French Muslims Feeling Marginalized by A Vitriolic Campaign Marked by Anti-Islam Narratives

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Strasbourg: This year, the month of Ramadan & French presidential coincide with a campaign marked by anti-Muslim abuse not seen in decades.

French Muslims are concerned as the presidential election draws near.

Strasbourg: This year, the month of Ramadan and the French presidential coincide with a campaign marked by anti-Muslim abuse not seen in decades.

The French presidential runoff polls on April 24 have left many French Muslims like Hiba Latreche questioning. Do the would-be presidents represent my interests?

Given the candidates who entered the race, the answer for many would be no.

Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate ​ lists “eradicating Islamist ideologies” from France as her second manifesto priority.

A former TV pundit, Eric Zemmour, convicted three times for racial or religious hatred and hate speech, has said he wants to “save France” from Islam. Valerie Pecresse, a candidate, declared the headscarf a “sign of a woman’s submission,”

Even Macron highlighted the threat of Islamists and Muslim “separatists” in France; entwining France’s motto of “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” (liberty, equality, brotherhood) with secularism.

Only the third-placed far-left politician, Jean-Luc Melenchon, has historically taken a position more supportive of the Muslim community.

First-round polling by Ifop suggested that some two-thirds of French Muslim voters backed him. Melenchon lost out in the first round of voting.

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“What’s scary with this upcoming election is that most (top) candidates simply rely on programs based on the stigmatization of minorities,” Latreche, a law student.

The French political landscape is vastly different from just a few elections ago. 

The two far-right candidates with the most extreme policies collected slightly over 30% of the total votes in the first round.

Their surge accompanied a clamour of anti-immigrant, anti-Islam narratives that dominated much of the debate and coverage.

Many worshipers at Strasbourg’s Grand Mosque don’t feel represented by the dozens of candidates who competed​ in the first round for the presidency.

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“We’re constantly marginalized, excluded from society and then told that we’re not taking part in society,” said Latreche. She felt that being refused agency and choice over her own life and contribution to society inevitably harmed her mental health and friends.

In successive election seasons, politicians trying to rally support for traditional French Republican values have targeted hijabs and Muslim women’s headscarves.

“Laicité” — or secularism — ensures equality for all, rendering all citizens French first and protecting freedom of worship in the private sphere. France bans religious symbols in ​primary and secondary schools, public offices and state places of work.

“Laicité per se is not a problem,” says Rim-Sarah Alouane, a PhD candidate in comparative law at Toulouse-Capitole.

“A transformed Laicité has been weaponized as a tool for political identity to target the visibility of French Muslims women. The more modern illiberal interpretation of laicité is the problem than laicité itself,” she said.

Today’s laicité debate has put hijabs front center of France’s culture wars, pitting ​what conservatives describe as “secularism​” against religious civil liberties.

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Le Pen and Zemmour proposed banning ​what they call “the hijab,” but neither campaign has offered detail on what such a ban would encompass or its enforcement. The French government has already banned the niqab — a full-face veil.

Macron’s government reacted furiously to a European Union diversity campaign “Beauty is in diversity, as freedom is in hijab.”

Last month, the French Supreme Court permitted local bar associations to ban headscarves and other “religious symbols” from courtrooms. Forcing hijab-wearing women like Latreche to choose between their career and ​the public practice of ​their faith. 

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Ludwig Knoepffler of Le Pen’s campaign team denied that Le Pen’s ​anti-hijab platform was done; “in the name of laicité.” Instead, he ​​said the intent was to combat totalitarianism.

Le Pen called the headscarf “a uniform imposed by the Islamists during a presidential debate.”

Macron called her out for creating a “system of equivalence” among Islamism, terrorism and foreigners that would “create civil war.”

Aalla, the mosque president, said, “The Muslims of France have been here for several generations; but we continue to treat them as strangers.” 

Legal scholar Alouane Says the ​headscarf​ debate is a fear mongering distraction; “all we talk about is a piece of cloth that women wear… like, seriously.”

French Muslims expect the French society to devote itself to economic, social questions; the questions “that all French, Muslims included, expect from their new president.”

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