Muslims of Lodeve, a town in the south of France, organized to protect the local cathedral in a show of solidarity with Catholics, following the deadly terrorist attack in Nice at the end of October.
“In recent years, I’ve had a pit in my stomach,” French-born Muslim Elyazid Benferhat told the Associated Press. The activist said that after every act of Islamic terrorism inside France, it is regular Muslims who are left to suffer the consequences in terms of social persecution, even though they “had nothing to do with it.”
After the latest terrorist attacks, Benferhat assembled a team, recruiting acquaintances and fellow members of the local football club, to protect the local church. He also said that they coordinated with police, after the French government decided to increase safety measures at religious sites.
🔴➡️➡️Après l’attentat qui a fait 3 morts dans la Basilique de Nice, des dizaines de jeunes français de confession musulmane se sont rassemblés pour protéger symboliquement la cathédrale Saint-Fulcran de Lodève dans l’Hérault (34). pic.twitter.com/5icqNtuyXZ
Lodeve church-goers were touched by Benferhat’s group standing guard outside the Cathedral, and the parish priest, Luis Iniguez, said the gesture gave him hope in dark times, PA reported.
While his mother was from Algeria, Benferhat was born in France and grew up speaking only French, saying he is “more French than anything.”
“But I am also Muslim,” he added, “And we have seen Islamophobia in this country, and terrorism.”
Benferhat spoke of the beheading of a teacher near Paris last month, calling it an act of “unbelievable, unprecedented cruelty.” After the October 29 attack at the Notre Dame Basilica in Nice which saw three more people killed, he decided to act “so that everyone wakes up.”
When a local paper published a picture of Benferhat and other Muslims protecting the church, Iniguez hung it inside the cathedral. “People were happy to see that,” he said.
After being spotlighted in the national media, Benferhat attracted some far-right critics. Despite that, he says that the response has been “90% positive” and the group is planning to guard the church again on Christmas and maybe even expand their scope past Lodeve.
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