‘It’s so unfair’: life on the streets of the French town branded as ‘lost to Islam’

The HairCoiffure salon on Rue Jean Jaurès, a brief stroll from Trappes station, is providing a cut-and-blow-dry for girls at €18 (£15.50) and €15 for males, a banal commentary at the centre of the newest battle in France’s poisonous debate over non secular extremism.

Hairdressers and their purchasers hit the headlines after native trainer Didier Lemaire claimed there have been no combined salons in Trappes – suggesting the town was in the stranglehold of Islamic radicalisation. He additionally claimed schoolchildren had been banned from singing and a few girls barred from cafes. Lemaire has since been positioned beneath police safety following alleged loss of life threats.

The accusations got here on the eve French MPs voted on a controversial invoice to fight Islamist extremism, put ahead after the brutal homicide of trainer Samuel Paty final October.

But the claims have sparked anger and indignation from locals identified as Trappists – the most well-known of whom are the actor Omar Sy, footballer Nicolas Anelka and common French comic Jamel Debbouze. In an interview with the Observer, town mayor Ali Rabbeh hit again.

Guardian graphic

“We are being stigmatised,” he mentioned. “Many of the individuals spreading lies, exaggerations and unjust accusations about Trappes don’t know what occurs right here. They have by no means set foot in the town.

“Yes, there are problems with drugs, delinquency and radicalisation. I have never denied that. But we’re working to resolve them and these sort of attacks don’t help. And of course our children sing: they sing in nursery, primary and secondary schools. We even have school choirs.”

Trappes, in the western suburbs of Paris close to Versailles, holds a grim nationwide document after greater than 60 native younger individuals left to be part of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, making it a comfortable goal on this political and ideological battle.

It can be in the Yvelines division the place Paty was beheaded final October. So when philosophy professor Lemaire, 55, claimed the town was beneath the yoke of Salafism and “definitively lost” to the republic, he had a captive viewers. “There are no more mixed hairdressers, north African women can no longer go to cafés, there’s pressure on women over the veil … Trappes is no longer in France,” Lemaire informed French TV. He claimed locals had been “living in fear” and laicité – France’s cherished separation of faith and state – was defeated. (Lemaire later admitted his feedback on hairdressers had been “approximative” however doubled down on the relaxation).

Rabbeh, 36, the son of Moroccan migrants, responded angrily, accusing Lemaire and the media who gave him airtime of stoking division and making life much more difficult for locals. “Young people taking the baccalauréat this year tell me they’re worried sick about how they’re going to get places at good colleges and universities when they say they’re from Trappes,” Rabbeh mentioned. “It’s so unfair on them. It’s as if every single time we get our head out of water, someone pushes us back under.” Like Lemaire, Rabbeh has additionally been given police safety.

A statue of socialist chief Jean Jaures exterior the town corridor in Trappes. Photograph: Kim Willsher/The Observer

On a cold current Friday, the snow-dusted streets of Trappes had been calm. On one aspect of town, a cluster of males drank exterior a bar close to the station, on the different worshippers clutching prayer mats streamed from the native mosque. Yards from the Lycée La Plaine de Neauphle the place Lemaire taught for 20 years, the window of one other hairdressers, Saint Lou Coiffure, was clearly marked “Masculin – Feminin”. The town boasts a contemporary music and dance college, with subsidised courses for low-income households; the Trappes journal carries photos of December’s “Magic of Christmas” illuminations.

Inside the town corridor, Rabbeh was fuming: “We know there is a problem with Islamism here but we have made progress. We are working to resolve these problems and someone comes along and attacks us with lies, exaggerations and unjust accusations. Sometimes I despair.”

He added: “Would a mayor with a different name be faced with this? Trappes is part of the French republic. It’s absolutely untrue to suggest otherwise.”

It could be straightforward to dismiss Trappes as yet one more rundown, problem-riddled Paris suburb had been it not for the undeniable fact that it has benefited from an unlimited city renewal programme. Most of its dilapidated 1970s high-rise tower blocks have been demolished and the council estates renovated. More combined non-public and public housing with flower beds and kids’s playgrounds are step by step changing low-rent housing. The streets are clear, native amenities modernised and Lemaire’s personal lycée boasts the finest ends in the division. Unemployment is operating at 5.6% of the lively inhabitants – half of whom are beneath 30 – in contrast with 6.7% for Paris.

The image isn’t all rosy, although: greater than 1 / 4 of Trappists dwell beneath the poverty line and Rabbeh says the Islamic radicalisation drawback is “complex” and fuelled by a way that the republic has deserted native communities like Trappes.

When a TV crew made an unannounced go to locals crowded spherical to defend their town. Jacques Michelet who runs the Trappes basketball membership rejected the suggestion it had been deserted to Islamic extremism: “We’ve seen all ideologies, we’ve seen extremists and not just Islamists … but it’s a marginal phenomenon in Trappes.”

Father Etienne Guillet, the native Catholic priest, contested Lemaire’s suggestion that non-Muslim inhabitants have fled. His congregation boasts up to 700 individuals from 45 totally different nations. “When there are tensions, I meet with the local imams and we sort things out,” mentioned Guillet. “It’s not easy for everyone to live together and there ’s always the temptation for communities to withdraw, but what I see in this town is things going well.”

Rabbeh mentioned final week he was stepping again from the row, posting a quote by French socialist chief Jean Jaurès, whose statue stands exterior Trappes town corridor, on social media. It reads: “Courage is to seek the truth and tell it; it is not to be subjected to the law of the triumphant lie that passes, and not to echo, from our soul, mouth and hands to foolish applause and fanatical booing.”

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