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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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My Wife, My Boyfriend — And Grandkids: A Careful Coming Out For China's Gay Seniors

A series of interviews in Wuhan with aging gay men — all currently or formerly married to women — reveals a hidden story of how Chinese LGBTQ culture is gradually emerging from the shadows.

Image of two senior men playing chinese Checkers.

A friendly game of Checkers in Dongcheng, Beijing, China.

Wang Er

WUHAN — " What do you think of that guy sitting there, across from us? He's good looking."

" Then you should go and talk to him."

“ Too bad that I am old..."

Grandpa Shen was born in 1933. He says that for the past 40 years, he's been "repackaged," a Chinese expression for having come out as gay. Before his wife died when he was 50, Grandpa Shen says he was was a "standard" straight Chinese man. After serving in the army, he began working in a factory, and dated many women and evenutually got married.

"Becoming gay is nothing special, I found it very natural." Grandpa Shen says he discovered his homosexuality at the Martyrs' Square in Wuhan, a well-known gay men's gathering place.

✉️ You can receive our LGBTQ+ International roundup every week directly in your inbox. Subscribe here.

Wuhan used to have different such ways for LGBTQ+ to meet: newspaper columns, riversides, public toilets, bridges and baths to name but a few. With urbanization, many of these locations have disappeared. The transformation of Martyrs' Square into a park has gradually become a place frequented by middle-aged and older gay people in Wuhan, where they play cards and chat and make friends. There are also "comrades" (Chinese slang for gay) from outside the city who come to visit.

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