France’s Proximity to the Arab World

A mosque in the 5th arrondissement

Americans are not very familiar with Arabs and Muslims, on the whole, and tend to regard them as foreign and possibly threatening. But that is not the case in France. For starters, there are lots of “Arabs” in France; ten percent of the population is Muslim, quite a few more than are Protestant (2%). Most of the picturesque little grocery shops like the one above are run by “Arabs” (actually in Paris they are usually North African Berbers, who do speak Arabic). They are open much longer hours than when they were run by French people, in my experience.

Detail of the Institut de Monde Arabe

Although there are many French Muslims, they are not yet completely Frenchified and are not seen as 100% French by large segments of the rest of the population. I would say they are in much the same situation in France that, for example, Italian-Americans were in the U.S. in the 1930s and 1940s.

As a result of the large Muslim(ish) population, French people do not find the Arab world as odd and threatening as Americans do. For one thing they are a lot closer to it and have often visited it. Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria are part of the family history of many French families; others just go there on holiday.

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