's right wing Generation D'Identitaire movement which wants to ban immigration and keep France – and for that matter Europe generally – white and un-Islamic (one of their slogans is "live together without them").

Meeting Larti in a bar, she asked if she, as a hijab-wearing Muslim woman of Pakistani descent, would be welcome in Generation ID's preferred version of society? No, said Larti, because she was not European or English. Aziz quizzed him about his determination to deport all immigrants, which would include second or third generation ones. They were born and educated in France, Aziz argued. They're French. Where would he send them to? If Aziz were French he'd send her to Pakistan – just writing this sentence highlights the logical absurdity of his argument, though presumably logic (or the absence thereof) wouldn't much trouble a putative Generation ID government. We saw a clip of Larti making a speech in Lyon in which he declared: "Fundamentalists, if you want the war, believe me you'll get it."

But it was Aziz's lower-key encounters that proved even more troubling than Larti's belligerent posturing, suggesting a cultural fault-line rapidly becoming a gigantic fissure. Aziz trekked out to the notorious banlieues in the Parisian outer limits to take the cultural temperature of young Muslims. The ones she spoke to seemed intelligent and thoughtful (and English-speaking), but while declaring themselves outraged by terrorism, they didn't feel wholly French either. "I'm not Charlie and I'm not a terrorist," as one put it. Samira, a well educated middle-class woman back in France after living abroad, found she couldn't get a sniff of a job if she applied using her real name, but when she called herself Mathilde the offers promptly came pouring in. "I can't even recognise my country," she lamented (heads of state in Paris claiming to be Charlie, pictured below).  

On the other side of the coin was Marion le Pen, a French MP and niece of Front National president Marine. Aziz almost couldn't get into the French parliament building to see her, thanks to her hijab, but when she did she was not encouraged to hear Ms Le Pen saying that there are many citizens "who are French on paper but not in their hearts".

You couldn't help concluding that things could only get worse. Discussing the controversial French "apologie du terrorisme" law, Aziz picked up on the case of eight-year-old Ahmed, who was arrested and, bizarrely, convicted when he refused to agree that along with all his school classmates he too was Charlie. Ahmed argued that "I am with the terrorists because you made cartoons of the Prophet." Aziz held this up as a specimen of draconian over-reaction, but surely the bigger question is who taught an eight-year-old kid to say it?

She was not encouraged to hear Ms Le Pen saying that there are many citizens 'who are French on paper but not in their hearts'

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