Sunday 21 September 2008

Intolerance and Xenophobia

As I stroll through my neighbourhood in the 11th arrondissment in Paris near to the cemetery at Pere Lachaise, I pass several moslem run shops, and restaurants around Menilmontant, as I wonder further I see a Jewish synagogue and a number of Jewish North African outlets finally in just 15 minutes I arrive at Belleville with its large Chinese population.

I feel blessed that I live large and, despite a number of high-profile cases, a tolerant cosmopolitan society, the very same thing could also be said of my home town of London.

Unfortunately this is not necessarily the case in many other parts of the world. Living in a melting pot like Paris we are somewhat cocooned from an outside world where ignorance and intolerance is rife. On a recent trip to China I found myself in the touristy town of Yangsuo. Along the main drag stalls sold trinkets and other souvenirs and among them were a number of hand painted t-shirt sellers. Mixed along with t-shirts of Mr Bean, David Beckham there were other western "heroes" portrayed such as Osama Bin Laden and Adolf Hitler (see photo).

A recent survey by the Pew organisation as reported in the International Herald Tribune shows the extent of anti-muslim and anti-Jewish sentiment around the world. In Asia "half or more of the Japanese, Indians, Chinese and South Koreans surveyed said they had negative impressions of Muslims. " While negative atitudes towards jews ranged from 32% in India to 55% in China. In Europe "46 percent of the Spanish held negative opinions of Jews, as did 36 percent of Poles and 34 percent of Russians."

Overcoming fear and xenophobia is going to be a challenge and it's a fight that starts on our doorstep.

Thursday 18 September 2008

Journees du Patrimoine Paris

Statue of Female and Sky
Originally uploaded by malias.

This weekend (20th and 21st September 2008) are the journees du patrimoine (National Heritage days) a Europe wide event that offers the chance to visit many national monuments, museums, churches, gardens and important buildings free of charge. In addition a great number of interesting places that are not normally open to the public allow free access on these days only.

If you are in Paris this weekend then you'll have a couple of problems. Firstly you'll be spoilt for choice. The number of interesting places taking part is truly daunting. So chose well. Things that caught my eye include the 19th Century underground hydraulics of the Eiffel Tower and the Elysee Palace and some of the embassies (Russian, Swiss and Polish for example) that are only open on these days.

Second problem is the queues, a friend told me that last year she queued 4 hours to get into one building. This may be exceptional but be aware that you might spend much of these splendid days standing in line.

Monday 8 September 2008

Ramadan in Paris

Paris has a large muslim population. The exact number is not known because the French census does not ask about religion but it is estimated that in France between 5 - 10% are muslim.

A great many of the immigrants came in the 1960's and 70's to fill jobs at a time of a shortage of labour. But the muslin community in Paris goes back further. The Great Mosque in Paris' 5th arrondissement was built between 1922 and 1926 as thanks to the muslims who fought for France at the battle of Verdun in 1916 in which 28,000 muslim soldiers (mostly Algeriens and Morrocans) were killed.

At the moment there is the fast of ramadan and it's actually a good time to stroll through one of the muslin communitities in Paris. For example walk around the beween Metro Menilmontant and Belleville in the afternoon and it's very lively with many stalls on the streets selling North African ramadan special food for the end of the fast such as dates, ricotta style cheese, halva and much more. Many of the local restaurants do special "ramadan menus" which you can enjoy even if you're not muslim.