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© AFP / Mehdi Fedouach | Muslims walk past the French national flag hanging from a mosque's gate in Bordeaux during a day of national tribute to the 130 people killed in the November 13 Paris attacks.

Text by Sam BALL

Latest update : 2016-02-02

Are there too many Jews in France? How would you react if your daughter married a Muslim? These are some of the opinions sought by a poll on racism in France published Sunday that has caused as much of a stir for its questions as its answers.

Published in French weekly Le Journal Du Dimanche, the survey is billed as a “an investigation that’s out of the ordinary, in nature and in scope” – an 18-month study on French attitudes to racism, religion, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, specifically questioning Muslims and Jews as well as the general population.

At a time when France is still struggling to come to terms with the impact of two major terror attacks – on Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish grocery store in January last year and November’s shootings and suicide bombings across Paris – the results of the poll carried out by Ipsos and commissioned by the French Judaism Foundation paint a picture of prejudice, suspicion and division.

To the question “Do you think a racist reaction can be justified”, 30 percent said yes, some 91 percent of people said that Jews in France “are very insular” and 56 percent that they “have a lot of power”.

Nearly a quarter (23 percent) said they had witnessed violence or aggressive behaviour towards someone because of their religion, while 54 percent believe that immigration does not benefit France.

‘Have you ever been assaulted by a Muslim?

But it is the provocative line of questioning that has garnered the most attention from commentators.

Questions asking people if there are too many Jews in France (13 percent said yes, rising to 18 percent among Muslims) and how they would react if their daughter married a Muslim (56 percent said they would react “badly”) were blasted on social media for being unnecessarily inflammatory and divisive.

But the sternest criticism was sparked by a question that asked people if they have “ever personally encountered problems” such as being insulted or assaulted by a range of different religious and ethnic groups, including Roma, Muslims, Jews, people from the Maghreb and those from sub-Saharan Africa.

Angered Twitter users, including several French politicians from both the left and right, claimed that the question not only inappropriately conflates ethnicity with religion, but also asks people to make assumptions about the beliefs and origins of others.

“How can you publish such a poll? Being Muslim, Jewish or Catholic is not a “type of person”, it’s a belief!” tweeted, Gérald Darmanin, a lawmaker from the centre-right political party Les Républicains (formerly UMP).

Alexis Corbière, national secretary of the far-left Parti de Gauche political party called the survey “shameful”.

Another Twitter user asked: “How does that work? After being insulted / assaulted by someone, we ask for their religion?”

“I want to vomit,” said another.

Others went as far as to suggest that Ipsos and Le Journal du Dimanche may have broken French law, which bans collecting statistics on citizens’ ethnic and religious backgrounds.

“Dear Minister of Justice … could you take action immediately against @leJDD,” tweeted Nathalie Goulet, a French senator with the centrist UDI.

'Serious study'

Ariel Goldmann, president of the French Judaism Foundation, defended the poll, however, saying in an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche itself that it was a “serious study” that was intended to “raise the alarm”.

“It is a measure of the ills that plague us as French citizens,” he said. “It is addressed to all those that want to fight against prejudices.”

Goldmann admitted that, “we waited and even hesitated before making [the survey results] public”.

But recent news stories such as the stabbing of a Jewish teacher in Marseille and the subsequent appeal by the leader of the city’s Jewish community for Jews not to wear skullcaps in public to avoid being targeted prompted its release, he said.

"Instead of apportioning blame, we need to understand what is happening and this study shows that,” he told the newspaper.

Date created : 2016-02-01


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