So, I’ve been seeing various tweets and postings from conservative quarters this weekend shilling for postings that posit that Paris is becoming “Islamized.” It’s actually a product of Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network and you can watch it here (as well as a lot of other places):
There are some things I noticed about the report. First of all, this is apparently happening in the 18th Arrondissement, but the reporter doing the standup is standing on the banks of the Seine with the Eiffel Tower in the background. This would be like standing in front of the New York Stock Exchange to talk about a murder in Bed-Stuy, except that they actually do manage to tie central Paris into the story line by pimping for a Russian novel entitled “The Mosque of Notre Dame.” The setting of the story is Paris in 2048. Non-Muslims have been banished to ghettos and the story starts with a public stoning at the Arc de Triomphe. (Surely there will be an English translation soon for the burgeoning market of conspiracy theorists out there.)
The thing about novels: they’re FICTION – and so is the “Islamization of Paris.” People are passing around this sensational whopper because they don’t think you’re in a position to know any better and it fits in well with some of the other Muslim stuff they’ve managed to get into the mainstream discussion lately. The whacked-out Washington Times is already dutifully weighing in with their own, related coverage.
There is some real irony in learning about the perils of religious extremists taking over governments straight from Pat Robertson. He’s been trying to do that very same thing for several decades with his religious right political agenda and even running for president himself in 1988.
For whatever reason, we seem to have an easier time identifying religious extremists when we don’t share their religion. Here’s part of what Pat Robertson said, after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.:
“We have a court that has essentially stuck its finger in God’s eye and said, “We are going to legislate You out of the schools and take Your commandments from the courthouses in various states. We are not going to let little children read the commandments of God. We are not going to allow the Bible or prayer in our schools… Don’t ask why did it happen. It happened because people are evil. It also happened because God is lifting His protection from this nation and we must pray and ask Him for revival so that once again we will be His people, the planting of His righteousness, so that He will come to our defense and protect us as a nation. “
Robertson has urged his 700 Club audience to pray for God to remove certain justices from the U.S. Supreme Court so they could be replaced with people who share his views. He’s called for the assassination of a foreign leader. When Dover, Pennsylvania voters threw out their school board members for trying enforce a creationist agenda in the public school curriculum, Robertson said “you just voted God out of your city” and suggested that the community might be visited upon by problems from above. The list goes on.
I’m all for freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but does Pat Robertson really sound like somebody who has a problem with theocracy? Of course not — and there’s just one condition: it’s got to be his religion.
Since when did this freedom fry-eating bunch ever care about Paris, anyway? It’s Old Europe, Rumsfeld told us. Anti-French sentiments have been a staple of the nationalist crowd in the U.S. for decades and if anything, it’s only become more so in recent years. (Hey, don’t take it all out on the French. I was against going into Iraq, too.)
In the fall of 2005, I was in Paris during the riots. Beyond the news coverage, I never noticed a thing because that’s not where things were happening. It was out in the suburbs because that’s where most of the Muslims live. Suburbs of Paris aren’t like the northwest Chicago suburbs or living in Mequon. They are the tough neighborhoods because that’s where the immigrants can afford to live. I took the train out to the airport through some troubled areas as I was leaving and I saw three French policemen roughing up a young Arab, which was the entire extent of my contact with the unrest during my stay.
The 18th Arrondissement also has plenty of rough edges, including the red light district. There are some picturesque places in the village-like setting that was home to Monet, Picasso and Van Gogh, but this is ancient history to what much of the 18th is today. I’ve stayed in the district a couple of times and I don’t recommend it as a home base, although a visit to Sacre Coeur and the Place du Tertre are pretty much a mandatory stop on a Paris visit. Would it surprise me to learn that Muslim prayers are taking place on some back streets? No. Does that represent increasing influence of Islam on French public policy? No.
The other thing that Islamophobes want you to believe is that all Muslims are alike; that they share a common worldview of detest for western ways and Christians. It’s not true. They have their over-the-top fanatics, just as we do.
Thanks to past French colonial adventures, there are a lot of Algerians in France and another large segment of Islamic people in France originate from Morocco. Muslims make up about 10 percent of the French population. While the unrest in recent years has clearly involved Muslims, it is not really about religion. It’s about economic opportunity and the lack of it. French young people feel it and the situation for ethnic Muslims is even more challenging.
There are some interesting things to know before you buy into the cursory, biased discussion of the situation being peddled by conservative mouthpieces in their Mosque of Notre Dame fairy tale. Pew research polling conducted around the time of the unrest in the middle of the decade showed that French Muslims even top the general publics in the United States and France in favorable ratings of Christians. (The favorable ratings were 91% of French Muslims vs. 88% of Americans and 87% of the French taking that view). Moreover, when asked whether they consider themselves as a national citizen first or as a Muslim first, French Muslims split relatively evenly (42% vs. 46%) on the issue. This is not only remarkably different from Muslims elsewhere in Europe (fully 81% of British Muslims self-identify with their religion, rather than their nationality, for example.) It is also remarkably close to the responses given by Americans when asked whether they identify first as national citizens or as Christians (48% vs. 42%).
Interesting, huh? Maybe Pat Robertson and the right wing conservatives passing around fictional “news” and a Photoshopped picture of Notre Dame decked out as a mosque are missing out on something that has been occurring in spite of people like them. But why let facts get in the way of a good story? Stay tuned for more September 11 Anniversary and fear-mongering election season “news” ahead from the usual outlets. And expect more e-mails from the same people who breathlessly informed you via past e-mails that Obama was sworn into office on the Koran instead of the Bible. NEWSFLASH: The November election is not about mosques and imposing Sharia law.