In run-up to election, French politics has normalized anti-Muslim sentiment: Experts

Polls suggest that Emmanuel Macron will narrowly secure a second term against the far right’s Marine Le Pen. (AFP)
Polls suggest that Emmanuel Macron will narrowly secure a second term against the far right’s Marine Le Pen. (AFP)
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Updated 23 April 2022

In run-up to election, French politics has normalized anti-Muslim sentiment: Experts

Polls suggest that Emmanuel Macron will narrowly secure a second term against the far right’s Marine Le Pen. (AFP)
  • ‘The rhetoric has moved from the margins to the center,’ professor tells Arab News
  • ‘In most cases, Muslims are excluded from debates that affect them,’ lawyer tells Arab News

LONDON: French politics has normalized anti-Muslim sentiment as the country’s Muslim population finds itself de-platformed in the run-up to Sunday’s presidential election.

Polls suggest that Emmanuel Macron will narrowly secure a second term against the far right’s Marine Le Pen.

But for the domestic Muslim population, a vote for Macron will be a pragmatic one rather than a vote for hope, with the incumbent seen as the lesser of two evils.

Jocelyne Cesari, visiting professor of religion, violence and peacebuilding at Harvard Divinity School, told Arab News that while anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant talk is nothing new, with “this idea that France would be Muslim within 20 years” having been peppered around since the turn of the century, what is new is that the discourse has become “central.”

She said: “The rhetoric has moved from the margins to the center. But more than this, when it comes to the legitimacy of Islam, the left is also very much on its case. They’re pro-immigration, but women wearing the hijab and the legitimacy of halal meat … this change in the past 20 years is very, very worrisome.

“Worse still, on some issues it’s very hard to see any difference between Macron and Le Pen, especially on the visibility of Muslims. Some of Macron’s ministers have been even more excessive than she has on this matter.”

Last year, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin caught Le Pen off guard, describing her as weak on Islam.

Dr. Paul Smith, associate professor and section lead in French and Francophone studies, modern languages and cultures at the University of Nottingham, agrees that anti-Muslim rhetoric has become “normalized,” although he believes there is some nuance to Darmanin’s comment.

“Darmanin cut his teeth under (former President Nicolas) Sarkozy,” Smith told Arab News. “Sarkozy was hard, but he was also trying to create a framework for Islam to exist happily in France.

“I believe Darmanin’s comment was intended to suggest that Le Pen talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. In this election though, she hasn’t had to as (candidate Eric) Zemmour has been out there saying it all for her. Next to Zemmour she looks like she’s organizing a Sunday school outing. Her anti-Islamic views have been more oblique — that doesn’t mean she’s changed her program. Should she win, she’ll seek to enforce a version of French identity that’s very much Catholic Christianity.”

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Smith believes French Muslims could be key players in the election’s outcome, noting that their first-round vote, particularly in the city of Marseille, went to left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon.

Be that as it may, French lawyer and doctoral candidate Maitre Rajnish Karim Laouini said a major stumbling block for galvanizing the Muslim vote has been that while Muslims remain the subject of political discussion, they themselves are excluded from it.

“In most cases, Muslims are excluded from debates that affect them,” Laouini told Arab News. “When they aren’t excluded, those who participate aren’t seen as people who bring their voices. Their interventions are perceived as counter-productive or reinforcing the discredit that’s already brought upon them.

“Excluding Muslims who are able to bring voices from the debate only creates a climate of suspicion among some Muslims, who end up thinking France would rather see them as a problem than part of the solution.”

Cesari takes the point further, suggesting that French Muslims have not been de-platformed. “Rather, it’s just the case that they simply aren’t there,” she said.

“The French and Germans share this in Europe — they have the least presence of Muslims in any political or public structures. There’s been no political integration, and this can’t be put down to education. We know this isn’t true — we have in some instances fourth, fifth-generation Muslim families.

“We’re just behind. Look at the UK — this week it appointed its first hijab-wearing criminal barrister to the Queen’s Counsel. There, they have Muslims in high office.”

Cesari, Laouini and Smith all share substantive concerns should Le Pen pull off an upset during Sunday’s vote.

Laouini said should she do it, France would “take the risk of becoming the first Western democracy to ban the hijab in public spaces,” which Cesari said amounts to the erosion of democracy “as an impediment to religious freedom.” That this is only being mobilized against Muslims leaves her equally as concerned.

However, Smith said there remains a lot of uncertainties. Under the French system, the public first elect a president before going to the polls in June to elect the legislature.

Should Le Pen win the presidential election but lose the general election — “her victory could create a wave of opposition” — she would be a lame-duck president.

This, he said, could lead to violence from the far right, who tried to stir up violence during the first lockdowns with claims of “no-go zones” patrolled by Muslims — “for their part, French Muslims behaved impeccably, not responding to provocations.” He added: “We’re in unchartered waters if she wins.” 


British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 

British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 
Updated 15 sec ago

British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 

British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 

LONDON: A British pilgrim has said she feels “very blessed” to be among the 1 million people performing Hajj this year.

Sarah Rana, a management consultant and chartered surveyor, is performing Hajj for the first time and said she feels “special and honored” to be part of the annual gathering.

This year’s Hajj will be the first post-pandemic pilgrimage open to foreign pilgrims, and 1 million people will perform it this year as people across the globe start traveling again. 

Around 2.5 million people performed Hajj in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and approximately 1,000 and 60,000 people from within the Kingdom performed it in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

The chartered surveyor said that she started thinking about going to Hajj during the pandemic when she began reading the Qur’an more and learning about the life of the Prophet Muhammad.

Rana told Arab News that she has done “a lot of the emotional processing” and is now concentrating on preparing herself physically for the journey ahead which starts with her flight to the Kingdom on Friday.

“45 degrees is not going to be easy. That's going to be massive. If it goes over 30 degrees, my hands and feet start swelling,” Rana said. 

She said that although she walked the London Marathon last year, walking in the heat “is going to be a very different experience. So I’m not not taking it lightly. I’m thinking it through.”

Rana added that her friends and family have been giving her Hajj tips and that she is “quite well prepared.”

“I’ve been buying clothes. I found that the stuff that was more expensive was more uncomfortable. So I’m just going to take my practical stuff,” Rana said.

Muslims believe that supplications that pilgrims make during Hajj, especially on the ninth day of Dhu Al-Hijjah, are definitely accepted.

Rana said she believes that God knows her needs and will give her what is best for her. She will be praying for her kids, that the remainder of her life is a good one and for financial independence.

She said performing Hajj represents a new start for her and will give her closure from any painful experiences in the past. 

“As I turn 50 this year, I think it’s closure to a lot of stuff and genuinely about a new start, whatever that new start is. It’s very meaningful.”


Man charged with new woman’s killing on streets of London

Man charged with new woman’s killing on streets of London
Updated 29 June 2022

Man charged with new woman’s killing on streets of London

Man charged with new woman’s killing on streets of London
  • Jordan McSweeney, 29, is charged with the murder of 35-year-old Zara Aleena
  • He spoke only to confirm his name and details during a brief hearing at the Thames Magistrates' Court

LONDON: A man was remanded in custody Wednesday after appearing in a London court charged with the murder and attempted rape of a woman who had been walking home alone in east London.
It was the latest in a string of similar incidents that have heightened concern over the safety of women and girls on the British capital’s streets.
Jordan McSweeney, 29, is charged with the murder of 35-year-old Zara Aleena, who was attacked after a night out in Ilford in the early hours of Sunday.
McSweeney, who is also charged with attempted rape and robbery, spoke only to confirm his name and details during a brief hearing at the Thames Magistrates’ Court.
In a statement, Aleena’s family mourned her death and called for an end to violence against women. They highlighted the killings of other women who were targeted by strangers in London and elsewhere.
The family expressed sympathy to the families of Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa and others who were killed in recent months and whose deaths prompted widespread protests calling for more protection for women and girls.
The family said Aleena, a law graduate who was training to become a lawyer, “walked everywhere” and “believed that a woman should be able to walk home.”
“Sadly, Zara is not the only one who has had her life taken at the hands of a stranger. We all know women should be safe on our streets. She was in the heart of her community, 10 minutes from home,” their statement said.
Police said Aleena suffered serious head injuries, confirmed in a post-mortem examination.
McSweeney was denied bail and remanded in custody until he is due to appear at London’s Central Criminal Court on Jul. 27.
A march remembering Aleena is planned in Ilford on Saturday.


Japan’s Kishida backs Sweden’s NATO bid

Japan’s Kishida backs Sweden’s NATO bid
Updated 45 min 6 sec ago

Japan’s Kishida backs Sweden’s NATO bid

Japan’s Kishida backs Sweden’s NATO bid
  • Japan hopes to strengthen its relations with Sweden further as partners sharing basic values, Kishida added.

MADRID: Japanese Prime Minister KISHIDA Fumio on Wednesday expressed support for Sweden’s bid to join NATO in a meeting with his Swedish counterpart, Magdalena Andersson, on Wednesday.
“We support (Sweden’s) historic decision. We also express our respect for its efforts,” Kishida told Andersson.
NATO, which opened a two-day summit in Madrid on Wednesday, is expected to grant membership to Sweden and Finland after Turkey switched to support their participation.
Kishida said that Japan and Sweden will hold the presidency of the Group of Seven major powers and the European Union, respectively, next year.
Japan hopes to strengthen its relations with Sweden further as partners sharing basic values, Kishida added.
Andersson expressed gratitude for Japan’s strong action against Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

* This article originally appeared on Arab News Japan, click here to read it.


Russian court lets opposition figure’s jail term stand

Russian court lets opposition figure’s jail term stand
Updated 29 June 2022

Russian court lets opposition figure’s jail term stand

Russian court lets opposition figure’s jail term stand
  • The decision by the Moscow City Court came one day after Ilya Yashin was sentenced

MOSCOW: A court in Moscow on Wednesday rejected a prominent Russian opposition figure’s appeal of the 15-day jail sentence he received on charges of failing to obey police.
The decision by the Moscow City Court, the capital’s highest municipal judicial body, came one day after Ilya Yashin was sentenced.
Yashin, who has publicly criticized Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine, was detained late Monday in a Moscow park. Police said he grabbed an officer by his uniform and insulted police, which Yashin denied.
In May, Yashin was ordered to pay 90,000 rubles ($1700) on charges of discrediting the Russian military.
Russia has cracked down on critics of its “special military operation” in Ukraine, A well-known dissident, Vladimir Kara-Murza, was arrested in April and remains jailed while awaiting trial on charges of spreading false information about the military. The offense carries a potential sentence of up to 15 years.


NATO invites Sweden and Finland to join the alliance, Madrid summit statement says

NATO invites Sweden and Finland to join the alliance, Madrid summit statement says
Updated 29 June 2022

NATO invites Sweden and Finland to join the alliance, Madrid summit statement says

NATO invites Sweden and Finland to join the alliance, Madrid summit statement says
  • The alliance also agreed on a new strategic concept

MADRID: NATO has invited Sweden and Finland to become members of the military alliance, a commununique published by the NATO summit in Madrid on Wednesday said.
“The accession of Finland and Sweden will make them (the allies) safer, NATO stronger and the Euro-Atlantic area more secure,” the communique said, adding that the alliance also agreed a new strategic concept.
The communique described Russia as the “most significant and direct threat to the allies’ security,” a reaction to the massively deteriorated relationship to Russia since its invasion of Ukraine.
The alliance pledged further help to Kyiv and agreed a package of support aimed at modernizing the country’s defense sector.
At the same time, NATO decided to significantly strengthen its own deterrence and defense.
“Allies have committed to deploy additional robust in-place combat-ready forces on our eastern flank, to be scaled up from the existing battlegroups to brigade-size units, where and when required underpinned by credible available reinforcements, prepositioned equipment, and enhanced command and control,” the communique said.
In the communique, the alliance described China as a challenge to NATO’s interests, security and values, and as a country that is seeking to undermine the rules-based international order.