A sense of belonging
Ghania Kelifi - 21/11/2008
Zoubir Tederyet, moderator and founding member of the network “les Dérouilleurs” created in 2004, asserts his French citizenship and advocates success through employment. All the members of the net’s site are Arab Muslims. Certainly, politics are banned, no racist, sexist or anti-Semitic opinions can be posted, and no religious proselytizing can be carried out, however religion is still quite present.
The messages often begin with expressions drawn from the Koran. A list of enterprises that accept veiled women can also be found, as well as conferences on Islamic finance or Halal shops. The members relay information on discriminations against Muslims or controversies, such as the scandal of the Prophet’s caricatures.
Apparently anyone can adhere, though not everyone would feel at ease. During the monthly meeting that we attended in a Parisian café, any participant would gladly recall that other communities have their own networks and meeting places. The Dérouilleurs are proud to say that their solidarity net has allowed some to find work and has even favoured romantic encounters during some evenings where flirting gradually started to take over.
Some Parisian magazines presented the network as the evidence of the success of “visible” minorities, in this case young people. Nevertheless, the Dérouilleurs network is strongly labelled as Muslim and didn’t undertake any initiative to build a bridge between its members and those of other communities. However, they refute the accusation of withdrawal on the grounds of the discrimination they suffer. Their discourse is politically correct, though it fails to dissimulate the communitarian temptation of those youngsters of immigrant origins who can’t manage to be simply French.
Yakout, a tiny lively woman, is not so subtle, and does not in any way wish to be considered French. In her own world “the French, the non-Muslims” are like those next door neighbours, that one greets but doesn’t invite to come inside. She doesn’t meet with others out of her community, she never travelled except for her holidays in Algeria, doesn’t have a driving licence nor any property in France. She built a house some years ago in Béni Amrane (70 km from the capital), her birthplace in Algeria. A recent retiree, she was a Nursery Assistant and kept two children at home. We met Yakout in the premises of a charitable association, where she gives a hand in preparing the free meals for the needy, served throughout the month of Ramadan.
“I like this month, tells us Yakout, “It’s the only period where I feel a sense of belonging”. Some women, mainly of Algerian origin, get going “out of Muslim charity” around heaps of vegetables and meat. Scarves on their head and long dresses, some loaded with jewellery, they bestow a festive village-like atmosphere to the situation, and almost make you forget that you’re actually in Paris. The talk is all about “over there”, where women are fulfilled, Muslims are exemplary, fruits and vegetables taste delicious. Yet all of them come back to Paris from their towns once vacations are over…When Canal d’Algérie, the Algerian immigration TV channel, rings out the call of the Maghreb that closes the day of fasting, Yakout withdraws to say her prayers. Her daughter Hanane takes over. Aged 37, Hanane is divorced and lives at her mother’s place. In answer to our surprise, Yakout retorts, “Why should she leave? We’re not roumis (Christians), why should a young woman live alone and free. God helping, Hanane will find a good husband this time and she will have her family. I don’t want my daughter to live like a French woman and do things that God condemns. A divorce is not the end of the world”. We remind her that today many women live alone in Algeria and in other Arab countries. She eludes the subject, and judging from her aggressive tone of voice, it must have been raised before. So she quickly passes on to other issues and starts an endless discussion on the habits of Ramadan “amongst us immigrants”, in a rather overplayed tone, as if acting in front of a camera.
“Thank God, now Muslims in France can practise their faith more easily. When I arrived in this country, in Montpellier at the end of the 60’s, I found my husband - may God have mercy on him and forgive his sins – in an awful state. He slept in a cave on cardboards and drank all the money he earned. I had to roll up my sleeves, me, a young peasant lost in the middle of a strange land. I started up in a sardine cannery where a neighbour who came from Oran took me. It was really hard and I didn’t understand any French, I didn’t know anything but I couldn’t keep on living in a cave.
The neighbourhood where we lived was for the harkis (Algerian soldiers loyal to the French) and in front, there was a plot of villas for the repatriated pied-noirs (French persons from Algeria). I was so scared when my husband told me that our neighbours were harkis, that the French had brought with them after the independence. But in the end, I made friends with some of them, and I recognise that they really helped me out. The rest is between them and God”.
Yakout speaks a mix of Arabic and French, Arabising some French words and Frenchifying some Arab terms. She never followed classes of neither languages. The fragments of Koran that she uses for prayer are the remainder of her youth to which she mixes bits of sermons from the TV preachers of Arab satellite channels.
The other volunteer women unconditionally share Yakout’s opinions. French for the most part, they live like strangers convinced, they say, that they’ll never be considered as citizens in their own right “in this country” where “they don’t like Arabs”. No one votes for French elections but all of them voted for Bouteflika, the current Algerian President. They appreciate life in France but would be happier, according to them, if they were “less despised” and especially if they could erase the risk of “Frenchifying” their children. But apparently, they almost all failed in moulding their sons and daughters in the habits of their country of origin.
Like Yakout, they dream of marrying their daughters “with men that come from our place”. For their sons, there’s always the hope that their daughter-in-law will “convert to Islam”. They all have plenty of stories of French women who converted after marrying a Muslim. In any case, “for a boy, it’s not as bad, he’s the head of the family and he can decide for his children”.
These women bustling about their pots could have illustrated the recent work by Didiel Lapeyronnie “Ghetto urbain”. During a recent presentation of his journalistic work, the author explained that “a ghetto comes to existence when the population organises itself to follow its own living habits and education, with specific family logics and economies”. Just like Yakout and her friends.
This article is part of a series of features on the radicalisation in Europe and the Mediterranean. It was drafted within the framework of the DARMED project, realised by Cospe (Co-operation for the Development of Emerging Countries) and supported by the EU .
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