In France, some Muslims vote Le Pen, others go into exile

In France, some Muslims vote Le Pen, others go into exile

In France, some Muslims vote Le Pen, others go into exile
Jordan Bardella visits the Eurosatory 2024 defense and security trade show, Villepinte, Paris, France, June 19, 2024. (Reuters)
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Certain dates are etched into French political history. In addition to July 14, 1789, they include May 10, 1981, when Francois Mitterrand was elected to the Elysee, and April 21, 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen defeated the Socialist Lionel Jospin in the first round of voting in the presidential election. For the first time, the National Front had won the right to compete in the second round, challenging Jacques Chirac. Twenty-two years later, on June 9, 2024, a tsunami shook the country: the National Rally won the European elections.

Nearly a third of voters chose Jordan Bardella’s list, twice as many as President Emmanuel Macron’s party. A severe slap in the face. In truth, it was expected. “Macronia” has paved the way for the National Rally.

So, remember a big jolt in December 2023, when Marine Le Pen’s group smilingly voted for the Macron 2 government’s immigration bill, delighted to see how the ideology of the National Front had irrigated the country with “national preference” and the incessant demonization of immigration. A year before, reelected ahead of Le Pen, Macron swore to the French people that he would oppose her and her ideas. He failed.

The dissolution of the National Assembly will finish disqualifying him. France is morally and politically bankrupt. The far right is relishing the fact it is no longer viewed as diabolical. Today, it is commonplace to hear that you have to try this party or that party and, in any case, the others are all rotten, worn out; they have let France go down the drain, facilitated the Great Replacement theory, sold off the French identity, Muslims are everywhere and they want to impose Shariah, halal, mosques, “wokeism,” etc., on us.

For many years now, this frustration, distilled by the media, notably the outlets of fervent Catholic billionaire Vincent Bollore, has effectively contributed to normalizing the racist ideology against Arabs and Muslims. Let’s face it, a synonym for immigrants in France is Muslims. It is they, the eternal scapegoats, who will suffer the most from the National Rally’s ascent to power.

What is most surprising is that this racist ideology cuts across ethnic lines. For example, the day after the National Rally’s victory in the European elections, a neighbor of Algerian origin, a Qabayli named Mohannad, aged in his 50s and born in France, told me that he had voted for the far right. Seeing me surprised, he justified himself and added that Bardella is in fact Qabayli through his grandmother and that this common origin had moved him. As the son of North African immigrants, he argued that French society is in such a state of disrepair that it urgently needs to be cleaned up: there are too many immigrants, too much insecurity, too much insalubrity, too much disrespect, too much banditry, too many bicycle and scooter thieves, too many car breakers, too much anti-police hatred among young people, and too much drug dealing.

He proclaimed: “The French are fed up. It’s got to stop. Bardella will take care of it.” His analyses were in line with those proclaimed by Nicolas Sarkozy, who was elected president in 2007, with his Karcher cleaning of the riffraff on the housing estates, his slogans of ‘chosen immigration, not suffered’ and ‘France, you love it or you leave it,’ the creation of a Ministry of National Identity and Immigration, national debates on the compatibility of Islam and the republic ... all promises of a return to authority, order and security designed to appeal to the National Front’s electorate.

For half a century, far-right ideology has flourished. On TV screens, every time there is an incident, crime or riot involving immigrants, foreigners or Muslims, the politicians surf on the emotions of citizens to stoke fear, hatred and division. So many times, the same scenario has been played out over and over again in a relentless hammering of the mind. Little by little, the republic’s dykes have been breached.

The rise in Le Pen’s popularity in France is the story of a drip that irrigated a nation that had become glacial over time. The drops filled the republican basin. In the 1970s, Jean-Marie Le Pen inaugurated the National Front to defend “France for the French;” 50 years later, his daughter Marine is on the doorstep of the Elysee Palace. With 88 deputies in the last National Assembly and now 30 in the European Parliament, she is writing the destiny of the republic.

Dressed as the future president, she now lays down the law, quite literally. In broad daylight. Mohannad, my Qabayli Muslim neighbor, voted for her and her party. His gesture speaks volumes. A question of image, he pleads. He does not know that, in 1965, in the US, the Black American leader Malcolm X deciphered the way in which whites create the image of Blacks: “Whatever they (white racists) do, they always need the support of white public opinion ... they manipulate the press.

“When it comes to stifling or oppressing the Black community, what do they do? Through the newspapers, they feed the public a series of statistics. The public will learn that the crime rate is higher in the Black community than anywhere else. They label the Black community as criminals. The mere fact of belonging to the Black community makes you a criminal. In other words, they use a process that is a science to create an image, and this image of you paralyzes you. It makes you ashamed of who you are, so bad is it.

“Some of us, who have assimilated, who have integrated, who have absorbed this negative image, end up not being able to stand life in the Black community. They cannot even stand the company of Black people.” This analysis is still relevant today. Hatred of Muslims is still based on the image we have created of them.

If Mohannad voted National Rally, it is because he feels that the behavior of some Arab Muslims in France is compromising his own integration. His is not an isolated case. Admittedly, we know that two-thirds of Muslims chose France Unbowed in the European elections because of its pro-Palestinian stance on the war in Gaza, but as the rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, Chems-Eddine Hafiz, acknowledges, many chose the National Rally, in fact in a proportion close to the national average.

This is a new development. The fact remains that, despite the context, there is still a chance that the left, with the New Popular Front, will win the legislative elections. However, for a long time to come in France, Arabs, Muslims and other immigrants, those from sub-Saharan Africa in particular, will remain in the crosshairs of part of the electorate. Once an opportunity for France, immigration is now seen as a real “problem.”

For a long time to come in France, Arabs, Muslims and other immigrants will remain in the crosshairs of part of the electorate.

Azouz Begag

It is at the heart of the political stakes. Those who do not like France had better watch out. They can leave if they find a better life elsewhere. Some have not waited to do so.

Unlike Mohannad, who chose to stay in France with Bardella, many children of North African origin have been going into exile for years, in a movement that has gained momentum since the 2015 Paris attacks and even more so since Oct. 7, following the Hamas attack on Israeli territory. On this theme, the recent release of a book, “La France, tu l'aimes mais tu la quittes,” (France, you love it but you are leaving it) sheds light on the issue of Islamophobia. It relates a survey of young French Muslims who have gone to live in London, Dubai, Doha, Jeddah, New York, Casablanca and Montreal. These graduates of higher education, technicians, executives, engineers and doctors settle in countries where only their professional talents and merits are recognized.

In France, the stigmatization they suffer in the workplace because of their religion, their name or their address has, for 68 percent of them, destroyed their love of France. In the years to come, Gulf countries will benefit from the European know-how of these young people, who are in search of sister countries where their identity is respected as much as their qualities.

  • Azouz Begag is a writer and former minister (2005-2007), researcher in economics and sociology. He is a researcher at the CNRS. Twitter: @AzouzBegag
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