Immigrants from Algeria Complicate France's Ties to Its Former Colony

Article excerpt

FRANCE's stake in the Algerian civil conflict runs deeper than diplomatic ties or oil and gas contracts. Until 1962, Algeria was a colony of France. Algerian workers fueled postwar French industrial growth, and many stayed on to raise families.

Whatever goes on in Algeria is felt keenly and personally in France. Consider two cases:

* Kadidja chose her own name three years ago, when she started wearing a head scarf, or veil.

"It was the name of the first wife of the Prophet {Muhammad}," she says softly. "I thought the name was beautiful."

Many women in Paris wear scarves against the damp December cold. Kadidja's is wrapped carefully around her hair, folded across her neck, and tucked into the collar of a large coat, which, along with a heavy skirt, touches the top of her shoes.

As a child, Kadidja (then Christine) grew up as a Roman Catholic and worked in a travel agency until she met her husband, an Algerian engineer who came to Paris when he could not find work in Algiers. Her father is a native Algerian who fought with the French in Vietnam. He moved to France during Algeria's war of independence from France because "he couldn't bear to fight against his own people," she says.

She represents what many French fear most about Algeria's latest civil conflict: that it will encourage the spread of Islam in France. Wearing a veil has been outlawed in French public schools, and 79 girls - mostly Algerian - already have been expelled for refusing to comply.

"No one forced me to take the veil," she says. "I got married, and I gradually decided to do it. It has nothing to do with politics. When I wear a veil, men don't come on to me in the street. It's less vulgar."

Her new life has not been easy. She lives with her husband, a two-year-old child, and a new baby in an apartment that is about ten square yards. …