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Friday, 25 September 2009

Racism in France - one man's experiences

It's hard to overlook a piece* written in Thursday's issue of the national French daily, Le Monde, by the journalist Mustapha Kessous.

It's another reminder as to just how racism persists here in France.

And of course it couldn't be more timely in light of the recent remarks made by the interior minister, Brice Hortefeux at the ruling centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) party's summer conference at Seignosse in southwestern France at the beginning of the month.

Hortefeux was captured on video saying in the presence of Amine Benalia-Brouch, a young party activist of Algerian origin, that he (Benalia-Brouch), "Doesn't match the prototype. We always need one. It's when there are lots of them that there are problems."and the reaction there has been to them.

Many viewed the comment as a racial slur, but others shrugged it off and tried to explain it as part of the minister's "sense of humour".

Kessous of course begins his piece with a reference to that incident, describing how he first met Hortefeux for an interview in April 2008 when he was still the immigration minister.

"I had never met him before," he writes.

"We waited at his ministry and when Brice Hortefeux arrived, he shook my hand, smiled and said 'Do you have your papers?"

Kessous outlines some of the difficulties he has had even in his job as a journalist for such an illustrious newspaper simply because he is "of Arab origin with a slightly darker complexion and a Moslem."

He writes how he thought that his status as a journalist at one of the country's most respected newspapers would somehow shield him from encountering racism.

He was wrong.

When he covered the Tour de France in July 2008, one spectator refused to talk to him preferring instead to be interviewed by one of his colleagues, who later admitted that an employee for the organisers had also rung him to ask whether Kessous was his chauffeur.

Kessous tells of the time when he wanted to interview the director of a psychiatric hospital, and how he easily got an appointment with her when he introduced himself over the 'phone as Monsieur Kessous from Le Monde (dropping his first name).

"When I arrived, the director's secretary informed her that I was there," he writes.

"A woman on crutches passed in front of me and when I opened the door for her she looked at me without saying 'thank you' or 'hello'," he continues.

Then the woman, who was in fact the director with whom he had an interview, asked the secretary where the journalist was and received the reply that he was just behind her.

"'You have your press card? You have your identity card?'" was what Kessous was asked, reminding us that there had been no welcome yet.

Kessous writes of how he has had to put up with racism and insults from an early age.

"We were one of the few families of North African origin where we lived (in the centre of Lyon)," he says.

"In order to 'succeed' I requested to be sent to a catholic school, and there I went through hell being told to 'Go back to your country' from fellow pupils and teachers alike."

It was a racism that followed him through the education system to the time when he was taking a higher course at journalism school in 2007 and was faced by questions during his oral examination such as, "Are you Moslem" and "If you're a journalist at Le Monde, is it because they need to have an Arab on staff?"

Clearly those working in the field of education are just as prone to racism as the country's police force.

Who can forget the case of Abdeljalel El Haddioui, a 40-year-old police officer who in 2007 made it through to the final stages of a selection process for a higher grade and had to face questions from the board such as "Does your wife wear a headscarf?" and "Do you practise Ramadan?" or "Don't you find it strange that there are Arab ministers in the government?"

And apropos the police, Kessous ends his piece with an incident that occurred recently as he parked his scooter outside the building housing Le Monde and how he was approached by officers asking him what he was doing there and for proof that he was a journalist.

"I could recount any number of events like that," he writes.

"I'm described as being of foreign origin, a beur, rabble or riff-raff (racaille), an Islamist, a delinquent, a 'beurgeois' a child of immigrants...but never a Frenchman. In short, French."

*You can read the full article (in French) here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Forrest is the greatest =D

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