Anti-Islamic rhetoric in French elections risks ‘spiral of hatred’, says rector of Paris mosque | France

A rise in anti-Islam rhetoric in France’s presidential campaign risks creating a “spiral of hatred”, scapegoating law-abiding Muslims akin to anti-Jewish rhetoric in the 1930s, the official said. rector of the mosque of Paris.

“I am extremely worried,” said Chems-eddine Hafiz, the rector of the historic Grand Mosque of Paris. “We are in a society that is fractured and looking for itself, a fragile society that is afraid after the pandemic. The fact of looking for a scapegoat – there were precedents for this: in 1930 when we started pointing the finger at Jews who had become “the problem of a whole society”… Today these are no longer Jews are Muslims… In the 21st century, we would be safe from this type of discourse.

Hafiz published a book, With All Due Respect, We’re Children of the Republic, this month to counter what he called the heightened anti-Muslim rhetoric that swept the French right during the election campaign.

With centrist Emmanuel Macron leading the polls and favorite to be re-elected next month, some rival candidates have focused on Islam and immigration.

Far-right outsider candidate Eric Zemmour, a former television pundit convicted of inciting racial hatred, regularly refers to the discredited “great replacement” conspiracy theory, in which he claims local French populations could be replaced by new arrivals, making France a predominantly Muslim country on the brink of civil war.

In a television interview after declaring his candidacy, Zemmour called on Muslims in France to renounce the practice of their religion. During a televised debate last month, he told a voter he was running to “save France from Islam” and the “replacement” of the French.

Far-right Marine Le Pen, who intends to hold a referendum on immigration and ban the Muslim headscarf from all public places, is presented by the polls as the candidate most likely to face Macron in the final vote on April 24. .

Valérie Pécresse, a candidate for Nicolas Sarkozy’s traditional right-wing Les Républicains party, has come under fire for referring to the grand replacement theory at a rally in Paris. She pledged to limit the wearing of the Muslim headscarf in certain public spaces, including by athletes at sporting events.

All the right-wing candidates spoke of a climate of fear in France after the Islamist terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015 and the horror of the beheading of a French secondary school teacher, Samuel Paty, in 2020.

Chems-eddine Hafiz in front of the Grand Mosque in Paris in April 2021. Photography: Nicolas Nicolas Messyasz/SIPA/Rex/Shutterstock

Hafiz said he was the first to condemn Islamist terrorism and that his mosque was at the heart of counter-radicalization work in France. But he feared that the majority of law-abiding Muslim French citizens could be mistaken for terrorist attacks, despite often being victims of terrorism themselves.

“For several years, at each election in France, some candidates have raised the ‘problem’ of Islam, linking Islam to immigration or terrorism,” he told the Guardian.

“French Muslims have faced stigma or insults or the view that Islam is incompatible with the rules of the French Republic or with the West. But in this election, it is much more serious because there is a candidate who is completely loose and who speaks of a “great replacement” and who vehemently affirms that Islam and Muslims cannot remain in France, that their place is elsewhere, and if they want to stay in this country they should no longer practice their religion.

Hafiz said other right-wing candidates appeared to be competing with Zemmour on Islam, such as in the internal Republican primary to choose a candidate. He said that although the main concerns of French voters are issues such as making ends meet, it had become “almost fashionable” for candidates “to criticize Islam and Muslims, to see them as undesirables which are dangerous or which bring insecurity”.

He said: “We are in 2022, we are in the fourth, even the fifth generation of Muslims in France and they are still considered foreigners.”

It is estimated that between 800,000 and 1 million people frequent mosques or Muslim prayer rooms in France.

Hafiz said he feared there would be an increase in anti-Muslim acts after the elections.

He said other elements of Zemmour’s speech were disturbing, including his claim that Nazi collaborator Marshal Philippe Pétain rescued French Jews rather than assisting in their deportation to death camps.

Zemmour, the Paris-born son of Jewish Berbers who emigrated from Algeria in the 1950s, answered Hafiz’s call last week for Muslims to turn out in April’s elections to counter hatred. Zemmour tweeted: “The rector of the Great Mosque of Paris appealed to vote against me. Do you intend to obey him?

Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist Party candidate languishing in the polls, recently visited a Paris mosque where she warned against presidential candidates “scapegoating” Muslims. She said she was extremely worried about “hateful” political speeches that undermine “fraternity” in France.

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