Thursday, January 20, 2005

French Muslims and the Holocaust

French Muslims aren't too interested in learning about the Holocaust:

"Filthy Jew!" schoolchildren howl at a classmate. "Jews only want money and power," they tell their teachers. "Death to the Jews" graffiti appear on school walls outside Paris and other French cities.

These are not scenes from the wartime Nazi occupation or a fictional France where the far-right has taken control. Outright anti-Semitism like this is a fact of life these days in the poor suburbs where much of France's Muslim minority lives.

After a slow response when this "new anti-Semitism" flared four years ago, France has made fighting prejudice against Jews into a national priority. Holocaust education in state schools now starts with pupils as young as nine years old.

But even the best plans for teaching about the Nazi massacre of Jews can fall short when confronted with an Islamic identity spreading among a minority of France's five million Muslims.

"It works with those who are ready to listen," said Iannis Roder, a history teacher in the tough northern suburbs of Paris. "But it doesn't work with those who won't listen. They have their minds made up."

Roder is one of several history teachers who sounded an alarm in 2002 about a wave of anti-Semitism among Muslim pupils, much of it a reaction to the uprising by Palestinians against Israeli control of their lands.

Their outspoken book "The Lost Territories of the Republic" opened France's eyes to classrooms where some Muslim pupils openly denounced Jews, praised Hitler and refused to listen to any non-Muslim teacher talking about the history of Islam.

Such tension has prompted Jewish pupils in these areas to switch to private Jewish or even Catholic schools.

"Muslim pupils react less now to what happens in the Middle East," Roder said. "But the situation hasn't really changed. As soon as you talk about Jews in some historical event, there are (anti-Semitic) comments."

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