Muslims In France: How The Paris Attacks Could Backfire For ISIS

There are signs that the reaction to Friday's massacre may unite the country, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, in a more lasting way than the Charlie Hebdo attacks did in January.

A Muslim women in the Notre Dame cathedral during a memorial service for the victims of the Paris attacks on Nov. 15
A Muslim women in the Notre Dame cathedral during a memorial service for the victims of the Paris attacks on Nov. 15
Cécile Chambraud

PARIS â€" When she had to leave home Saturday morning, Sabah Zouaghi hesitated for a moment. Would the 22-year-old Muslim woman adjust the veil she normally wears to make it look less religious, or would she face the looks from Parisians the day after the deadly terror as herself? Despite memories of "dark looks and even being spit on" after January's Charlie Hebdo attacks, Zouaghi ultimately chose to wear the veil as she always does.

And she didn't regret it. "First thing, the bus driver smiled at me and said in a lively tone, "Bonjour, mademoiselle." I normally don't get such a warm welcome," she says.

Zouaghi comes from the western French city of Le Mans and is living in Paris to study English literature and civilization. The rest of the day did nothing to make her wish she hadn't made her morning decision. "Apart from a few exceptions, I've mostly seen kindly behavior," she says. "It was different from January. I hope that it will continue in the next days."

Others dread a return over the next few days of an air of suspicion, even aggressiveness. "The atmosphere is heavy, and people are scared of the future," says Abdelkader Ounissi, an imam in Bagnolet, near Paris. On Sunday morning, a young man close to him was stopped by a passerby as he was on his way to the gym. The man asked him to reveal the contents of his bag.

"Muslims are now doubly afraid," Ounissi says. "They're scared of being likened to terrorists and of being victims of attacks themselves, just like other French people."

Abdelkader Saïm, a 31-year-old biology teacher and one of the people in charge of the mosque in the northern town of Noyelles-Godault, describes "shocked" Muslims and an atmosphere of fear. "In the north, rumor has it that groups of skinheads are prepared to attack mosques or Muslims," he says. On Sunday, the Arabic classes that are usually held at the mosque were cancelled.

Praying in the Great Mosque of Paris â€" Photo: Bertrand Hauger

Genuine fear

In Tours, in western France, 30-year-old Mounya Sbaï quickly assessed the fear that overtook the parents of children attending the private kindergarten she opened in September, and she brought them together Sunday to discuss the security measures she would be putting in place.

"Muslims are concentrated here," she says. "It's a risk. I'm not sure all the children will be coming on Monday."

But behind these genuine fears, there's also hope that reactions this time around will recognize the stark distinction between terrorists on the one hand and Muslims on the other, that there'll be less stigmatization.

"We're worried, but I think that the Muslims are a bit calmer than in January," explains Hanan Ben Rhouma, editor in chief for a Muslim news website, Saphir News. "First of all, because there's a precedent and because people are better prepared psychologically about what can happen."

Farah Maiza, vice president of the interfaith association Coexister, also feels less aggressiveness, fewer distrustful looks than in January. "This time, it's the French, regardless of their beliefs, who were targeted, and not a symbol like Charlie Hebdo," she says.

They hope the absence of a controversial element in Friday's indiscriminate killings, such as the Charlie Hebdo caricatures of Muhammad, will help prevent potential aggression and backlash toward Muslims. "Compared to Jan. 7, there's a major difference," says Mounya Sbaï. "We don't think that people are going to liken us to terrorists as much.I think this islamophobic hysteria has partly gone away."

Hanan Ben Rhouma says Muslims feel the same way as other French citizens. "Everybody's concerned in this tragedy," she says. "ISIS will have a hard time dividing the French this time around."

Says Imam Abdelkader Ounissi, "It seems to me that through these challenges, worshippers identify more and more with France."

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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