French Politics update

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Mon Sep 22 17:41:12 MDT 2003

Al Jazeera (Monday 22 September 2003) reports that Jean-Pierre Raffarin's
policy is that religious symbols such as Islamic veils have no place in
French state schools. French politicians are determined not to see
schoolgirls covering their hair in the classroom regardless of their
beliefs. Schools "should not be the place where people display their
religious affiliations", Raffarin claimed in an interview on the M6 channel
on Sunday. While proclaiming himself in favour of everyone being free to
practise their religion, he was opposed to "ostentatious expression of
religious conviction".

Al Jazeera reports that Lhaj Thami Breze, president of the Union of French
Islamic Organisations, said: "There is a French government commission
ongoing into this question and I think people should wait for the result of
that. But we do believe it would be unfair to ban the headscarf." He added:
"The interior minister, Nicolas Sarkosy, has given us guarantees this will
not happen. But maybe there will be some sort of compromise - we may agree
to some sort of hat which covers the head." And Mr Breze said there was no
contradiction between France's ardent secularism and Islam. There are five
million Muslims out of 58 million inhabitants  in France. "We respect
secularism and sincerely believe it respects Islam and all religions. Our
argument is only with secular extremists who want to ban the veil. People
often talk of religious extremists but there are secular extremists as

Complete article at:

In a Le Monde head article entitled ""Waves of Chaos", Alain Gresh quotes
Tom DeLay, leader of the Republican majority in the House of
Representatives, an evangelist Christian and member of the Christian Zionist
movement, as saying "In the Arab world before 9/11, they thought the US was
a paper tiger. We had a president [Bill Clinton] whose retaliation to
terrorism was throwing a few bombs in the desert. They laughed at that. And
now they see this real stuff, and real power. And they respect power" (1).
Gresh continues: "To those who were worried that a military adventure in
Iraq would worsen terrorism, Daniel Pipes, a self-styled "specialist in the
Muslim soul" and unconditional defender of the policies of Ariel Sharon,
replied on 8 April: "The precise opposite is more likely to happen: the war
in Iraq will lead to a reduction in terrorism. I expect that Muslim anger
will likewise diminish after an allied victory in Iraq. This means a US
victory in Iraq will protect more that it harms." Pipes, who is close to the
present US administration, had in 1990 publicly expressed fears of a
"massive immigration of brown-skinned peoples cooking strange food and
maintaining different standards of hygiene" (2). "These US ideologues live
in a dream world. Reality has no hold on them, and they are prepared to lie
to back up their fantasies."

Gresh also reports on the state of play in Afghanistan: "in one week last
month, from 13 to 20 August, about 100 people were killed: in Helmand
province in the south a bomb exploded on a bus; in the neighbouring province
of Oruzgan there was a battle between two commanders each loyal to the
central government; there were confrontations in the provinces of Khost and
Paktika with government soldiers battling hundreds of Taliban fighters, and

Gresh cites a report by the American organisation Human Rights Watch,
Killing You Is A Very Easy Thing For Us, (July 2003) which refers to
"evidence of government involvement or complicity in abuses in virtually
every district in the southeast [of Afghanistan]".

As regards the economics of regime change, Gresh notes that "during the
current financial year ending in September 2003 the US devoted almost $10bn
to the efforts of its 9,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, but only $600m to
economic aid. Alarmed at the prospect of their efforts halting, the US
administration is preparing to raise this figure to $1bn for the coming
year, and send 200 advisers to aid the Afghan government." Gresh asks,  "But
will these gestures be seen as anything but colonialism?"

Gresh claims ""the occupation is costing the US $3.9bn a month". He says,
"This month Poland has taken command of the region which includes the holy
Shia cities of Najaf and Kerbala. Side by side with Spaniards and small
contingents from Honduras and El Salvador they will have to maintain order,
negotiate with Shia dignitaries, and settle tribal disputes. They do have a
secret weapon: they have brought speeches by their president Aleksander
Kwasniewski, in Polish, English and Arabic, presumably to endear them to
local hearts and minds. From Afghanistan to Iraq, a wave of chaos is running
across that better world announced by Donald Rumsfeld. The US is fast
getting bogged down in these countries, and seems incapable of imposing a
just peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So what is the way forward?"

He concludes that "The only way to peace is through the UN. Even the Bush
administration seems to realise that now, but it wants both to have UN cover
and to keep political and military control in Iraq. It needs to go further
than that and give the UN the mandate to hand real power to the Iraqi
people. For their sake, it is urgent that we take that route."

Complete article at:

Meanwhile, Expatica reports that "sections of a French medieval cloister
that found their way during World War II to the luxury residence of leading
Nazi Hermann Goering are to be returned to France", according to the foreign
ministry. "A statement said 400 marble fragments on show in a Nuremberg
museum in south Germany would be returned next week as part of the
restitution of cultural assets taken by German occupiers during World War
II. The exhibit weighing more than 30 tonnes will be restored to Berdoues
Monastery in the Gers region of southwestern France following agreement
reached by a Franco-German commission on restitution of cultural assets, it

Expatica also reports that "International banks were set Monday to announce
loans of one billion euros as part of a new French state-led rescue for the
engineering group Alstom, maker of high-speed trains, the Queen Mary 2 ocean
liner and power stations."  "Alstom's 32 creditor banks met Saturday to hear
details of a plan under which the French state would pump EUR 800 million
(USD 910 million) into the group while they would be asked to inject another
EUR 1 billion, according to a Banca di Roma official at the meeting. The
package's total value was put at EUR 3.2 billion, compared with EUR 2.8
billion in a proposal the commission rejected last week under which the
state would have taken a 31.5-percent stake in the company."


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