December 11, 2008 / 3:21 PM / 10 years ago

Graves desecrated often in France, mostly Christian

PARIS (Reuters) - Vandals desecrate cemeteries on an average of about every three days in France, with most attacks against Christian graves although media mostly report cases against Jewish and Muslim tombs, a report said Thursday.

A French gendarme looks for clues next to Muslim graves desecrated with Nazi inscriptions and swastikas in Notre Dame de Lorette cemetery in Ablain Saint Nazaire, northern France, December 8, 2008. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

Most desecrations are vandalism by teenagers, with only a small minority prompted by the racism, anti-Semitism or satanic cult practices normally highlighted in the media, the report by parliamentarians of the governing UMP party said.

Among preventative measures the report proposed was more teaching in school about respect for the dead, a concept it said was fading in France as killing in films has become common but few young people attend funerals or visit cemeteries anymore.

“Desecrations of graves occur about every three days in France, which means it is not a marginal phenomenon,” said Frederic Poisson, one of the two deputies who wrote the report.

Racist, anti-religious or satanic motives accounted for about 20 percent of the cases, he said. “The rest are mindless delinquence, without any apparent motives, by people who imitate or go along with others because of psychological weaknesses.”

In the latest case, about 500 tombstones in the Muslim part of a World War One military cemetery near Arras in northern France were sprayed with Nazi symbols last weekend, the third such attack in less than two years.

About 15 Jewish tombstones nearby were also targeted.

The report cited 144 attacks last year and 110 in the first eight months of 2008. Most were committed by teenagers, often after drinking alcohol, it said.

“Although media coverage gives the opposite impression, the great majority of profanations concern Christian tombs,” it added. “This seems quite logical given the proportion they represent in the public cemeteries in our country.”

The report said cemetery desecrations were not cases of normal vandalism but violations of cultural norms due to a loss of the traditional respect for the dead and the growing use of death as entertainment in films and on the internet.

French law already has sufficient punishments for cemetery desecration, it said, but schools need to teach more about traditions concerning death in different cultures and times.

“This teaching approach to the place death occupies in different civilizations can help pupils better understand the question of death and strengthen respect for graves,” it said.

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