Geopolitics

Was A French Military Chaplain In Afghanistan A Raging Islamophobe?

Upon returning from Afghanistan, French Army Chaplain Julien de Pommerol accused the military of bending to Islamic pressures and "babouche-licking." Some accuse him of Islamophobia, others applaud his candor.

French forces and Afghan National Army soldiers inaugurate a new bridge in Kapisa (isafmedia)
French forces and Afghan National Army soldiers inaugurate a new bridge in Kapisa (isafmedia)
Nathalie Guibert and Stéphanie Le Bars

Every year, the chief of the French army addresses the young officers graduating from the prestigious Saint-Cyr military academy. But this year, there was a break with tradition. General Elrick Irastroza did not just give the standard talk on rules of command: he reminded his audience of Article 1 of the Constitution, which establishes France's prized secularism, or "laïcité", and freedom of belief.

His comments on the Constitution were hardly a casual choice. He was making reference to the poisonous issue of Benoit Julien de Pommerol, a controversial military chaplain stationed last year in Afghanistan.

Last summer, after a tour of duty in Afghanistan, Pommerol wrote an end-of-mission report denouncing the French army's "deference" to and "almost servile fear" of Islam. He went on to accuse the army of "babouche-licking." Less than a year later, the chaplain is adamant: "It's not charitable to keep scandals under wraps."

In his report, Julien cites several examples of what he sees as deviances: female soldiers wearing the veil, building mosques "with French taxpayers' money," and preparing an end-of-Ramadan feast for Afghans.

Strikes chord with some soldiers

The "Pommerol report" should have remained a secret. Instead, it was published on the Internet, sparking extreme reactions among growing tensions towards Islam in France. Many Catholic soldiers rejected the report. For others, however, the chaplain's words seem to have struck a cord.

"I don't think we can speak of Islamophobia, but if this report was exploited, that means it fits with national sensitivities that can be referred to as anti-Islamic," admits Luc Ravel, a military bishop. He believes the chaplain's report to be "troubling in form," "violent, excessive and obsessive." But he refuses to judge its meaning, and questions the nature of the reported facts. "Were these misinterpreted acts of respect or orders of submission?"

"There are no other instructions to be given other than the texts that guarantee secularism," said the chief of the French armed forces. "Then it's a matter courtesy, common sense and education to respect other people's religion." The army admitted a "mistake," regarding the order given to a female soldier to cover her head, but denied Pommerol's other accusations.

French Foreign Minister Gerard Longuet called the report "exaggerated or vague," saying the French army has been trying to "earn acceptance by respecting local customs." That a soldier was asked to cover her head was "in no way a general rule of behavior (…) but a specific decision made in a specific operational context." The context, in this case, was a joint mission with the Afghan army.

In September, Julien will become the military chaplain in the French Antilles. "This is not a punishment," according to Longuet's entourage.

Photo credit - Isafmedia

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Society

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

-Analysis-

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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