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Sunday, April 6, 2008

Muslim Graves Attacked For Second Time This Year in France

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It has happened again in France, at their own equivalent of Arlington cemetery, for the second time in a year Muslim graves have been attacked and defaced. This section of the Notre Dame de Lorette cemetery was attacked last June also.

This section of the cemetery dedicated only in June 2006, read: (and ask, why did it take so long for these buried Muslims to have more than a small pillar in their honor?)

France marks Muslim dead of WWI
An Algerian veteran pictured in front of the new memorial to France's Muslim WWI dead.
The new memorial is France's first dedicated to Muslim war dead
French President Jacques Chirac has marked 90 years since the Battle of Verdun by unveiling a monument to Muslims who fell in the key WWI battle.

The memorial is the first to Muslims who died in 300 days of clashes over the strategically located French town and in other World War I battles.

Mr Chirac hailed the French army in Verdun as "France in its diversity".

He also spoke of friendship with Germany at the ceremony, which was attended by the German ambassador.

'All walks of life'

France erected monuments in the 1930s to Jewish and Christian soldiers among the 300,000 who died at Verdun in 1916.

But until now Muslim soldiers have been honoured only by a small pillar dedicated to Africans who fought in the French army, and 592 graves in the Muslim section of a war cemetery in the town of Douaumont near the battlefields.

Jacques Chirac speaks to veterans on 90th anniversary of Battle of Verdun
The Battle of Verdun lasted for 300 days

At the inauguration of the new white-walled, Moorish style memorial, Mr Chirac remembered Verdun as a moment when "the French nation came together and went forth to the end".

"People of all walks of life, of all beliefs, of all religions, are at Verdun," he said.

Some 72,000 soldiers from France's colonies - including Morocco, Senegal, Algeria, Tunisia and Madagascar - died fighting under the French flag during World War I, he said.

The ceremony was the high point of commemorations marking the 90th anniversary of the 10-month battle against German forces at Verdun.


The French president also spoke of reconciliation with Germany: "Today, we can say it with confidence that friendship permits: 'Never again, this!'."

Jacques Chirac walks among the graves at Douaumont first world war cemetery
72,000 soldiers from France's colonies died in WWI, Chirac said

The ceremony comes at a time when the place of Muslims in modern France is hotly debated.

Controversy over a 2004 ban on school pupils wearing headscarves continues and suburban rioting in 2005 was seen largely as an expression of discontent among the descendents of north-African immigrants.

Dalil Boubakeur, the head of the French Muslim Council, said he hoped the new memorial would help close old wounds.

"I hope [this provides] an impulse for the future for a closer integration of all of France's Muslim communities which are also ... completely French communities, thanks in no small part to the blood they have shed," he said.


Muslim war graves defaced in France

The Notre Dame cemetery contains the graves of thousands of soldiers who died in 1915 [EPA]

Up to 148 Muslim graves in France's World War I cemetery have been desecrated in an incident that has drawn strong condemnation from the country's president.
A pig's head was hung from one of the several tombstones targeted by vandals who also wrote slogans insulting France's Muslim justice minister, officials said on Sunday.

Describing Saturday's incident, Jean-Pierre Valensi, the state prosecutor for Arras, said "the slogans directly target Islam and they gravely insult Rachida Dati, the justice minister", who is the daughter of North African immigrants.

The Notre Dame de Lorette cemetery, in the northern town of Arras, commemorates the victims of a series of long and bloody battles for control of northern France at the start of World War I.
Muslim quarter
Inaugurated in 1925, the cemetery houses the remains of some 40,000 soldiers, half of them in named graves.
The Muslim quarter includes 576 tombs, grouped together and turned towards Mecca.
Saturday's attack targeted this section of the cemetery.

Jean-Marie Bockel, the secretary of state for veteran's affairs, said the government will review security at Verdun, 26 June (AKI) - France's president Jacques Chirac, has unveiled a monument to the 28,000 Muslims who died fighting for France in the bloody World War I battle of Verdun.

Around 100 French gendarmes were at the cemetery on Sunday to gather evidence.


Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, expressed "profound outrage" at the "sordid" attack and vowed that those responsible would be punished.

Francois Fillon, the prime minister, also voiced "outrage" at the attack.

"This is horrific, and for the 90th anniversary of the end of the 1914-1918 war. This is worse than the last time, it is abominable," Jean-Paul Doue, one of 3,800 volunteer honorary guards at the cemetery, said.

David Bardiaux, the curator of the cemetery's museum, said: "It is inadmissible, unbelievable. The cemetery is not locked, so it doesn't take courage to come and do this."

Muslim community leaders were allowed to visit the scene on Sunday.


"This is shameful to see. When there is no more respect, it is a disaster," Bahssine Saaidi, the regional head of the French Council for the Muslim Religion, said.

"We need to work together ... to stop this problem of racism."

Incidentally, the cemetery attack happened almost exactly a year after neo-Nazi vandals scrawled swastikas on 52 of Muslim graves at the same site.

Two youths aged 18 and 21 were sentenced to a year in jail over that incident.

A 16-year-old youth received a six-week jail sentence.


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