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Reports Of Racism Fall Through France's Information Gap







Time for some number crunching from our data expert Mona Chalabi from fivethirtyeight.com. She has given us this number of the week.


MARTIN: That is the total number of incidents that were either racist, anti-Semitic or anti-Islamic reported in France in the year 2013. Mona Chalabi joins us from our studios in New York to talk more about this number. Hey, Mona.

MONA CHALABI: Hello, Rachel.

MARTIN: So in the days since the terrorist attacks in Paris, first on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, then on the Jewish supermarket, the French government has repeatedly called for unity amid real fears that minorities in the country might be targeted. Based on the data that you have seen, who is most vulnerable?

CHALABI: So the most recent numbers on this are from 2013. And it's those 1,274 incidents that were mentioned. And they were recorded by the French Ministry of the Interior. Half of those were categorized as racist acts or threats of violence, a third were anti-Semitic in nature and the rest were labeled as anti-Islamic. But it's not always clear to me on what basis those incidents get categorized.

So let me give you an example. We know that in the five days after the attacks, 54 Islamophobic incidents were reported in France. Some of those are pretty unambiguous, like in Corsica where a boar's head and entrails were left outside a Muslim prayer room with a note saying next time it will be your heads. But in the city of Poitiers, someone graffitied the words death to Arabs on the main entrance to a mosque. Now I'm not 100 percent sure that's Islamophobic. Was the target of hatred there a race, was it a religion, or was it just Arab culture? And I don't know how the government will record an incident like that in the statistics.

MARTIN: Do we know how many people are affected by it? Do we know how this breaks down within these communities?

CHALABI: I'm afraid it's going to be a be difficult here as well. We can actually work out victimization rates because the French government calls itself a secular state, and so it won't collect any statistics on religion.

MARTIN: OK, so you just said it - France doesn't collect information on religious identity in its population data. So what does that mean for trying to understand victimization rates in France? Are there other stats that you point to?

CHALABI: Yeah. I looked at some of the surveys that have asked French people about their attitudes towards minority groups. In fact, it's actually the government that comes up with those surveys. In December 2013, they asked the question - do you see the following group as a part of French society? More than half of respondents said they didn't see Muslims as part of French society and 31 percent said the same about Jews.

MARTIN: Wow. I mean, that seems like a problem for a country that prides itself on the idea of fraternity or brotherhood.

CHALABI: I wouldn't necessarily say that. I mean, some of those respondents might just think that Muslims don't see themselves as part of French society. They might be wrong to assume that, but it's not necessarily Islamophobic.

But there is other research that kind of gets to your question more directly. So last year, a survey from Pew asked French adults whether they had a favorable opinion of certain groups in their country. One in 10 respondents described their opinion of Jews in France as unfavorable, and one in four said the same about Muslims in the country.

MARTIN: Any idea how that compares to other countries, in Europe in particular?

CHALABI: Yeah. So Pew asked that in several countries, and there were even more unfavorable opinions of Muslims in other European countries like Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland and Spain. And the trend is basically the same for Jews. France actually does well compared to its neighbors with the exception of Germany, where only five percent of respondents said they have an unfavorable opinion of Jews.

MARTIN: The reports that we're hearing now about Jews leaving France over fears of anti-Semitism, is that in some way being overplayed in the media?

CHALABI: As far as French migration to Israel is concerned, it's true. There has been a real rise in numbers in recent years. But this statistics don't look at why. And there are a range of factors that might influence people's choices, including a stagnant French economy and the prospects of work in Israel.

And this goes back to this issue of an information gap that I mentioned earlier. To really understand victimization rates and to really understand where the anti-Semitism or Islamophobia is worse in France, the French government has to collect better information about specific religious groups, which basically means it would have to acknowledge the country's divisions in its statistics no matter how much it wants to emphasize unity.

MARTIN: Mona Chalabi of fivethirtyeight.com. Thanks so much, Mona.

CHALABI: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.