With French elections on the horizon, who is France’s Muslim community turning to?
In the run-up to the 2022 French elections, the main candidates have each shown varying degrees of Islamophobia and antagonism towards France’s Muslim community. Who are these candidates and what do French Muslims think of them?
A little less than three months before the French presidential elections, nearly 40 candidates are seeking to move into the Elysée. But is there anyone who truly represents French Muslims? For many French Muslims, it has been extremely difficult to find a candidate who has not indulged in Islamophobia.
The best candidates
Emmanuel Macron (The Republic On the March!)
EU poster. In 2017, he vowed to become “the president of all the people of France”. However, in recent years his secular efforts have come under scrutiny to hold France’s Muslims collectively responsible for the despicable actions of a few extremists.
In the aftermath of the horrific murder of Samual Paty in 2020, Macron gave a speech in which he identified Islam as “a religion that is in crisis all over the world today”. He then presented plans to fight “Islamist separatism”. In response, some accused Macron of trying to suppress Islam in France.
“For many French Muslims, it was extremely difficult to find a candidate who did not give in to Islamophobia”
Macron’s version of secularism has banned the display of religious symbols such as face coverings, crucifixes and the burqa in certain settings. For French Muslims, such rhetoric is problematic because it encapsulates the views of the far right, who believe that Islam is on a crusade to destroy Western society and its values.
Marine Le Pen (National Rally)
A notoriously Islamophobic, xenophobic and anti-EU politician, Le Pen attracted more supporters than her father ever did – a man who held such discriminatory beliefs as well as being deeply anti-Semitic. In 2017, she was on the verge of becoming president.
However, the president of the National Rally has struggled since her candidacy to rebuild her damaged credibility. Since then, she has been accused of being “too soft” on Islam by President Macron’s interior minister.
Nevertheless, she still maintains her Islamophobic stance as she proposed the banning of hijab in all public places. At a press conference, she told reporters, “I consider the headscarf to be Islamist clothing.” What is certain is that Le Pen does not shrink from his polarizing vision of France.
Eric Zemmour (Raconquete)
Born into an Algerian Jewish family, who immigrated to France during the Algerian War of Independence, Zemmour made many despicable remarks against Muslims, Islam, migrants, blacks and other minorities.
In his final remarks, Zemmour argued that Muslims living in France should assimilate and renounce their religion if they want to stay in the country.
Sometimes Zemmour’s comments got him in trouble. More recently, a Paris court found him guilty of hate speech. The case was launched during a television appearance, where he described unaccompanied migrant children as “thieves”, “rapists” and “murderers”.
What is evident is that since the 2017 presidential elections, French politics and society have become increasingly polarized. As a result, French Muslims and Islam in general have become the target of sustained attacks from politicians and the media.
So what do French Muslims think of this?
Openly racist candidates
“Eric Zemmour, the fact that he is a candidate is really dangerous and insane. If he becomes president, we will have a racist president, deeply racist… openly racist! Le Pen… I thought I would never say that, but you can be worse than Le Pen. The proliferation of openly racist candidates has added a new dimension to the debate. It says something about France,” says Sarah, 24, a journalist who lives in Paris.
For Sarah, life as a French Muslim woman is complicated.
“France is home to many cultures and religions and none of them are represented by these politicians”
“I have two personalities, one for when I’m at home with my family and one for when I’m at work. For me and my Muslim friends, we are just hiding who we are. It’s not normal but we got used to it.
Adjusting to this “new normal” isn’t easy, however, Sarah is determined to stay in the country she calls home.
“It’s my country, all my life I’ve been here, I only know France. We have to stay here; we are part of this country and its history.
Muslims used as scapegoats
“Life as a Muslim here was decent, but it has deteriorated for over a decade. Muslims are used as scapegoats for the country’s problems. Some channels talk about Muslims for hours on end,” says Tarek, 22. The New Arab.
Tarek, a graduate student, believes that the media has given far-right politicians a platform to express their radical views on Islam, which has ultimately increased their popularity.
“Zemmour has built his career on hatred of Muslims. His debate with Mélenchon illustrates this…every question regarding an issue in the country was answered by linking it to Muslims.
As for Macron, Tarek is extremely disappointed with the way his presidency has gone.
“Macron was terrible on all aspects, whether economic or social. Not a single policy of his government had positive effects for the people.
A lack of representation
Touba, an accountant, is worried about the lack of representativeness of the current candidates.
“I don’t feel that French politicians represent at all, even slightly and they don’t represent the values of our countries – liberty, equality and fraternity,” says the 25-year-old. “France is home to many cultures and religions, none of which are represented by these politicians.”
This void of representation has placed Touba in vulnerable situations.
“Once, when I was taking the train, a woman shouted at me, ‘We’re fed up with Arabs!’ I’m not even Arab, but the French assume that all hijabis are Arab. Sometimes I feel that I stand out and the French look at me because of my hijab. I feel like I’m not always welcome when I travel out of my town.
For her, the future looks bleak, but she has a message of hope.
“I think the future will obviously be trying and our freedom to practice our religion will be limited. I hope and pray that we can live together freely in peace and harmony to practice all that we believe. humanity, we are all brothers and sisters.
Ali Al-Enazi is a British-Arab journalist, currently studying for a Masters in International Journalism at City, University of London.
Follow him on Twitter: @Ali_Enazi1