French Muslims gathered at Paris's ornate Grand Mosque on Friday to voice their fury over the acts of Islamist "assassins" in the wake of the beheading of a French hostage in Algeria.
“My husband was killed by these assassins. These are criminals who assassinated my husband,” yelled a woman in a beige headscarf.
Another woman added, “My nephew was killed. These are assassins, not Algerians.”
The women were part of a gathering of hundreds of demonstrators who gathered outside Paris’s biggest mosque on Friday to condemn the brutal slaying of a French hostage by an Islamist State-linked group in Algeria.
Hervé Gourdel, a 55-year-old French mountaineering guide, was kidnapped while he was hiking in Algeria and beheaded by members of Jund al-Khalifa, a jihadist group that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group.
Friday’s protest in Paris mirrored similar demonstrations by Muslims in other European cities denouncing IS extremists and rallying around the Twitter hashtag #NotInMyName on social media sites.
But the tales of loss the group of women outside the Paris Grand Mosque were recounting were not at the hands of IS militants. They had drawn a link between the recent slayings and their own experiences back in Algeria more than a decade ago.
As a people, Algerians are no stranger to Islamist violence. A ferocious civil war between Islamist militants and state security forces in the 1990s killed an estimated 200,000 people, plunged numerous families into mourning and left a populace particularly sensitized to the brutality of extremism.
When the call came to gather outside the Paris Grand Mosque on Friday to condemn Gourdel’s beheading, it was embraced by French Muslims of Algerian descent, who form the bulk of France’s estimated 5 million Muslims.
‘Stop the barbarism and terrorism’
The high turnout came despite a debate over the pressure France’s Muslim community has been facing to publicly denounce Islamist militancy.
On Thursday, conservative daily Le Figaro ran an editorial calling on Muslims to “take to the streets to denounce these barbarians”.
The newspaper was blasted for “ineptitude” by its own journalists when it published an online poll (it was taken down just hours later) asking readers if there had been “sufficient condemnation by French Muslims of the assassination of Hervé Gourdel” (82 percent of voters said there hadn’t).
“This question effectively insinuates that the entire Muslim community is somehow complicit or even complacent when it comes to terrorism,” Le Figaro’s editorial oversight committee (Société des Journalistes, SDJ) said in a statement.
The poll sparked a debate on social media sites, with some French Muslims wondering if Christians were called upon to denounce the Klu Klux Klan.
But that controversy was cast aside on Friday with demonstrators insisting they had gathered to protest the hijacking of their religion by extremists.
"I just wanted to denounce this barbarism and I feel good about doing it,” said a 23-year-old man, who declined to provide his name.
For Maghnia, a Paris-based activist, her presence at the demonstration was aimed at the media’s portrayal of her religion.
“I want to say that Islam is a religion of peace,” she explained. “The media does not portray Islam this way, they only want to see Islamists. I am here to say we are the majority. We want to live peacefully. We won’t tolerate the rhetoric of extremism and we are here.”
Standing on the steps of the mosque after the Friday noon prayers, Dalil Boubakeur, head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, mirrored the sentiments of the protesters when he stressed that Gourdel’s killers had no claim to Islam.
"Islam is a religion of peace," said Boubakeur. “We, the Muslims of France, are shocked by this horrible assassination and we say stop the barbarism and terrorism.”
Addressing the gathering outside the mosque, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo celebrated the diversity and tolerance of the French capital.
“We have gathered together in all our diversity to send a message that we are not afraid,” said Hidalgo. “We will not yield to fear, because we are standing here together."
France is observing three days of national mourning until Sunday, with flags being flown at half mast across the country.
Hundreds gathered in Paris to denounce the latest violence by Islamic State group and other allied jihadist groups. (Bahar Makooi/France 24)
Waving the Algerian flag, women outside the Paris Grand Mosque condemn the killing of Hervé Gourdel by jihadists in Algeria. (Tahar Hani/France 24)
Hafsia Abdi is proud to be Muslim, adding that it’s wrong to blame the religion for the recent violence. “We are also victims,” she says. (Bahar Makooi/ France 24)
Maghnia (left) and Ghania Oukaka came to the demonstration to say, “Islam is a religion of peace.” (Bahar Makooi/France 24)
A slogan at the anti-extremism demonstration in Paris. (Leela Jacinto/France 24)
Date created : 2014-09-26