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Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Tension over race, religion in France’s presidential race

by Arno Pedrama

PARIS ( Associated Press) – From attacks on “awareness” to crackdown on mosques, France’s presidential campaign has been particularly challenging for voters of immigrant heritage and religious minorities, as discourse portraying them as “other” Has acquired land in a party of French society. ,

French voters vote on Sunday for a runoff vote between centrist Emmanuel Macron and nationalist rival Marine Le Pen, wrapping up a campaign that experts have described as unusually dominated by discriminatory discourse and proposals targeting immigration and Islam. have seen.

With Le Pen’s proposal to ban women from wearing Muslim headscarves in public, women like 19-year-old student Nella Auzarf are in a bind.

“I want a president who accepts me as a person,” said Ouzarf, in a beige robe and head covering. She said she would defy the promised law if Le Pen became president and paid the final fine.

Macron attacked Le Pen over the headscarf issue in his presidential debate on Wednesday, warning it could spark a “civil war”. But the polls put Le Pen in his last runoff nearly five years before Macron. And in the first round, far-right candidates Le Pen and Eric Zemor together collected nearly a third of the vote.

France has no hard data on the race or religion of voters due to its doctrine of color blindness, which views all citizens as universally French and encourages assimilation.

Le Pen’s National Rally Party, formerly called the National Front, has a history of links with neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers and militias who opposed Algeria’s war for independence from colonial France. Le Pen has distanced himself from that past and softened his public image, but the top priority of his program is to prioritize French citizens over immigrants for welfare benefits, which critics see as institutional discrimination. . She also hopes to ban Muslim women from wearing head scarves in public, toughen asylum rules, and sharply cut immigration.

She has gained ground among voters since 2017, when she lost badly to Macron. This time Le Pen has laid more emphasis on policies to help the working poor.

Le Pen can also thank the furious-enthusiast Zémour, who came fourth in the first round of votes, for increasing his popularity by showing him a softer. Zemour has repeatedly been convicted of inciting racial or religious hatred, and has promoted the unfounded “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, which is used as a justification by white supremacists, who, in Christchurch, New Zealand, Massacres took place in Paso, Texas and in a synagogue in California.

“Eric Zemour’s presence skews the issue (of Islam and immigration) in favor of aggressive and violent stigma,” Cecil Alduy, a Stanford semiologist who studies Zemour’s language, told the Associated Press. “Meanwhile, humanist values ​​have declined: words such as equality, human rights, the fight against discrimination, or gender by the media, public intellectuals, and a large body of ministers in the current government qualify as politically correct or ‘awakening’. Huh. .”

For some experts and anti-racism groups in France, Macron is also to blame for the current climate, as his administration has adopted legislation and language that echoes some far-right mottos in hopes of eating in support of Le Pen.

Racial profiling and police violence targeting people of color, which activists have long cried out in France, continue to be a concern even under Macron’s presidency, which has increased its cases of police violence in France in the US. In the wake of the death of George Floyd saw repeated protests.

Also under Macron’s watch, France passed a law against terrorism that included a state of emergency in general law following the 2015 attacks on the Bataclan Theatre, Paris Cafe and the Charlie Hebdo newspaper. It increased the authority of the government to search and monitor people, control movement, and shut down some schools and religious places in the name of fighting extremism.

The human rights watchdog warned that the law was discriminatory. Amnesty International wrote, “Muslims may in some cases be targeted because of their religious practice, which is considered ‘radical’ by the authorities, without proving why they posed a threat to public order or security.”

Then in 2021, the government passed a law decriminalizing Macron’s “separatism” by Muslim fundamentalists, expanding state surveillance on unions and religious sites. The government’s own watchdog argued that the scope of the law was too broad.

Abdourahmane Ridouane has seen this first hand. In February, he was visited by two police officers who gave him a notice to close the mosque in the southwestern city of Pessac in the Bordeaux wine country. Officials argued that their criticism of the mosque’s “state Islamophobia” encourages and justifies Muslim insurgency and terrorism, and criticized political and anti-Israeli, pro-Palestinian posts on their social media pages.

“I am deeply saddened by a process that I did not consider worthy of a democratic state,” Ridoun told the Associated Press. He challenged the state’s decision and won on appeal. The Court of Appeal found that the closure was a “serious and clear illegal violation of religious freedom”. The state took the matter to France’s Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on Thursday.

France has also seen criticism of “Islamo-leftism” and “voicism”, reminiscent of attacks on race theory critical in the government of the American Macron, which has launched a study in its presence at French universities.

Yet race or colonial studies research departments do not exist in French universities, as they are seen as contrary to French sovereignty. Critics say the principle allows officials to turn a blind eye to deep-seated discrimination on the French mainland and overseas French territories where the majority of voters are not white.

“The election comes in this environment, the growing right-wing and conservative discourse, retreating into a white, universal, colour-blind discourse, blind to all the discrimination and systemic racism in French society,” said Nasira Gueniff, an anthropologist and sociologist in Paris. The professor said that Eighth University is focusing on race and gender.

On the left, meanwhile, “denial prevails,” Gueniff said, because many left-wing French voters “are quite uncomfortable with the question of race because they think talking about race makes you racist.”

Despite concerns over measures under Macron, the director of the Pesak mosque does not hesitate to choose who he will vote for in the second round.

“If Le Pen manages to take the lever of power, it will be the worst thing we have ever seen,” Ridoun said.

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Elaine Gainely contributed to this report.

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Follow Associated Press’s coverage of the French election https://apnews.com/hub/french-election-2022

World Nation News Desk
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