10 February, 2022
As the 2022 French elections draw closer, 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?
With just under three months until the French Presidential Elections, almost 40 contenders are seeking to move into the Elysée Palace. But is there anyone that truly represents French Muslims? For many French Muslims, it has been extremely difficult to find a candidate who has not indulged in Islamophobia.
The leading candidates
Emmanuel Macron (La Republique En Marche!)
The poster boy of the EU. In 2017 he vowed to become “the president of all the people of France”. However, in recent years his secular endeavours have come under scrutiny for holding France’s Muslims collectively responsible for the despicable actions of a few extremists.
In the aftermath of Samual Paty’s gruesome murder in 2020, Macron gave a speech in which he pinpointed Islam as “a religion that is in crisis all over the world today.” He went on to lay out plans to combat “Islamist separatism.” In response, some accused Macron of trying to repress Islam in France.
“For many French Muslims, it has been extremely difficult to find a candidate who has not indulged in 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 as 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 has 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 came within touching distance of becoming president.
However, the National Rally president has struggled since her bid to reconstruct 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 has proposed a ban on the hijab in all public settings. In a press conference, she told reporters: “I consider that the headscarf is an Islamist item of clothing.” What is certain is that Le Pen is not backing down from her polarising vision of France.
Eric Zemmour (Raconquete)
Born to an Algerian Jewish family, who immigrated to France during the Algerian war of independence, Zemmour has made many despicable remarks against Muslims, Islam, migrants, Black people, and other minorities.
In his latest remarks, Zemmour argued that Muslims living in France should assimilate and renounce their religion if they want to remain in the country.
At times Zemmour’s comments have got him into trouble. Most recently, a Paris court found him guilty of hate speech. The case was launched over a TV appearance, where he described unaccompanied migrant children as “thieves”, “rapists” and “murderers”.
What is apparent is that since the 2017 Presidential Elections, French politics and society has become more and more polarised. As a result, French Muslims and Islam, in general, have become the targets of sustained attacks by politicians and the media.
So how do French Muslims feel about this?
Openly racist candidates
“Eric Zemmour, the fact that he’s a candidate is really dangerous and insane. If he does become president, we will have a president who is racist, deeply racist… openly racist! Le Pen… I thought I would never say this, but you can be worse than Le Pen. The multiplication of candidates that are openly racist has added a new level to the debate. It says something about France,” says Sarah, 24, a journalist who resides in Paris.
For Sarah, life as a French Muslim woman is complicated.
“France is home to many cultures and religions and none of which are represented by these politicians”
“I have two personalities, one for when I’m at home with family and one for when I’m at work. For me and my Muslim friends, we just hide who we are. It’s not normal but we got used to it.”
Adjusting to this ‘new normal’ is not easy, however, Sarah is determined to remain in the country she calls home.
“This is my country, my whole life I’ve been here, I only know France. We need to stay here; we are part of this country and its history.”
Muslims used as scapegoats
“Life as a Muslim here used to be decent, however, it has been worsening for over a decade. Muslims are used as scapegoats for the problems of the country. Some channels speak about Muslims for hours nonstop,” 22-year-old Tarek tells The New Arab.
Tarek, a post-graduate student, believes that the media has given a platform for far-right politicians to express their radical views on Islam, which has ultimately increased their popularity.
“Zemmour has built his career on the hatred of Muslims. His debate with Melenchon illustrates this… every single question regarding a problem in the country was answered by linking it to Muslims.”
As for Macron, Tarek is extremely disappointed with how his presidency has panned out.
“Macron has been awful on every single aspect, whether economical or social. Not a single policy of his government has provided positive effects for the people.”
A lack of representation
Touba, an accountant, is concerned about the lack of representation the current candidates offer.
“I don’t feel that the French politicians represent at all, even slightly and they don’t represent our countries’ values – liberty, equality and fraternity,” says the 25-year-old. “France is home to many cultures and religions and none of which are represented by these politicians.”
This vacuum of representation has put Touba in vulnerable situations.
“Once when going on the train a woman shouted at me ‘we are sick of Arabs!’ I am not even Arab, but French people assume all hijabis are Arab. Sometimes I can feel that I stand out and French people stare at me because of my hijab. I feel as though I’m not always welcome when travelling out of my town.”
For her, the future looks bleak, but she has a hopeful message.
“I think the future will obviously be testing and our freedom to practice our religion will be limited. I hope and pray that we can live together freely with peace and harmony to practice whatever we believe. In humanity, we are all brothers and sisters.”
Ali Al-Enazi is a British-Arab journalist, currently studying for a master’s in International Journalism at City, University of London.
Follow him on Twitter: @Ali_Enazi1