Roma Immigrants Have Set France On Edge


Embassy website, without singling out any group, carries a full-page advisory about pickpockets that begins, bluntly, by warning: “The first rule of thumb is don’t have anything more in your wallet than you are willing to lose.” It advises, “Don’t chase down whoever you think stole your wallet. Remember if they work in groups, your wallet was most likely handed off before you realized it was gone. Young Roma children attend a preschool class in September in the abjectly poor Roma settlement of Ponorata in Romania. (Sean Gallup/Getty) The police take measures to try to fight the petty thefts. When security cameras in the Metro spot a suspect group, the loudspeakers warn that pickpockets are aboard. Its a refrain almost as familiar as mind the gap. Last April, Paris Police Prefect Bernard Boucault announced a tourist security plan that stationed more police officers near famous Parisian landmarks, and the cops claimed they were effective. The number of complaints filed by pickpocket victims in the Musee du Louvre, which used to average 120 a day, reportedly was down to 15 per day by May. As recently as August, Interior Minister Valls proudly claimed that Paris is a secure city. Yet, between August 15 and 18, at the height of the summer holidays, more than 50 people were arrested for purse snatching. Sometimes it appears the police take action without making arrests, since they know minors are difficult to prosecute and the adults in their lives most likely put them up to the crime in the first place. One example: last August, a middle-aged American woman living in a comfortable neighborhood in sight of the Arc de Triomphe went to an outdoor ATM machine to make a withdrawal when suddenly two teenage boys closed in on her. She had already punched in her code. While one roughed her up, the other pressed every button on the keypad. She was terrified and confused. But what happened next surprised her still more. Two grown men appeared as if they had been mere bystanders. While one of the boys ran away, the men grabbed the other one and shook him.

Faith, politics clash over Muslim-run women’s gym in France

The gym, which opened last month in the up-market Paris suburb of Le Raincy, is owned by a French Muslim couple who say their religion and appearance – she wears a headscarf and he a long beard – are the reason the mayor wants to shut them down. The squabble has erupted five months before conservative mayor Eric Raoult, who says safety is his only concern, seeks re-election in nationwide municipal polls in which the anti-immigrant National Front is expected to gain ground. It reflects France’s uneasy relations with its five million-strong Muslim minority, Europe’s largest, and tensions over an official policy of secularism Muslims say is used against them. “‘I don’t want any veiled women in my town,’ he told us,” said gym manager Nadia El Gendouli, who sports a piercing in her nose and plunging neckline. “‘You’re a fundamentalist!’ he told me.” At the town hall on Thursday, Raoult denied the allegation that he did not want women wearing Muslim veils in Le Raincy. “These are fundamentalists, they lie!” he shouted. “They consider because they’re Muslims they’re victims and they consider they have more rights,” he said. Local security officials said on Friday the gym met all safety standards. That meant it could stay open, but it did not guarantee it would now be out of the political spotlight. The Orty Gym – Orty means “my sisters” in Arabic – is a 200 square-meter space with pink work-out equipment, freshly-painted fuchsia and orange walls and a large room where classes such as Hip Hop, Zumba, Stretching and Step are offered. Some of the 70 women exercising in the room cover their hair with a headscarf but many do not as all races and religions are welcome, said Lynda Ellabou, who owns the gym with her husband.