French Muslims Fear Consequences Of Toulouse Killings

Mohammed Melah invoked Islamic jihad in the killings of three French soldiers, and three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in Toulouse. Muslims in France, who comprise some 8% of the country's population, are worried about a major backlas

A halal market in Marseille (Kahala)
A halal market in Marseille (Kahala)
Stéphanie Le Bars and Elise Vincent

PARIS - Since they were revealed earlier this week, both the identity and motives of the presumed perpetrator of the Montauban and Toulouse killings have shaken France's Muslim and North African communities. Their main fears? "Exploitation" and "stigmatization," after police reported that Mohammed Merah revealed Islamic jihad motives behind his killing of three French soldiers and a teacher and three students at a Jewish school in southern France.

Since Wednesday, representatives of many Muslim institutions have spoken out against the risks of what the French call an "amalgame," when people jump to conclusions and judge a whole group by the actions of just one member. "Muslims, 99% of whom are pacifists…, and these tiny groups on the fringe of society who are determined to commit atrocities' must not be confused, declared Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grande Mosquée de Paris, the third largest mosque in Europe.

Representatives of all Jewish and Muslim institutions were invited to the Elysee Palace on Wednesday March 21 where the president of the French Council for the Muslim Faith Mohammed Moussaoui stated that "this individual – Mr Merah – can under no circumstances justify his acts by the Muslim faith."

Muslim organizations have also offered their views on the situation. The Action Group Against Islamophobia fears that the current presidential campaign may "sink under the hysteria of islamophobia." On, one of the main information portals about the Muslim community, there is an editorial entitled "Non à la terreur, non à l'Islamalgame," melding the words Islam and amalgame. The author argues that Mohammed Merah "only represents himself and a handful of dangerous fanatics."

Some people, such as the Imam of Bordeaux Tarek Obrou believe, however, that Merah's violent tendencies could have been anticipated. "We know all of the violent profiles in our mosques: the faithful who border on psychotic, delinquents who turn to extreme religious fanaticism, those who come from broken homes, who separate themselves from society, who shut themselves off from their religious community," he says. "Unfortunately, the discourse of some religious people places Muslims in a position of conflict relative to the rest of society."

Anouar Kbibech, president of the Group of French Muslims, believes that we must "remember that, although one young person chooses terrorism, thousands choose citizenship." However, "community leaders must take on the role of preventing and supervising certain practices," he stresses.

North African connection

As well as affecting religious communities, the revelation of Merah's identity has touched a large part of France's well-established North African society. The editor of the multicultural magazine ‘Respect Mag" Marc Cheb Sun says that he has received a "flood" of letters. "They are both emotional and defensive at the same time," he explains.

Abdelkrim Branine, host of a popular call-in radio show on Beur FM in the evenings said, "When we found out Merah's name and his Algerian descent, we said ‘We're screwed!""

A certain panic is spreading, says Mesbah Miloud, coordinator of several residences for migrant workers. "Lots of them fear that they will become targets. And yet, the residences don't have enough security measures, even though we've been asking for them for years," he says.

The President of the Association of Migrant Workers in France, Driss-El Kherchi, says there's also a sense of guilt amongst these communities. "We know that we shouldn't feel like this, that we don't share anything with this person, but we still fear that this will present an opportunity for some parties to come down hard on us."

Read more from Le Monde in French.

Photo - Kahala

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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