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French are 'more tolerant' despite big rise in racist acts

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French are 'more tolerant' despite big rise in racist acts
A copy of a burned Koran after an Islamophobic attack in Corsica last year. Photo: AFP
14:50 CEST+02:00
An important annual survey that measures levels of racism in France has revealed the French are becoming more tolerant despite a steep rise in the number of racist incidents.

The survey, carried out by the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH), revealed the French are more tolerant compared to previous years.

The annual survey by the rights commission linked to the government is carried out to get an idea of levels of racism, xenophobia and intolerance in the country.

After the studies of 2014 and 2015 suggested levels of racism were on the rise, the 2016 survey has shown the trend reversing, despite the tensions caused by two devastating terror attacks in France.

"The tensions around identity issues, which have risen in recent years, have greatly improved", concluded the authors of the report.

"The conflicts within French society are dwindling and racist behavior and remarks are deemed increasingly intolerable."

The conclusion of the survey, which is based on the results of 69 questions, was that tolerance was increasing although there is still perhaps a long way to go.

For example one in two French people said they were “not at all” racist”, compared to 43 percent the previous year.

The results of the survey surprised researchers who thought the two terror attacks in 2015, the record score for the far right National Front party in elections, and the resulting tensions from the elections would be reflected in a further rise in racist views.

Researches expected to see their survey reveal a further rise in intolerance and xenophobia but “it appears that French society refuses to make an amalgam between terrorism and Islam and promotes the acceptance of others.”

Indeed the researchers believe the attacks, whilst heightening tensions, also reaffirmed among for the French the need to stay united.

“Faced with extreme difficulty of fighting against terrorism, there is a real need for social cohesion in the Republic. It needed to unite,” said the commission's Christine Lazerges.

“The Republican marches that took place across France after the Charlie Hebdo and Kosher store attacks are proof of this,” she added.

The moments of national union actually helped to promote tolerance the authors said.

However it would be inaccurate to suggest all is well in France given the huge rise in the number of racist, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic attacks and threats last year.

In one year the Ministry of Interior recorded a rise of 22.4 percent in the number of acts characterized as racist, anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim.

In all there were 2,034 incidents – the highest number since the surveys began.  A total of 429 anti-Muslim threats or hate crimes were reported last year, up from 133 in 2014

The rise was mainly due to the number of anti-Islam acts rocketing. Last year a Muslim prayer hall was set alight in Corsica and other incidents saw pig's heads thrown at mosques and even the Moroccan embassy.

While the number of anti-Semitic incidents dropped slightly the survey revealed that the Jewish community in France, which represents just 1 percent of the population, was the victim of 40 percent of the racist attacks.

"Several gauges indicate an ebb in the anti-Semitism that marked France in 2015," said the commission, referring to the terror attack on a Paris Jewish supermarket in January 2015 that killed four people.

"It is as if the violence against Jews prompted compassion and solidarity with them in public opinion," it noted.

Researchers say it is too early to tell whether the rise in tolerance will continue throughout 2016.

The fact a Muslim prayer hall was burned to the ground at the weekend in what appears to be an act of arson suggests there is plenty of work to be done and tensions will remain high.

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