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09/01/2004

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ali

Algeria was an integrated Department of France for nearly a century. Now France has the largest Muslim population in Europe, ~12%. Cous Cous Royale is a close second to Steak Au Frites, as the nation’s favorite food. The French attitude to the conquest of the second holiest state in Islam is in part because their country is a functional democracy.

I live among French speaking Muslims myself, and there was much appreciation of Chirac’s stand on Iraq. That they have come out to support France says a great deal. A recent pole in Egypt placed Chirac as the most admired leader (ahead of Nasarallah, Saddam, and Bin Laden). Having the Muslim population of France on feeling loyal to the Tricolor, is an incalculable benefit to French security.

The headscarf ban was supported by many elements in the French Muslim community. Algerians are a sophisticated bunch and many favor integration over the ghetto, many are also none to happy with the ultra-conservative Islamist minority.

The French are familiar with terrorism and in my experience exhibit a commendable sang froid when faced with it. The Algerian civil war was savage and spilled over into French civic life; the US experience in Vietnam was a trifle in comparison.

There is a strange idea in the US media that the French thought they were immune from attack because of their dissent from the war. The French are very aware that their country is far more vulnerable than the US, and the easiest target for the Jihadis in Europe.

When Bush talks about it being better to fight terrorism abroad than in the US, the French are understandably worried he means Marseilles. A few clumsy moves from the US and their fears may be confirmed.

ali

Currently the BBC's Assignment is running two part series 'France And The Arab World' on
http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/programmes/assignment.shtml

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