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Paris: Eid al-Fitr and ‘The Beauty of Gaza’

Mosque in Évry-Courcouronnes. Photo credit: ARETE / Simone Kussatz
Mosque in Évry-Courcouronnes

Yesterday, during my run around the neighborhood lake, I witnessed a moving scene as many people made their way to the mosque in Évry-Courcouronnes to celebrate Eid al-Fitr. The diversity and cultural richness of my suburb were on full display, with individuals adorned in colorful pointed slippers, Kufis or Fezes in various hues, and an array of dashikis or Boubouches and women with headcovers floating in the wind.

This sight served as a poignant reminder of the dedication and discipline exhibited by those observing Ramadan, refraining from eating, drinking, and intimate relations from sunrise to sunset for four weeks and then transitioning back into regular life with a heightened consciousness and awareness. This, I imagine, must have been extremely difficult for the people in Gaza. They are already enduring such hard conditions, and do not have a place of worship like the al-Farouk Mosque in Rafah, especially after it was destroyed in February of this year during an Israeli offensive initiated by President Netanyahu in response to the October 7, 2023 attack.

Having a roommate from Casablanca who participated in Ramadan, I could see the discipline it took and deeply appreciate this practice that fosters empathy and compassion. I hold great respect for all who observe it, contributing to the vibrant tapestry of this neighborhood, which is also currently mine. I think whatever makes us more humane and empathetic is a good practice. Having said this, from my point of view, and I think I share this with many, it shouldn’t be that about 33,400 people, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, were killed and 1.7 million people – half of them children – have been forced to flee their homes, and 1.1 million are facing catastrophic hunger as a consequence of the October 7, 2023 attack.

Eid al-Fitr is usually a period of joyful celebration for Muslims after a month of fasting, with families and friends coming together and sharing large meals, and for children to receive either money or gifts from their elders. How can one experience joy when such great injustice has been carried out? Civilians and innocent people should never have to carry the consequences of perpetrators due to national association, nor should they carry advantages because of pure association with a preferred group.

As a person with an artistic soul, I am personally intrigued by the traditional garments that people wear in my neighborhood, just as I was fascinated by the traditional clothes of the Jewish Orthodox community on La Brea and Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles. This fascination led me to the neighborhood mosque later that day to take photos. However, a member of the worship place advised me against taking pictures of people, and I respected his request. Therefore, I only have a photo of the mosque. Yet, seeing Muslims on that morning brought back happy memories of my youth when I traveled to Morocco. It remains one of my most fascinating trips to date. The sights of camels, women with Henna painted hands, colorful bazaars, mosaic-tiled buildings with high ceilings, and mint tea with fresh leaves left a lasting impression on me. Besides, the dark blue sky with flickering stars, people suddenly rolling out their prayer mats and facing the Qiblah towards the Kaaba in Mecca, and the bus trip over the Rif mountains contributed to this memorable experience. This is why I easily connected with individuals such as Eric Lafayette, a Moroccan American who hosted a monthly French Meetup at Googies on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, and Moroccan-Italian artist and curator Latifa Banahara, whom I met in Corfinio, Italy during an art festival in 2019. Though I haven’t ventured into the deeper parts of Africa yet, where one can witness wild animals such as zebras, giraffes, lions, chimpanzees, orangutans, and wildebeests in the Serengeti, I hope to do so soon. My desire to explore these regions inspired me to write about Jay Mark Johnson’s Serengeti-inspired spacetime photography for publications such as WIRED-Germany, GQ magazine, and the Los Angeles art publication Visual Art Source. I firmly believe that traveling is the best form of education. My interest in other cultures and love for nature also lead me to marvel at Sir David Attenborough’s documentaries. His ability to showcase the breathtaking footage of wildlife, ecosystems, and natural phenomena is remarkable.
While I embrace the cultural diversity and picturesque scenes of my neighborhood, which often make me feel like I’m on a world trip and somewhat in Africa, the frequent failures of public transportation are frustrating. Just yesterday, we were left stranded for over half an hour again because the RER D failed to arrive. Despite the scenic beauty of our neighborhood’s lake with its swans and ducks, recent events have also been tragic. The death of a 15-year-old teenage boy named Shamseddin last week, resulting from a cardiac arrest caused by being brutally beaten by three young men wearing balaclavas, is particularly distressing. This incident occurred as he exited school after a music lesson in the low-income district of Viry Chatillon, a place I pass through regularly on my way to Paris. My heart goes out to the grieving family. Before making judgments, I believe it’s crucial to understand the root causes of violence. One must understand what life is like in some of these banlieues and what the violence is trying to communicate, like the cars next to the university that exploded in the early morning hours two months ago. Reflecting on this neighborhood’s situation, I recognize significant injustices. There are no inviting playgrounds or places for teenagers to gather at night, leading them to congregate in front of the university building. Additionally, as far as I know, there is only one supermarket nearby, where residents endure lengthy queues daily. The architecture, while functional and able to accommodate many people at once, has absolutely nothing to do with the beauty of the Baron Haussmann buildings and other charming French architectural style buildings that we associate with Paris. They are quite soulless, and the walls within the apartments are paper-thin. Having to commute every day to Paris is challenging, and the struggles are noticeable, even by the sounds of babies and small children in the metros. The majority of this neighborhood’s residents come from countries that France has colonized.
As an outsider, I believe France could or should do more to integrate them into society.
I’m affected by this exclusion as well, although my failure to participate in today’s Official Selection of the Cannes Film Festival 2024 was more due to applying too late, perhaps for being a bit slower and less skilled, and worse equipped than the journalists from the Hollywood Reporter and other major publications, rather than not being considered as part of the group. However, I’m uncertain because they mentioned that many people were interested in participating, and it seems there may have been a lack of space. Yet, when I watched the live-streamed event today, I noticed that quite a few seats were unoccupied. Thus, I took a photo of the event from the screen during the live streaming, but as you can imagine, it didn’t turn out well. That’s why I’m adding one of mine from the Official Selection in 2021.
I’m pleased to share though that today, during the Official Selection, Chief Thierry Frémaux and President Iris Knobloch announced at the UGC Normandie Theater on the Champs-Elysées in Paris that ‘The Beauty of Gaza’ by Yolande Zauberman is among the special screenings. The film, as Frémaux stated, was written and filmed before the war and tells the story of Palestinian transsexuals fleeing Gaza for Tel Aviv. While I haven’t seen the film yet and am unaware of its full plot, I believe its inclusion in the Cannes Film Festival is significant for two reasons. Firstly, it sheds light on an important issue: the experiences of individuals who have undergone a gender transition, aiming to humanize them. Secondly, it draws attention to the region, potentially inspiring action against the neglect of those in need of our help.
If you like to find out about all the films that were selected for the Cannes Film Festival 2024 today, please click on the link.
This is an official press photo. Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Cannes Film Festival
I regret not being able to provide a current photo of Chief Thierry Frémaux, only one from 2021, when I participated in person under President Pierre Lescure’s tenure.
About the Author
Simone Suzanne Kussatz was born in Germany, lived in the US for 25 years, spent a year in China, and currently resides in France. Educated at Santa Monica College, UCLA, and the Free University of Berlin, she interned at the American Academy in Berlin. Holding a Master's in American Studies, journalism, and psychology, she worked as a freelance art critic in Los Angeles. World War II history fascinates her, influenced by her displaced grandparents and her father's childhood in Berlin during the war, and his escape from East Berlin in 1955. Her brother's intellectual disabilities and epilepsy added a unique perspective to her life.
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