French election: An evil campaign marked by anti-Islam narratives has made many French Muslims feel marginalized

This year, the month of Ramadan coincides with the presidential election in France, the climax of a campaign that has been marked by anti-Muslim vitriol to an extent not seen for decades.

Given the candidates who participated in the race, the answer for many is no.

“Eric Zemmour, a former TV expert who has been convicted three times for hate speech, racial or religious hatred, has said he will”save France“from Islam. Center-right candidate Valerie Pecresse declared the headscarf a” sign of a woman’s submission, “claiming with a nationalist flourishing that” Marianne is not a veiled woman. “Zemmour and Pecresse finished fourth and fifth respectively in the first study.round and has been eliminated.
Advertisements for French presidential candidates are seen in Strasbourg, France.

Even Macron found time in his only campaign meeting before the vote in the first round to highlight the threat posed by Islamists and Muslim “separatists” in France, France’s motto of “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” (freedom, equality, fraternity) with another favored French republican value: Laicité (secularism).

Only one candidate, the third-placed left-wing politician Jean-Luc Melenchon, has historically taken a position that is more supportive of the Muslim community. The first round of polling by Ifop indicated that about two-thirds of French Muslim voters supported him. He too was eliminated after the first round of voting.

“What’s really scary about this upcoming election is that most of the (top) candidates are simply dependent on programs based on the stigma of minorities, on the erosion of our most fundamental rights and freedoms,” said Latreche, a law students, prior to the first. round.

With “the normalization of Islamophobia, we are directly facing the consequences,” added Latreche, who is also a vocal activist for the civil liberties of young Muslim women.

Hiba Latreche eats breakfast before fasting during Ramadan.

The French political landscape this year is very different than just a few elections ago. With the country’s traditionally heavy center-left and center-right forces struggling, the political extremes have profited.

In the first round of the presidential election on April 10, Le Pen and Zemmour, the two right-wing extremist candidates with the most extreme policies affecting the lives of Muslims in France, together gathered just over 30% of the total vote; Le Pen alone got enough votes to get into the round with 23% of the votes in the first round. Their wave has been accompanied by a cry of anti-immigrant and anti-Islam narratives that have dominated much of the debate and coverage.

“We are constantly being marginalized”

Strasbourg’s Grand Mosque – the largest in France – is discreetly tucked away on a riverbank in the eastern border town.

Many of the worshipers who say they do not feel represented by any of the dozens of candidates vying for the presidency in the first round.

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“We are constantly marginalized, excluded from society and then we are told that we do not take part in society.” said Latreche. When she was denied freedom of action and choice over her own life and contribution to society, she felt it inevitably had a negative effect on her mental health and that of her friends, she added.

As he entered the evening prayer, Wagner Dino expressed dismay at the choice of candidates.

“There is no one presenting himself who really has the necessary parameters to put everything in place, to get a France united with Muslims,” ​​he said.

Mosque volunteer Safia Abdouni said she believes none of the candidates “know what we are going through, our daily lives and what we really need.”

“I feel like I’m not represented as a young, female student. As a young, female, Muslim student, even less so,” she added.

Worshipers break their fast at an iftar meal in a tent outside Strasbourg's Grand Mosque.

Still, Saïd Aalla, president of the Grand Mosque, said that if young Muslims “want to change the situation, it can only happen with the vote.”

Aalla did not express a preference for any of the candidates. As a clergyman, he is prohibited under French law from publicly supporting a political candidate.

The secularism debate

In consecutive election seasons, hijab and Muslim women’s headscarves have been easy targets for politicians trying to fire up support for traditional French Republican values.

“Laicité” – or secularism – claims to ensure equality for all by removing markers of difference, making all citizens French first, and protecting freedom of worship in the private sphere. Religious symbols are banned in public schools and colleges, government offices and government workplaces, as well as even in some sports federations.

“Laicité in itself is not a problem,” according to Rim-Sarah Alouane, a PhD candidate in comparative law at the University of Toulouse-Capitole and a specialist in religious freedom and human rights in Europe.

“Laicité has been transformed (and) has been armed as a tool of political identity to target the visibility of Muslims in France, of French Muslims, and especially Muslim women, and to wear the headscarf. So it’s more the modern illiberal interpretation of laicité that is problematic than laicité itself, “she said.

Today’s laicité debate has put hijabs at the center of France’s cultural wars, which put the conservative describes as “secularism” against religious civil liberties

Le Pen and Zemmour both proposed banning what they refer to as the “hijab,” but neither campaign has provided details on what exactly such a ban would include or how it would be enforced. In his campaign manifesto, Le Pen has proposed banning all “Islamic dress” in public, a definition that critics say is open to arbitrary and inaccurate interpretation. The French government has already banned women from wearing the niqab – a full veil with an opening for the eyes.

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The Macron government reacted angrily to a diversity campaign, partly funded by the EU last year, which showed images of women wearing headscarves on top of the same images without headgear. The slogan of the campaign was: “Beauty is in diversity, as freedom is in the hijab.”
The French government called for an inquiry into the campaign and its withdrawal in France. With the words from one minister: “We can not confuse religious freedom and a campaign to promote the hijab, that is not acceptable.”
Last month, the French Supreme Court ruled that local bar associations could ban headscarves and other “religious symbols” from courtrooms in the name of secularism – forcing hijab-wearing women like Latreche to choose between their careers and public practice. their faith.

“It’s actually extremely demotivating and discouraging to see that we would not be able to contribute to society and make it more vibrant despite our abilities,” Latreche said, “just because we choose to exercise our rights.

“We (should) have control over our own rights and bodies and beliefs,” she said.

Ludwig Knoepffler, a member of Le Pen’s campaign team, denied that Le Pen’s anti-hijab platform was made “in the name of laity.” Rather, he said the intention was to fight totalitarianism.

“The idea is to fight the hijab as a political tool used and promoted by Islamist militants,” he said. “If one believes that the Islamist political project is in fact totalitarian, then one has to fight its distinctiveness. In the same way, one would ban the swastika in the public sphere, as is already the case.”

Le Pen addressed the issue during the presidential debate on Wednesday night, calling the headscarf “a uniform imposed by the Islamists.”

Macron accused her of creating a “system of equivalence” among Islamism, terrorism and foreigners who wanted to “create civil war.”

‘Freedom equality Brotherhood’

Aalla, the president of the mosque, said that the Muslims of France have the same ambitions as other citizens.

“Muslims in France have been here for generations, but we still continue to regard them as foreigners,” he said.

Aalla rejected the idea of ​​a “Muslim voice”. There are Muslims who support all French parties, he said – people who hope to be taken into account by politicians, especially when it comes to religious freedom.

For the legal scholar Alouane, the debate over the headscarf is a frightening distraction: “I mean, we have inflation, energy prices have risen massively, there is poverty, our public services are being phased out, unemployment and so on … and everything we talk about , is a piece of fabric that women wear … so seriously. “

Aalla said that French Muslims expect France and French society to devote themselves to economic, social issues, to issues of housing or discrimination, the issues “that all citizens, Muslims included, expect from their new president.”

But for the French citizens and voters who gather to pray and break their fast in the midst of a darkening political atmosphere, the hope of many in their society can be summed up in one sentence: “Liberté, égalité, fraternité.”

Journalist Camille Knight contributed reporting.

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