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Exclusive to the Middle East online ... nice: a toxic Islamophobic cocktail.

The Bastille day events in Nice have changed the region, not for the better and possibly forever. The traditional firework celebrations to celebrate France's independence, were destroyed by a lorry ripping through the crowd of 14th July revellers as they made their way home. Tragically 86 people died, 300 more were injured, the majority of whom are still in hospital.

The French government and the local municipalities have reacted in an extreme way to this situation. Internationally, a 'lone wolf' without affiliations to any political group was blamed for the carnage. Locally, however, it is felt that the man responsible for this carnage was not "a mad-man" but a political terrorist linked to Daesh. The stature of the murderer has certainly grown in local folklore; if you talk to people in cafes, they look you in the eye and say knowingly: "but of course he was a Muslim, he was a terrorist; how can you think otherwise".

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Historically, France has had serious race issues, largely with its Maghrebian population but, even given that background, reaction to the events in Nice seem way over the top. In Antibes, a pleasant coastal town situated between Nice and Cannes, heavily armed military (sporting machine guns, along with a variety of other armaments) patrol the streets and beaches, followed by a variety of gun toting police. The locals perceive this presence as "reassuring," saying "they (the government) are now taking us (the Province--i.e. not Paris) and the terrorist threat seriously". So seriously that schoolchildren in the town returned to lessons on the 1st September under the watch of the army. Meanwhile, teachers have been issued with a portable panic buttons directly linked to the local police station "in case". Local gatherings and fireworks have been cancelled for the foreseeable future.

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Add to this the Burkini controversy and you have a toxic mix that could easily spiral out of control.

How can a liberal country such as France have become so narrow minded and intolerant? It is a retrograde step to deny a person the right to sport a Burkini on a beach, just as it would be to deny a woman the right to bear her breasts on that same beach; surely it must be a case of "live and let live".

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Where I currently reside, in Antibes--the only town, interestingly, on the coast where the Maire did not support the Burkini ban--there is a private pool, used only by residents of our small block of flats and accessible only with a key. Seemingly, one of my neighbours of Muslim origin chose to enter the pool fully covered to have a swim. Another outraged resident took it upon himself to throw her out of the pool in disgust. Sadly, the French neighbour recounting the story to me was delighted saying it "proved a point" and insisting we must "stand firm on our principles!"

Since the revolution of 1789 France has lauded the principles of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, I wonder which one my 'liberal' neighbour believes was being upheld when a lone woman swimmer was humiliated and ejected from her neighbourhood swimming pool?

I had previously thought of this person as being tolerant, intelligent and informed. I was appalled at her support of the ill advised act and told her so.

The United Nations has condemned burkini bans for "fuelling religious intolerance and the stigmatisation of Muslims in France" after the country's highest court ruled they were illegal. A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, welcomed the State Council's finding that prohibiting beachwear worn by some women to cover the face and body was a grave and illegal breach of fundamental freedoms.

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"We fully understand--and share--the grief and anger generated by the terrorist attacks carried out in France in recent months," he noted, adding that: "By stimulating polarisation between communities, these clothing bans have only succeeded in increasing tensions and, as a result, may actually undermine the effort to fight and prevent violent extremism."

Sadly the scars of the 14th July massacre in Nice will be extremely difficult to heal, especially for the friends and families of the victims, more than a third of whom were Muslim but this is a time for coming together, for healing, not political posturing.

Such a knee-jerk, political over reaction to events can only heighten the already existing tensions between local Muslims and the rest of the population. There are a variety of commemorative events in the pipeline (including the possibility of renaming The Promenade des Anglais--The Promenade des Anges (Promenade of Angels). It is to be hoped any such events can be dignified and not hijacked for mischief making or political propaganda (France has Presidential elections in 2017).

The whole area has become the victim of a toxic Islamophobic cocktail. Although the effects and the memory of the Nice Bastille Day massacre may never be entirely erased, it is to everyone's advantage to work towards eliminating the foul stain it has left on Nicoise society; for surely nothing and nobody can flourish and prosper in such a noxious and contaminated environment, except further hatred and murderous intent.

Rhona Wells reports from the Cote d'Azur
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Author:Wells, Rhona
Publication:The Middle East
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Sep 1, 2016
Words:869
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