Hollande very recently paid tribute to the habitually side-lined soldiers of the World Wars – the 100,000 Muslim fighters who died on behalf the allies. His move to pay his dues to the dead was promptly attacked by a member of the far right National Front, who labelled it as “a crude attempt at manipulation” – a response he finished up by reminding us all of the imminent threat of political Islam to the West. Despite the ulterior motives that one might wish to speculate as the President’s true reason for the visit – I have chosen to view it as an act of positivity, representative of those in French society with a genuine appreciation for those who gave their lives in the war and a symbolic act on behalf of the French who wish to express their openness and acceptance for all races and creeds that make up the nation’s fabric.
Both British and French soldiers heavily drew upon the young men they ruled over in the African and Indian colonies. The first monument dedicated to Muslim soldiers in France, Verdun, was erected by Chirac in 2006. Chirac was noted for his close relationships with Arab leaders and whilst the monument showed clear signs of progression, it severely highlighted the cultural hierarchical disparity that exists in France. Muslim soldiers were only fully acknowledged in 2006, which was 76 years after the Jewish, and 90 years after Christian fighters. Before this moment, the ‘colonial military’ was honoured by a tiny plinth dedicated to African soldiers. With over one million French troops, 71,000 were from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal and Madagascar.
After the invasion of the Transjordan by the United Kingdom, British commanders grouped together The Arab Legion in order to ‘defend the region from threats’. The UK then sourced, funded and supported hundreds more Arabs who had previously served in the Ottoman military to join the legion. During World War II, these Arab combatants were then funneled into Europe to continue their role as protectors of the UK. Europeans will forever be indebted to the soldiers who fought in the World Wars, but a repayment can begin by fully acknowledging and celebrating all those made to fight, equally.
Here is an excerpt from Hollande’s speech at the Paris mosque:
“France will never forget the price of spilt blood and it will guard in its memory the name of those who fought for our liberty, without distinction of origin or religion.
To the descents from these soldiers, wherever they may be, I will say to them – here is my gratitude.
To those who are in France, who have become French, completely French, I say to them also, how they can be proud of their country and of their parents and that they are conscious of the debt this country has towards them.
Now, the Muslim soldiers fallen for our country can be known by all and above all by their own children and grandchildren. It is a shame to address them in their death whilst looking towards the living. It is a call to respect yesterday’s dead, but also a call to respect the living, that oblige us to fight frankly against discrimination, inequality or even worse, racism – and to be uncompromising in the face of anti-Muslim acts and rhetoric.”
What are your thoughts? Is this much more than a symbolic act or a sign that France is beginning to openly acknowledge the debt it has to its colonies? Was the leader of the National Front correct in calling it manipulation?