Explosive Politics On January 14, 2004, President Jacques Chirac declared Aissa Dermouche the new prefect -- senior state representative -- of the Jura region. Dermouche, of Algerian heritage, was head of Audencia, a leading French business school; he is the country's only Muslim prefect. Three days after Dermouche was named prefect, a bomb destroyed his car. A week later, another explosion damaged the front door and glass facade of Audencia, and on January 29, a third detonation caused minor damage to a letterbox at the school attended by one of Dermouche's sons. All of the attacks were launched at a time, early in the morning, when they would be unlikely to actually hurt anyone, and seem to be largely symbolic in intent. Many feel the incident emphasizes the scale of tensions between French Muslims and non-Muslims, even as Dermouche has been held up as an example of French integration.
Photo: Olivier Morin/ Getty Images
In the Market In his offices at Saint Denis, near Paris, businessman Tawfiq Mathlouthi shows off a 1.5-liter bottle of his Mecca Cola on November 8, 2002. As Muslims observed the holy month of Ramadan, Mathlouthi -- a director of Radio Mediterranean -- launched his soft drink with slogans such as "Don't drink foolishly, Drink with Commitment" and "Be engaged, drink Mecca Cola." Ten percent of Mecca Cola profits will be dedicated to the charity, Palestinian Aid for Children. The product has been extremely successful among Muslims in Europe, who are increasingly opposed to purchasing American products due to what is perceived as an unjust U.S. foreign policy.
Photo: John Schults/ Reuters
Slaughterhouse 5,000 Every year in Paris, around 100,000 sheep are ritually slaughtered for the three-day celebration of the Muslim festival, Aid el Kebir -- which announces the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca. The slaughter denotes the prophet Abraham, who was ready to sacrifice his son in obedience to his God. Here, at the Port d'Evry, tents cover a corral that can accommodate 5,000 sheep. According to a 1997 decree, all ritual animal sacrifices in France must be performed in a proper slaughtering facility. At this one, customers are assigned a number and wait some two hours or more for their sheep. In the future, the facility intends to include a functional video system so that waiting customers may follow the ritual from beginning to end outside.
Photo: Quidu Noel/ Gamma Presse
Training Imams Since 1990, students at the European Institute of Human Sciences (IESH) in Nievre, France have been studying to become imams -- recognized Islamic leaders or religious teachers. Three quarters of the school's 170 students are French; the rest come from other parts of Europe. All take a two-year Arabic course, which may be followed by a four-year study of Islamic jurisprudence, Koranic studies, history, and preaching. IESH was founded by Zuhair Mahmoud -- a former Iraqi nuclear scientist, who underwent a religious conversion while in France and became an exile. Mahmoud says the school helps train leaders for the Muslims of France and Europe. "Leaders from elsewhere cannot do it because they do not understand the language or the customs and habits that prevail here. They have to come from inside," he told the BBC. Currently, 95 percent of French imams come from abroad, where their training is often unregulated.
Photo: Othoniel Patrick/ Gamma Presse
Intolerance A Muslim woman examines her relative's vandalized tombstone in the Muslim section of a Strasbourg cemetery. More than 50 tombstones were desecrated with swastikas and neo-Nazi slogans at the Meinau cemetery on Monday, June 14, 2004. Similar graffiti was also sprayed in the village of Wittersdorf, to the south. In May, swastikas had been sprayed on graves in a Christian cemetery in Alsace, eastern France, as well as a nearby Jewish cemetery.
Photo: Vincent Kessler/ Reuters
Where to Pray In Strasbourg, eastern France, an apartment has been converted into a small mosque for the observation of the holy month of Ramadan. There are more than 4 million Muslims in France and, according to a 2003 estimate by the BBC, around 1,600 mosques and Muslim prayer places in the country -- most of which are less than 300 square feet. Yet Xavier Ternisien, a French journalist and Islamic affairs expert, suggests that mosques are moving away from leased spaces and are instead being built on Muslim-owned property. In January of 2003, French officials called for the revision of a 1905 law to allow the government to subsidize mosques. The recently makeshift nature of many French mosques, Ternisien notes, has contributed to a conception of Islam as an underground religion that produces radicals.
Photo: Thomas Wirth-Pig/ Getty Images
Suburban Radicals A view of Venissieux, a suburb of Lyon, in central France. Beset by urban violence, Venissieux is thought -- like many French suburbs -- to be a breeding ground for Islamic radicals. In July 2004, a study by the French domestic intelligence agency suggested that the suburbs of many French cities are becoming ethnic ghettoes. The report was leaked to the newspaper, LE MONDE, and found that at least half of the 630 suburbs under examination have become separate, ethnic communities -- generally populated by poor North African immigrants. The report underscores the alienation felt by many French Muslims, as well as the concern that this alienation may encourage young Muslims to embrace a more radical kind of Islam.
Photo: Patrick Gardin/ AP
New School In the wake of the new French law banning overt religious symbols from public schools, some Muslims have turned to private Catholic schools. Pictured here is a student of College St. Mauront, wearing a hijab. Seventy-five percent of this school's 114 students are Muslim, and about one quarter of the Muslim girls wear headscarves. Kamel Kabtane, head of the Rhone-Alpes Muslim council, recently stated that Muslim groups have approached Roman Catholic schools to ask if girls expelled from state schools may attend their classes. "We were well received," he said. Meanwhile, an official of the Catholic Church's school system has insisted that their schools will not be a "place of refuge."
Photo: Gregoire Elodie/ Gamma Presse