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View Full Version : French Muslims Facing Vote

04-07-2007, 09:56 PM

The expression "Muslim community of France" describes different social realities. This term can apply to an ethnic group formed of those individuals who came, or whose parents came, from Muslim countries (North and Sub-Saharan Africa, Pakistan, etc.) but can also refer to the group of Muslim believers composed of first- and second-generation immigrants coexisting with individuals of French origin who converted to Islam, sharing their religious beliefs.

The political positioning of the Muslim community in France is therefore not homogenous and it can vary, not only depending on their conservative or reformist approach to politics but also in terms of participation in the democratic debate for some Muslims who consider voting a sin. The possibility of giving voting rights in local elections to foreign residents in France has been discussed for years. For these reasons, it is quite difficult to postulate the idea of a "French Muslim vote".


A large portion of French Muslims traditionally vote for the left-wing socialist side, which they believe can solve the social problems they face every day: a feeling of exclusion in their youth, racial and religious discrimination when searching for a job or an apartment, and a feeling of estrangement in the French society which, by having them largely underrepresented in institutions and media, fails to recognize them as ordinary French citizens. This analysis also applies to other groups of the population in a similar social situation. Part of this electorate is questioning the usual socialist welfare state, as socialists did not solve social problems when they ran the country, and is starting to look into what conservative political parties (and even nationalist parties) are offering. Muslim citizens, like many other French citizens, also hesitate between a useful vote for a traditional party and a meaningful vote for a more original candidate.

Many Muslims are willing to vote for more affirmative ideas. They support the traditional social demands but also criticize the growing Islamophobia in France, the rise of which is partly helped by the adoption of the law forbidding the Islamic veil at school and the recent caricature affair.

Most of the French Muslims pay close attention to what is going on in the rest of the world.
On a daily basis, this Islamophobia is manifested through insults, vexations, and flagrant discrimination toward practicing Muslims, especially women, when looking for a job. Muslim women covering their head have difficulty being offered jobs other than phone-marketing and client support, whatever their education and skills — positions which ensure they are not visible to clients or to society in general.

The Roissy affair is another example of the ambient fear toward Muslims in France: Several baggage handlers lost their job because their alleged Muslim practices were considered "a potential threat to national security." Most of these Muslims pay close attention to what is going on in the rest of the world, especially the role France is willing and able to play in solving conflicts. They feel close to what is happening to other Muslims in Palestine, Iraq, or Chechnya, and show significant interest in the issues of sustainable development and of responsibilities in the relationship between developed and developing countries.


A massive interest in voting has arisen in French suburbs after the riots of 2005.
It seems that most French Muslims, whatever their political opinions, have decided to express their hopes and demands by voting. A massive interest in voting has arisen in French suburbs after the riots of 2005. Some independent associations, such as AC Le Feu, have sprung from these areas to express their views and demands regarding the situation in the country and to ask candidates to take significant positions on important social matters.

Each candidate to the presidential election has a particular position with respect to the Muslim community, which is a very complicated and strategic mix between two attitudes: apparent sympathetic paternalism to rally the maximum voting Muslims around their ideas; or manipulation of the residual fear of Islam in French society to reinforce the conservative vote.

French Muslims tend to build their decision regarding the position of the candidates on social reforms, Islamophobia, and the stand on Palestine.
In the speeches of most candidates, whether reformists or conservatives, Islam is often described as a suspected religion whose followers are potentially dangerous if they believe too hard, and where wives are portrayed as submissive and oppressed women. One of the candidates, Philippe de Villiers, has made his campaign motto the cause of resisting what he calls "the Islamization of France," while Nicolas Sarkozy, the conservative candidate and until recently Minister of the Interior, criticizes those who "live in polygamy, excise their daughters, and behead sheep in their bathrooms." Answering a question on Al-Qaeda on national radio, Sarkozy, at that time in charge of counterterrorism, showed he did not know the difference between Sunni and Shiite Islam. Jean-Marie Le Pen, the traditional national extremist candidate, does not have to convince anyone anymore, as others are doing the job for him. He even shows a more tolerant side, using an Arab woman for some of his campaign posters and supports Iraqis and Palestinians.

On the central-right-wing side (with François Bayrou) and on the leftwing side (with Ségolène Royal), in the established parties, candidates try to show they respect Muslims and understand their social demands but are extremely firm on matters they consider laicism, in a country where a strongly antireligious movement is finding its way. The socialist party finds it also very difficult to define an international strategy without raising protests from some of its most high-ranked corporate members, deeply involved in favor of Israel. José Bové, the anti-globalization candidate, considers the French people in unity, without labeling Muslims. His involvement for the Palestinian people and his fight against genetically modified organisms (he went to prison several times for this cause) give him a reputation as a man of conviction and integrity.

In an attempt to show they are open to ethnic minorities and Muslims, the main parties have all nominated some Arab spokespersons to parade in suburbs, to prevent possible accusations of discrimination and lack of representation of ethnic minorities in their political groups. Nicolas Sarkozy, whose image is disastrous in suburbs (where a lot of Muslims live), has even encouraged the creation of the Bleu Blanc Rouge (literally blue, white, red) association, formed of young Arabs and Blacks living in the suburbs, who are in charge, in exchange for a job, of walking from door to door in their suburbs trying to improve Sarkozy's image.

With such a limited political choice in this campaign, French Muslims tend to build their decision regarding the position of the candidates on social reforms, Islamophobia, and the stand on Palestine. José Bové and François Bayrou, the centrist candidate who proposes a government of national unity, benefit from this situation.

The Muslim community of France, estimated between four and six million citizens, is far from being a homogenous and united group when it comes to voting, but the example of their British Muslim neighbours — fewer but better organized and better represented — gives them an idea of what political role Muslim citizens could play in France and it forces major parties to protect themselves by vigorously criticizing such an attempt, considering the idea of a community very dangerous, more so than their differences on religious matters and political positioning. French Muslims have understood that by becoming civic actors in the country where they live, they could change their status from voiceless citizens to full-fledged citizens, fully conscious of their rights and ready to exercise them.



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