Henry Samuel, Telegraph, June 8, 2016
A waitress in a cafe in central Nice has filed a police complaint after she was allegedly assaulted by two men because she refused to “stop serving alcohol” on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan.
The alleged beating in the French Riviera town historically famed for its sun, palm-fringed beach front and quality of life, has prompted a heated political debate over whether the country is increasingly becoming prey to “religious fundamentalism and ghettoised communities”.
The issue has become increasingly fraught less than a year before presidential elections and just six months after Islamist attacks in Paris killed 130.
The incident took place less than a week before football fans descend on the sun-kissed town for Sunday’s Euro 2016 football match between Poland and Northern Ireland.
The waitress, a French 30-year-old of Tunisian origin, said she was serving drinks at Monday lunch on the terrace of the Vitis Café on Nice’s rue Lamartine, near the rue d’Anglais, when two men started haranguing her, insulting the young woman because she was serving alcoholic beverages to customers.
“I was all alone in the bar when two passers-by suddenly appeared. They pointed to the bottles of alcohol behind the bar, then one of them told me in Arabic: ‘You should be ashamed of yourself serving alcohol in the Ramadan period.’
Ramadan traditionally begins the morning after the sighting of the crescent moon. Marking the divine revelation received by Prophet Mohammed, the month sees Muslim faithful abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and having sex from dawn to dusk.
They break the fast with a meal known as iftar and before dawn have a second opportunity to eat and drink during suhur. The month is followed by the Eid al-Fitr festival.
The waitress said one of the two men then shouted: “If I was God, I would have hung you.”
Unfazed by his threatening behaviour, the waitress shot back: “You’re not God to judge me.”
The men launched into a tirade, calling her a “dirty whore” and left the cafe in a hurry. A few seconds later, however, the venue’s CCTV footage reportedly shows the two men turn round abruptly and one of them rush towards her and violently slap the waitress in the face, knocking her to the floor.
“The whole scene was recorded by the security cameras that I transferred to the police,” said the bar’s owner, Nacim.
In shock, the waitress didn’t phone the police straight away and instead contacted the owner.
He persuaded her to file a legal complaint for “voluntary violence”. The two men have reportedly been identified. One of them is known to be an illegal migrant who is a notoriously threatening figure in the district, but both are currently at large.
“I”m so scared. I find it hard to understand. Why did they insult me? Why this slap? I feel debased, humiliated, sullied. I don’t want other women to have be victims of such an attack,” said the young women, herself a Muslim who observes Ramadan.
“It’s not because I serve alcohol that I’m not fulfilling my (religious) duty,” she said. “I do it because I’m a waitress. In Tunisia, I did the same job and never had the slightest problem,” she told Nouvel Obs.
“I didn’t think that in France, country of liberty, I would have been assaulted like that.”
She said it was not the first time she had received threats and insults from the men, who had shouted at her three days previously.
Nor is this is the first time the district has seen such “religious” threats. In October 2014, three men, including the owner of a Halal store–since forcibly closed by police–threatened a baker who sold ham sandwiches, saying he wasn’t a “good Muslim”.
They were handed six months suspended sentences last year.
This latest incident sparked angry reactions from local Right and far-Right politicians who saw it as a sign the country’s fundamental values were being undermined.
Eric Ciotti, MP with the Republicans, Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative party, said: “This attack should be placed in a national context that has seen a constant rise in religious fundamentalism and ghettoised communities.”
“No act of this nature is anodyne,” he went on. “Each attack like this strikes a severe blow against the values of the French Republic.”
Philippe Vardon, regional councillor with the far-Right Front National, said: “This situation comes from the weakness of our political leaders.”
He accused Christian Estrosi, mayor of Nice normally known for his tough law-and-order stance, of “becoming embroiled in unacceptable and dangerous compromises”, without elaborating further.
“France is sliding into obscurantism,” added Florian Philippot, FN number two.
FN leader Marine Le Pen, who commands high scores in southern France, and is polled to reach the second round or presidential elections next year, has repeatedly claimed that France is becoming prey to “creeping Islamisation”.
But the hard-Right are not the only ones to hold such an alarmist discourse.
In April, Manuel Valls, the Socialist prime minister, warned that Islamic extremism was “winning the ideological and cultural battle” in France, home of Europe’s biggest Muslim population–around six million.
“The Salafists must represent one percent of the Muslims in our country today, but their message–their messages on social networks–is the only one we end up hearing,” he said.
Moderate Muslim representatives expressed exasperation, with Abdallah Zekri, member of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, saying: “We’re fed up of being stigmatised . . . [and] of this populist discourse which is worse than the far-Right.”
France has clamped down on extremism since a jihadist attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket in January 2015 and after Isil gunmen and suicide bombers massacred 130 people in Paris in November.
The country has been in a state of emergency ever since and dozens of suspected Islamists have been placed under house arrest.
Fears the country could be targeted during Euro 2016, which kicks off on Friday, have seen the government massively boost security at all stadiums and fan zones.
Last month, a message purporting to come from the spokesman of Isil called on followers to launch attacks on the United States and Europe during Ramadan, calling it “the month of conquest and jihad”.
“Get prepared, be ready . . . to make it a month of calamity everywhere for the non-believers . . . especially for the fighters and supporters of the caliphate in Europe and America,” said the message, suggesting attacks on military and civilian targets.
Yet so far, the worst immediate threat came from an “immigrant-hating” far-Right Frenchman arrested in Ukraine with a “vast arsenal” of weapons and explosives that police said he intended to use on Muslim and Jewish places of worship.