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2011-07-15 digital edition
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July 15, 2011  RSS feed
World News

Text: T T T

Facebook helps bridge divide between French Muslims and Jews

JTA news service

PARIS – At a glance, the Muslim-Jewish picnic at the peace fountain in Yitzhak Rabin Garden, in this city’s Bercy Park, looks like a reunion of old friends.

Middle-aged men and women sit on blankets and laugh together, snacking on carrots and Middle Eastern pastries. A circle of women dances wildly to the tunes of a guitarist and tambourine player. But many of the 100 or so people there have never met – at least not face to face.

They are part of a groundbreaking group that is trying to build bridges between Muslims and Jews in France by fostering a community on Facebook where members can interact directly online about the issues that divide them, and then meet at occasional social gatherings like the recent picnic in Paris. The group is called Shalom | Paix | Salam – the Hebrew, French and Arabic words for peace.

“It’s revolutionary,” says Mohamed Kamli, a Muslim law student at the Sorbonne and one of the group’s assistant directors. “You don’t have to go up to a random person on the street and say, ‘You have a kipah, let’s talk about some issues.’ ”

The group is trying to change the nature of the relationship of Jews and Muslims in France – one that is marked more by friction and conflict than by friendship. Shalom | Paix | Salam, which is coordinated by five Muslims and five Jews, all volunteers, was launched after Muslim-Jewish tensions in France boiled over during the Gaza War of 2008-09.

The idea was to facilitate debate about complicated issues without allowing participants to “import the conflict between Israel and Palestine,” says Shalom | Paix | Salam’s co-president, Corine Goldberger, who is Jewish.

Shalom | Paix | Salam now has 1,600 fans on Facebook. Aside from online chatter, the group organizes film screenings, museum tours, lectures, picnics and other meet-ups. Members even held a peace march at the Eiffel Tower.

Patrick Conquy, president of the Paris branch of the Jewish-Muslim Friendship of France, or AJMF, one of the country’s bestknown interfaith institutions, says Shalom | Paix | Salam’s use of social networking sets it apart from other dialogue programs.

“A lot of people came to the group by typing something online, very young people tired of being called a Jew or ‘you dirty Muslim,’” Kamli says. “In Shalom | Paix | Salam, they found a shelter of positive ideas.”

The organization doesn’t take overtly political stances, though it is pressured to do so, such as after Israeli forces killed nine Turks in a confrontation aboard a flotilla in May 2010 that was trying to evade Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

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