Veiled references in the press, as French restaurant ejects women for wearing hijabs

Crude and bigoted, yes. Ignorant, yes. And it violated the very secular principles he embraced when a French restaurateur threw out two diners just for wearing hijabs.

But c'mon -- a "vicious attack"? That's a bit much, even for the Daily Mail

Other mainstream reports were less inflammatory, but they committed another sin: skipping over the obvious religious aspect of attire associated with a particular faith. Yep, a classic religion ghost.

The dustup began Saturday when the two women sat down at Le Cenacle restaurant. They were given the usual glasses of water, but then a man -- either the chef or the owner or both, the articles don’t agree -- ordered them to leave.

Here's how the Mail puts it:

Two women wearing headscarves were thrown out of a Paris restaurant after being threatened by its self-confessed racist owner who said ‘Terrorists are Muslims, and all Muslims are terrorists.’
The disturbing scenes at Le Cenacle follow a series of incidents in which grandmothers and mothers have been thrown off public beaches in France for wearing Islamic looking clothing.
Now a criminal enquiry has been launched into Saturday’s vicious attack at the restaurant in Tremblay-en-France, a north-east suburb of the French capital.

As you can see by the video above, one of the women recorded the confrontation. She captured hateful remarks like "Madam, terrorists are Muslims and all Muslims are terrorists," "I don’t want people like you in my place," and "It seems like you don’t understand. Now get out!"

So it was clearly hostile and -- although I seldom use this word -- Islamophobic. (However, the UK-based Independent pushed the limits a bit more in saying the women "appear visibly shocked by the exchange." You can hardly see their faces at all.) The man saw women in hijabs and thought "terrorists." But "vicious attack," "disturbing scenes" -- that’s language for columns and editorials, not news stories.

For the same reason, I wouldn't use the equally judgmental "Islamophobic" in a news article. But they did in the Daily Sabah, a Turkish newspaper:

France has been experiencing the most Islamophobic periods in its history. Debates over the issue have intensified following pictures circulated online in the past week showing a woman surrounded by four policemen being forced to remove her long-sleeved top on a beach in Nice.
Nice, which is on high alert following a deadly Daesh terrorist attack during Bastille Day celebrations in July, is one of the places in southern France where a burkini ban is now in place.

At least the Sabah provided the context of terrorism, as you saw. The Nice reference was about Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who drove a truck into a crowd. Although Daesh, another name for ISIS, wasn't directly connected with the man, he was believed to be a sympathizer.

The restaurateur has apologized for his insults to the women, the Independent says. "I have a friend who died in the Bataclan attacks and wrongly mixed everything up," he said, mentioning the Paris concert hall where terrorists struck in November. "I do not truly believe the things I said.”

Today, someone -- the Associated Press in this case -- got around to mentioning religion. Of course, it did so only after France's interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, convened a meeting of Muslim leaders:

The daylong conference bringing together Muslim leaders, civil society and others is the latest step in creating an "Islam of France" that respects French secular values. Muslims must be "committed to a total defense of the Republic in the face of terrorism, in the face of Salafism," Cazeneuve told the paper, adding French values must "transcend all others."
In France, the interior minister is charged with maintaining good relations with religious denominations.

But the article gives no explanation of Salafism, which Cazeneuve seemed to equate with terrorism.  In fact, as Foreign Affairs and the Los Angeles Times have said, Salafism is a puritanical movement that only recently has sprouted more violent factions. A reporter who knew this could have asked Cazeneuve if he meant to tar all Salafis with the same brush.

Finally, all of the above articles dance around a key concept of the French mindset: laïcité, the separation of religion from government and perhaps even public discourse. As I said in my Friday post, the burkini debate revolved around the concept, yet few mainstream media even said the word or gave much background on it.

If anything, the references for the restaurant incident are even more oblique. "I'm living in a laic country and this is my opinion," the Sabah quotes the restauranteur saying. Other translations use "secular country." None seem to catch the hint about the laïcité ideology, or the way it's lately been applied in France against any manifestation of Islam.

Now, it doesn't help that one of the Muslim diners herself accused the restaurateur of being "racist," rather being a religious bigot. But it remains that she and her friend were being judged not by their skin color but by their religious clothing.  And it wasn't cosmeticians who were asked to the meeting in France today. It was Muslim religious leaders.

Thumb: Le Cenacle restaurant, via Google Earth.

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