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Terror in Europe

To Be A French Muslim Right Now

In Montmartre, overlooking Paris.
In Montmartre, overlooking Paris.
Gaëlle Dupont and Cécile Chambraud

PARIS — The terror attack against Charlie Hebdo has deeply shaken Muslims in France, and their dread is twofold. They fear not only for their own safety but also that the shooting might make it even more difficult for them to take their place in the national community, that it will fuel the rising Islamophobia that they've been denouncing.

"As a Muslim, I'm very affected by what happened," 47-year-old Abderrahim Aabid says at a gathering outside the town hall in Aulnay-sous-Bois for a moment of silence. "What they did has nothing to do with Islam. That's just barbaric."

Other Muslims who answered calls from religious associations and town hall officials to stand in unity against terror use similarly strong words to describe the terrorists, who were finally killed by police Friday: "thugs," "maniacs," "miles away from our religion."

They were neither readers nor admirers of Charlie Hebdo and its cartoonists. Still, "If you don’t agree with a drawing, you must reply with a pen. In this country, we are free," says Abderrahim Aabid.

"We've known the slaughtered cartoonists since we were kids," says Karim, a forty-something business owner. "Nobody was forced to buy Charlie. Plus, they were quite harsh on the Pope too, weren't they?"

Patriot, above all

Karim is Muslim, though non-practicing, but he says French, above all. "I've never felt so French in my life. It's the first time ever that I'm singing "La Marseillaise,"" the French national anthem. Outraged, he wants to stand together with the rest of the population. "The only reaction possible is to stay united so that the situation doesn't degenerate," he explains.

Many foresee and fear difficult days and weeks ahead, and Djamel predicts that Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front party will gain from it. Says Aabid, "We're six million Muslims, and there's maybe 600 nut cases. Should we all pay for them?"

But not everybody is so certain about whether they should participate in the wave of support for the victims. "I hesitated before going to the demonstration on Wednesday," says 35-year-old Foued A. in Marseille. "I wondered whether I belonged there. I didn't want to face all the looks. This attack will make life even harder for Muslims in France. The discrimination that we endure every day will only worsen."

Many Muslims feel that terrorism and Islam are increasingly being conflated, though many intellectuals are doing their best to stop this trend. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Muslim French "officials" condemned the massacre, and the various Muslim associations and institutions gathered in the Paris Grande Mosquée, calling on imams across the country to condemn "violence and terrorism" in their Friday prayers. They are urging believers to join Sunday's commemorative gatherings.

"We're shocked by what happened," says Same Debah, president of an association that fights against Islamophobia in France. "The Muslim community feels a heavier weight on its shoulders now."

Said Branine, founder of news website Oumma.com, says Muslims are unanimous in their condemnation "but also extremely worried that the stigmatization will be proportional to the impact of the attacks."

Hanan Ben Rhouma, editor of Saphirnews.com, says, "The predominant feeling is one of shock and disgust. But immediately after comes the anxiety, the fear of a violent backlash."

At least four mosques, or buildings located near one, have been targeted in attacks since the dramatic events of Wednesday morning — in the western city of Le Mans, in Port-la-Nouvelle in the south, in Villefranche-sur-Saône near Lyon and in Poitiers. "Muslims are an integral part of this show of emotion and coming together," Branine says. "They belong there. But will they be accepted?"

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How Vulnerable Are The Russians In Crimea?

Ukraine has stepped up attacks on the occupied Crimean peninsula, and Russia is doing all within its power to deny how vulnerable it has become.

Photograph of the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters with smoke rising above it after a Ukrainian missile strike.

September 22, 2023, Sevastopol, Crimea, Russia: Smoke rises over the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters after a Ukrainian missile strike.

Kyrylo Danylchenko

This article was updated Sept. 26, 2023 at 6:00 p.m.

Russian authorities are making a concerted effort to downplay and even deny the recent missile strikes in Russia-occupied Crimea.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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Media coverage in Russia of these events has been intentionally subdued, with top military spokesperson Igor Konashenkov offering no response to an attack on Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, or the alleged downing last week of Russian Su-24 aircraft by Ukrainian Air Defense.

The response from this and other strikes on the Crimean peninsula and surrounding waters of the Black Sea has alternated between complete silence and propagating falsehoods. One notable example of the latter was the claim that the Russian headquarters building of the Black Sea fleet that was hit Friday was empty and that the multiple explosions were mere routine training exercises.

Ukraine claimed on Monday that the attack killed Admiral Viktor Sokolov, the commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. "After the strike on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, 34 officers died, including the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Another 105 occupiers were wounded. The headquarters building cannot be restored," the Ukrainian special forces said via Telegram.

But Sokolov was seen on state television on Tuesday, just one day after Ukraine claimed he'd been killed. The Russian Defense Ministry released footage of the admiral partaking in a video conference with top admirals and chiefs, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, though there was no verification of the date of the event.

Moscow has been similarly obtuse following other reports of missiles strikes this month on Crimea. Russian authorities have declared that all missiles have been intercepted by a submarine and a structure called "VDK Minsk", which itself was severely damaged following a Ukrainian airstrike on Sept. 13. The Russians likewise dismissed reports of a fire at the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, attributing it to a mundane explosion caused by swamp gas.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refrained from commenting on the military situation in Crimea and elsewhere, continuing to repeat that everything is “proceeding as planned.”

Why is Crimea such a touchy topic? And why is it proving to be so hard to defend?

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