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Muslim Artwork Sparks French Tensions

Published: 05/10/2012 04:18:35 PM GMT
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PARIS - An Islamic artwork on a pavement has been taken down from a Toulouse Museum after sparking tensions among Muslim youth who said it allowed people to walk on Qur'an verses.“This was essentially one big misunderstand (more)

PARIS - An Islamic artwork on a pavement has been taken down from a Toulouse Museum after sparking tensions among Muslim youth who said it allowed people to walk on Qur'an verses.

“This was essentially one big misunderstanding,” Hassan Idmiloud, vice president of the Toulouse Muslim Association, told FRANCE 24 on Friday, October 5.

Moroccan Mounir Fatmi's artwork, called Technologia, involves projecting video images on the pavement of the Pont-Neuf bridge, which crosses the Garonne in Toulouse.

It shows turning circles, calligraphy verses from the Noble Qur'an and sayings (Hadith) of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him).

The piece was supposed to be open over the next two weekends at the month-long “Printemps de Septembre” art festival in Toulouse.

Cordons were planned to be put in place to insure the projections could not be walked on, but accidentally started on Tuesday night without installing any.

Police said that some 60-80 people assembled on the bridge to stop people walking on the images.

Police sent in a riot squad, but a local imam and representatives of the Muslim community went to the scene and successfully appealed for calm.

The projection was switched off after meetings with the mayor.

“Young people saw the projections and thought they were a deliberate insult,” said Idmilud.

“We stepped in to explain that this beautiful work of art was actually an homage to Islam, that it was a genuine mistake to project it on Wednesday before a cordon was in place. I think, and hope, that the message got through.”

The Toulouse Muslim Association official added that these tensions could only be solved by dialogue.

“But we shouldn't pin all this only on religion,” Idmilud said.

“Many of these young people of North African origin are going through an identity crisis; they face high unemployment and communication with them is not what it should be.

“If anything, this incident has demonstrated that we need to increase our dialogue with these young people,” he added.


Despite the intervention of the city's Muslim leaders, Mounir Fatmi, who describes himself as “a Moroccan of Muslim origin”, decided to cancel the projection of his work on the Pont Neuf.

“The conditions which I agreed to for my work were not met,” he said in a statement.

“The result was that my art was not seen properly and above all, it was misunderstood. I'd rather the projection was suspended.”

Fatmi added that the piece is owned by the Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Qatar.

“When it was shown there for the first time, just a few kilometres from Saudi Arabia, no one was shocked,” he said.

“That people were shocked in Toulouse is astonishing. I just don't get it.”

Another of Fatmi's works, projected onto the facade of the city's landmark Hotel Dieu, will continue as part of the scheduled festival.

France is home to a Muslim minority of six million, Europe's largest.

Tensions have already been high following the killing of least seven people, including three Muslim soldiers and three Jewish children, a gunman in the southern city of Toulouse last March.

The gunman, a French Muslim of Algerian origin, was killed Thursday as he scrambled out of a ground-floor window during a gun battle with French police.

As the murderer has gone, Muslims said they will have to live with the consequences.

French Muslims have been complaining of growing restrictions on their religious freedoms.

In 2004, France banned Muslims from wearing hijab, an obligatory code of dress, in public places. Several European countries followed the French example.

France has also outlawed the wearing of face-veil in public.

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy has adopted a series of measures to restrict Muslim freedoms in an effort to win support of far-right voters.

Under Sarkozy, the French government a national debate on the role of Islam in French society.

The French government also outlawed Muslim street prayers, a sight far-right leader Marine Le Pen likened to the Nazi occupation.

Muslims have also complained of restrictions on building mosques to perform their daily prayers.

Reproduced with permission from