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Muslim Voters Mobilize Against Sarkozy

Published: 25/04/2012 12:18:00 AM GMT
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CAIRO - Living in poor immigrant suburbs, France's Muslim community is mobilizing voters to punish President Nocolas Sarkozy in coming presidential elections for ignoring their community's needs to focus on anti-immigrant and (more)

CAIRO - Living in poor immigrant suburbs, France's Muslim community is mobilizing voters to punish President Nocolas Sarkozy in coming presidential elections for ignoring their community's needs to focus on anti-immigrant and anti-Islam rhetoric.

“[French] Muslims can't stand it anymore. They are fed up with these debates about national identity, halal meat, the veil or fundamentalism all over the place,” Francoise Lorcerie, a sociologist with the Institute of Studies on the Arab and Muslim World near Marseille, told The Washington Times.

“The terms [Islam, immigration and fundamentalism] are being used interchangeably, without care, with people being targeted, denigrated and used for [votes].”

France's Muslims, estimated at six million, came under scrutiny over the past few months after Islam and immigration became a main theme in the electoral rallies of presidential candidates in the April-May election.

Trying to win far right votes, Sarkozy's government has toughened its message on immigration and in January it trumpeted the deportation of a record number of illegal migrants in 2011.

Anti-Muslim rhetoric consolidated in France after a gunman of Algerian origin killed seven people, including three Muslim soldiers and three Jewish children in Toulouse last month.

Muslim leaders have distanced themselves from the killing, saying the murders run counter to the Islamic teachings.

Sarkozy, of the conservative Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party, called for tightening immigration because there are “too many foreigners” in France.

Marine Le Pen, the presidential candidate of the far-right National Front party, talked about “green fascism” and wondered “how many Mohammed Merahs are arriving on boats and planes each day, filling France with immigrants.”

The speeches infuriated French Muslims and reignited the debate over origins and identity.

“Merah was born in France. He did not come by boat or plane, but everyone talks about his origins, despite his being French,” said Mohamed Mechmache, president of AC Le Feu, a community association working to improve conditions in the banlieues, France's poor immigrant suburbs.

“The French Republic has not been fair: She has forgotten some of her children.”

Forgotten

Living in the “banlieues,” Muslims blasted rightist candidates' campaigns, saying what residents of those poor suburbs really need are education and jobs, not a fight over Islam.

“There has been so much disillusion, deception and unfulfilled promises that there is a general climate of mistrust in our neighborhoods,” Mr. Mechmache, president of AC Le Feu, told The Washington Times.

“People say, ‘There is no point voting.' We tell them they have the opportunity to change things.”

Educating the Muslim community about the challenges facing them, AC Le Feu has been working with Muslim community groups to get out the “Muslim vote” in the banlieues, which have had nonparticipation rates as high as 50 percent in some elections.

“There has been so much disillusion, deception and unfulfilled promises that there is a general climate of mistrust in our neighborhoods,” Mr. Mechmache said.

“People say, ‘There is no point voting.' We tell them they have the opportunity to change things.”

In a notice to its members, the Union of Muslim Families of Bouches du Rhone (UFM13), an apolitical association, asked voters to “punish arsonists … who by calculation and political maneuvers have thrown Muslims, inner-city youths, the unemployed and foreigners to the mob.”

Without mentioning any candidate's name, the association accused some politicians of dividing the nation and “betraying the republican pact” and warned against “those hoping to win or retain power by stoking fear, xenophobia, the rejection of others.”

Leaning Left

Reflecting the growing anger with the right policies, activists said that Muslims were increasingly leaning left in support of immigration.

“I prefer the left; I think when you're born Lamia Messaoui, it can't be any other way,” said Lamia Messaoui, a French business executive of Algerian descent.

“Besides, for me, Sarkozy is not an option. His politics, even when he was the interior minister, his use of borderline expressions such as ‘of Muslim appearance,' it's just too much for me.”

In April 2007, polls found that French Muslims voted mainly for the Socialist presidential candidate, giving Segolene Royal 64 percent of their vote, while Sarkozy got just 1 percent in the first round and 5 percent in the second.

“People who would have originally voted for the center or the right-wing are now determined to vote against Nicolas Sarkozy,” Ms. Lorcerie said.

“However, this is a short-term response to the current anti-Muslim craze. In the long run, votes of Muslims and citizens of North African and African decent will eventually blend into the overall trends of the French society.”

For now, French Muslims seem to prefer Socialist Francois Hollande, a clear front-runner in the runoff on May 6, according to polls.

“Hollande said he will lower rents and bills. That's what everybody cares about because our salaries aren't enough to make ends meet,” said Chaker Alain, 28, a Parisian born to French parents of North African descent.

“Besides, when you listen to the right-wing speeches, the way they call immigrants and their religion every name, automatically you lean toward the left.”

Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net



Soon to be former President Nocolas Sarkozy

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