Faith, Politics Clash Over Muslim-run Women’s Gym In France

Britain and Ireland tied 9-9 with Continental Europe at Seve Trophy in France

Credit: Reuters/Christian Hartmann By John Irish and Emmanuel Jarry PARIS | Thu Oct 3, 2013 8:21am EDT PARIS (Reuters) – France’s military will cut about 7,500 jobs next year, a defense ministry source said on Thursday, detailing government belt-tightening plans that the far-right hopes will deliver it votes at municipal elections in 2014. The cuts come as tensions rise within Socialist President Francois Hollande’s 17-month-old coalition, whose poll ratings have fallen to 23 percent due to dissatisfaction about the economy and jobs. The defense ministry said in April that 34,000 jobs would likely be cut over the coming six years, but its overall budget would remain largely static, steering clear of drastic spending cuts after military officials and lawmakers said that would reduce France’s ability to counter global security threats. “Given the six year objectives, (the cut) should be around 7,000 to 7,500 military and civilian personnel in 2014,” the source said on condition of anonymity, ahead of a news conference by Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. A handful of bases will be closed or restructured, including an 800-man regiment in the town of Orange in the Vaucluse department, where support for the anti-immigrant, anti-European Union National Front is strong, the source said. Marion Marechal-Le Pen, a National Front member of parliament for Vaucluse, said the cuts would hurt France’s defenses and local economies in areas like hers. “I can only worry about the immediate economic impact in a region that has already been heavily hit by unemployment and economic difficulties,” she said, reacting to media reports about the cuts. “The governments of the right and the left have preferred to sell off our military know-how and lose our diplomatic independence by making small short-term savings. That will cost France’s sovereignty dearly in the coming years,” she said. France’s military employs some 228,000 personnel today. A further 165,000 individuals are employed by the defence industry, not including sub-contractors.

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. SECULARISM Ellabou, wearing a fashionable pink and black headscarf, said their problems began in June after Raoult realized the couple planning to open the gym on a commercial strip on the periphery of the suburb of 14,000 residents were Muslim. “When he saw my (bearded) husband he had a shock. ‘You’ve rented a place where?’ he asked us,” Ellabou recalled. “‘You’re going to put a veiled woman at the reception desk too?'” “In the end he made us understand it wasn’t going to be possible to open,” she said, adding Raoult later objected to the gym’s lack of parking and steps leading to the emergency exit. The issue of secularism arose when a Muslim website said the gym had a prayer room in the back.

The Scottish duo was three down after eight holes, but birdied Nos. 16 and 17. Fernandez-Castano missed the winning putt from 10 feet on the last hole. Joost Luiten and Gregory Bourdy birdied their last three holes to beat Jamie Donaldson and Marc Warren 2 and 1. Chris Wood and Scott Jamieson combined for six birdies to defeat Thorbjorn Olesen and Francesco Molinari 2 and 1. Jimenez and Manassero edged Casey and Tommy Fleetwood by a hole to give Continental Europe an 8-6 lead. In the afternoon, Donaldson and Warren spurred a comeback for Britain and Ireland by defeating Thomas Bjorn and Mikko Ilonen 2 and 1. Then Gallacher and Lawrie capitalized on a poor start from Colsaerts and Fernandez-Castano to go 3 up after five holes. The Scottish pair won 2 and 1 to tie 8-8. Luiten and Bourdy are participating for the first time in the Seve Trophy and have won all four matches they’ve played. The rookies beat Wood and Jamieson by two holes. Wood eagled from a bunker shot on No.