Many French Muslims Find Lives Of Integration, Not Separation : Parallels Despite a minority suspected of holding extremist views, the vast majority of French Muslims say they feel fully integrated into society. France has the largest number of Muslims in Western Europe.

Many French Muslims Find Lives Of Integration, Not Separation

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now, young Anisa might be weighing whether to leave France, but many other French Muslims are successfully making their way in French society, and our Eleanor Beardsley spoke to a few of them.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Excited children call out in a Sunday afternoon Arabic class at the grand mosque in the Paris suburb of Argenteuil. The mosque counts thousands of worshipers and is one of the largest in western Europe.

ABOUBAKR SABRI: Speaking French.

BEARDSLEY: Aboubakr Sabri is a part-time imam here. During the week, he runs a successful elevator construction firm in Paris. Sabri came to France from Morocco in 1980 to do his doctoral studies at the Sorbonne. He stayed and raised three daughters. He says Muslims can live perfectly well in French secular society.

SABRI: (Through interpreter) We've succeeded in France, and we are totally integrated. Our kids attend the public schools. We love France. On Friday, we say prayers for France because if France is in good shape, so are we. We are all in the same boat.

BEARDSLEY: In jarring contrast to the playful children, three heavily armed French soldiers now live at the mosque to protect the congregation. There have been thousands of anti-Muslim acts around France since three proclaimed Islamist extremists attacked a satirical magazine and a kosher grocery store in Paris in January, killing 17 people. Sabri laments that some people lump all Muslims together with what he calls the crazy killers.

Television producer Amiroush Laidi says the media plays a big role in stigmatizing Muslims because it hardly shows them except in news or films related to issues like extremism.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAMEL DEBBOUZ SKIT)

JAMEL DEBBOUZ: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: We watch a skit of French comedian Jamel Debbouz, one of the country's most popular actors. But Laidi says there are too few like him in France.

AMIROUSH LAIDI: (Through interpreter) A country's media creates a sort of common imaginary world - a view of how we all live together. The lack of Muslims on the screen and the warped view shown of them is chipping away at our feeling of togetherness as a nation.

BEARDSLEY: Laidi, who is a second-generation Frenchman with Algerian roots, is also deputy mayor of the well-heeled town of Suresne, west of Paris. One of his duties is officiating over courthouse marriages. He says statistics show France has the highest number of mixed unions between different religions and ethnic groups of any country in Europe. France is a multiethnic and tolerant country, he says, but you wouldn't know it watching television.

Twenty-three-year-old journalism student Amira Bouziri hangs out in a Paris cafe between classes. She hopes to be a television news reporter one day. Bouziri, whose parents immigrated from Tunisia, says she's never faced discrimination. But she admits things might be different if she wore a headscarf or lived in public housing far from the city.

AMIRA BOUZIRI: (Through interpreter) I do think I'm lucky to be raised and educated here in Paris. I thank my father for that. He worked for the post office and was offered a bigger place on the outskirts of town, but he wanted to stay in the center of the city, even in a smaller apartment, for our education and for the city's culture life.

BEARDSLEY: Bouziri says as a hard worker and Parisian born-and-bred, she's always assumed she'll have the same chances as any other citizen of France. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

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