Arab troops in French army suffer race bias

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An investigation commissioned by the French military into the "loyalty" of Islamic troops has backfired against commanders.

The report, by an outside body, was intended to uncover signs of Islamist or anti-French feeling among ethnic Arab soldiers and sailors who now provide up to 20 per cent of the strength of the army and navy.

The investigators found there was no sign of disloyalty among Beurs - French-born Arabs - in the military. There was, however, plenty of evidence of racial discrimination and harassment of Arab recruits by white soldiers and officers.

In particular, the report said that French army and navy top brass had been slow to respond to demands for halal food and Islamic chaplains because of an institutionalised suspicion of Islam. As a result, beur troops often had to break their dietary laws, or just go hungry.

The report, based on four months of investigations and hundreds of interviews with soldiers and sailors, was drawn up by Christophe Bertossi, of the Institut Français des Relations Internationales. He said the French armed forces - and the French republic - had a strict policy of allegiance to a single French state, with no recognition of ethnic or religious "communities". Beur soldiers accepted this philosophy, he said, but the army betrayed it daily.Even officers of Arab origin were mocked, the report said.

Since France abandoned conscription nine years ago, the army in particular has been forced to mount recruitment drives in the poor suburbs which surround most French cities.

M. Bertossi reported thatbeur soldiers feel "just as patriotic as the rest" and are especially motivated in the struggle against terrorism, which they see as a slur on Islam. But the loyalty of the French-Islamic troops was "constantly questioned" by their officers and comrades.

The French army has promised to recruit six Islamic "almoners" or chaplains before the end of the year.