The French journalist Ilana Navaro has made a superb four-part radio documentary series for France Culture on social policies towards immigration and integration in France and Britain. Entitled La France et L’Angleterre au born de la crise de nerfs (‘France and England on the edge of a nervous breakdown’), the documentary visits a ‘theological cafe’ in Paris and the Cambridge Muslim College, a sharia council in Birmingham, Goutte d’Or, an area in the 18th arrondissement in Paris with a large North African and sub-Saharan population, Brick Lane in East London, and Walsall, in the English Midlands. Among those interviewed are the anthropologist Sam Everett, the sociologists Ben Gidley, Amine El Yousfi and Benoit Coquard, the historian Nazneen Ahmed, Amra Bone of the Sharia Council of Birmingham, Pragna Patel from Southall Black Sisters, Shaista Gohir of the Muslim Women’s Network, the Parisian imam Mohamed Bajrafil, the religious historian and trainer, Samia Hathroubi, and myself. (My interviews are in episodes 3 & 4.)
The form of Navaro’s documentary echoes that of Montesquieu’s eighteenth-century masterpiece Lettres Persanes, in which two Persian travellers, Usbek and Rica, journey through France, seeing through strangers’ a eyes that which the French cannot see themselves. In Navaro’s documentary, Usbek returns three centuries later, journeying through Britain and France, casting an ironic eye on ideas and practices in both countries. The programmes are, of course, in French.
Episode 1: Guide de la France pour un musulman bien modéré
Episode 2: Sharia councils, mode d’emploi
Episode 3: De Brick Lane à la Goutte d’Or
Episode 4: Le multiculturalisme a sombré dans la Tamise
The paintings are all Arabic and Islamic calligraphy as reworked by contemporary artists. From top down, ‘Untitled’ by Saleh al Shkairi; one of the ‘Blind owl’ series by Pouran Jinchi; ‘Untitled’ by Aghighi Bakhshayeshi; and from Helen Abbas‘ ‘Ramad’ series.