We said our goodbyes to Greece at 5:30 in the morning on Saturday, heading to the airport for a short(ish) flight to France. Unfortunately, arriving at noon meant we did not get an aerial view of the famed lights that make Paris such an iconic city, but it did mean we had plenty of free time to explore the city. I used this opportunity to embark on a run along the Seine river and I quickly fell in love with Paris. What began as a training run soon turned into a two hour adventure that brought me views of the Eiffel Tower, the Big Wheel, Luxembourg Gardens and more. Besides enjoying many great meals, the rest of our class took this time to visit famous monuments, museums, and even the catacombs.
During our stay in Paris our class has spent the days visiting places and meeting with people that are very relevant to our course. As most of you know, the class is called Islam in Europe: Politics, Religion, and Refugees. You might however be wondering what exactly this entails. After years of colonialism, Europe saw a large influx of immigrants from their former colonial holdings, a vast majority of which were Muslim. This led to numerous challenges in regards to integrating this Muslim minority and immigrant population. In more recent times, European countries have seen another wave of immigrants looking to escape instability in their home countries and create a better life for themselves in Europe. Our class aims to grapple with ethical questions arising from this situation such as: How have European countries dealt with economic, cultural, religious, and humanitarian challenges posed by the influx of Muslim migrants and refugees? And how do Muslims fit (or not fit) into various constructions of national and European identities? In exploring these questions, we have met (and will meet) with journalists, activists, politicians, and religious leaders.
Our time in France has given us incredible opportunities to engage with the questions that are at the core of our class. The past three days have been full of relevant visits and material. On Sunday, we began scheduled class activities with a visit to the World Arab Institute. While there, we received a tour of the Christian Orient museum, which gave an excellent overview of the rich history of Christianity in countries that many people typically think of as "Eastern" and dominated by Islam. Christians were generally given a protected 'Dimi' status, which led to semi-peaceful coexistence for hundreds of years. In the afternoon we took a visit to the Grand Mosque. The mosque is a beautiful building, which we learned was gifted to Muslims within France's colonial empire as a token of gratitude for their sacrifice during World War I, as some 100,000 Muslims died fighting Germany.
Things really picked up on Monday. We began the day with a walking tour of the Goutte d'Or neighborhood, which is home to many immigrants and descendants of immigrants. The neighborhood started out as a small village, but grew and grew after the influx of immigrants looking for work post-WWI. Eventually it was swallowed up by Paris, and continues to be one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Paris. Our tour guide explained that the neighborhood still faces problems with poverty, and recently has been subjected to invasive gentrification. In the afternoon, we met with the feminist and anti-racism orginization Lallab. Lallab was formed because the founder, Sarah Zouak, felt that French society overwhelmingly told her that she had to chose between being a feminist and being a Muslim. She refused to accept these restrictions placed upon her and set out to prove that not only can a French Muslim feminist exist, they can thrive. Lallab was created to give Muslim women a safe space to live all of their identities to their fullest extent, as well as to give them a voice to speak on topics they want to speak about, instead of having conversation about them dictated by others.
On Tuesday I started the day off with another long run. In the afternoon our class visited the U.S. embassy to meet with Lisa Petzold, a political officer of the State Department who specializes in religious affairs pertaining to the Middle East and North Africa. She spoke to us about the responsibilities that her job entails, as well as some of the challenges that come with the change in administration. A large part of her job is to do outreach to French Muslim communities, which is important because around eight to nine percent of France's population is Muslim. To put this into persepective, Muslims in the U.S. comprise of only one percent of the population. While her position may not exist much longer under the Trump administration, it was great for our class to hear about what she does while we still could. Our last scheduled class activity was a dinner with the activist group Coexister. As the name suggests, Coexister is a group that aims to create a state of complete acceptance and peaceful coexistence between religions and non-religions. In order to do so, Coexister builds up healthy relationships and friendships between its members of different faiths. Coexister also gives the members tools to have dialogue about the tough topic of religion, as well as tools to deconstruct harmful stereotypes.
Today, Wednesday, we have a free day for our last day in Paris. After finishing this blog post and going for a run, I plan to visit the Louvre in the afternoon and attend a soccer match tonight. My classmates have plans to go shopping, visit the Palace of Versailles, and many more exciting activities. Thanks for reading, and look for our next blog post when we arrive in Copenhagen!