Ban on Islam by satellite

ON THE THE council estates of Courcouronnes, half an hour south of Paris, myriad satellite dishes festoon the balconies of every tower block. It is the same in council estates on the edge of almost any big French city.

To the north African and Turkish immigrants trapped in their flats by lack of language or job, the grey discs offer a window on a world more friendly than the one outside their front door and a chance for their French-born children to know their roots. To many French traditionalists, though, not only those sympathetic to the extreme right-wing National Front, the dishes represent a threat - the threat of a population that lives physically in France but inhabits a world of Virtual Islam.

The Socialist mayor of Courcouronnes, Guy Briantais, citing aesthetic and safety grounds ("in strong winds, one might be blown off and injure someone"), last week announced that he was banning satellite dishes. People have six months to take them down. The announcement caused uproar. The safety argument was ridiculed. No one could cite a single instance of a satellite dish falling off a balcony.

The dish suppliers say the ban is "scandalous" and "illegal". The law states that no one needs permission to put up a dish smaller than 100cm in diameter.

Human rights groups, immigrant organisations and others condemned the ban as a violation of individual liberty.

After investing in a satellite dish for about pounds 120, residents can watch many of the programmes they want - on the north African, Arab and Turkish channels - for free. Only one of these channels, a Tunisian one, is included in the alternative, more pricey, cable packages.

It is not clear how far Mr Briantais's ban was inspired by naive idealism and how far it was a political pandering to right-wing anti- immigrant feeling.

French media commentators, however, say satellite has come to stay. Courcouronnes - and even St Cloud - will have to get used to it.