The curious case of French Arabs joining far-right parties
Samir al-Rawi (47), a French citizen of Algerian roots, defended his membership of the far-right National Front (FN), saying he was not the only Arab French member of the party.
Rawi does not believe the anti-immigration party, whose positions many say are xenophobic, racist, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim, deserves the stigma associated with it. He claims it has been unduly "demonised" by the media.
"I know many among my people will not like my attitudes...but I tried all political parties and they have all failed us, so I finally decided to try the FN," Rawi told The New Arab.
He has been a member for 8 years.
|Mainstream political parties seem to have failed French Arabs and French Muslims, pushing a small number of them to experiment with fringe parties, including far-right ones|
The FN recently made the headlines with major gains in French regional elections.
To Rawi, this is evidence the party is not racist, saying politicians from all parties in France have made racist statements, only for FN leaders to be singled out, as he said.
Arabs in the FN: Complicated history
Harkis, loyalist pro-French Algerians who moved to France after the Algerian War of Independence, were perhaps the first to join the FN.
But recently, an increasing number of Arab FN members cite the party's foreign policy stances as the reason for joining it. For example, Jean-Marie Le Pen, former leader of the FN, was against the US-led invasion of Iraq. Unlike his daughter and current leader, he also long criticised Israel's policies against the Palestinians.
|Some Arabs and Muslims were impressed by the FN's anti-intervention stance and criticism of Israel in the past|
"But this ignores Le Pen's history," says Taleb Yassine, an Algerian youth living in France. "Everyone knows he was a French army paratrooper who killed many Algerians in the 1950s, and who admitted to torture," he added.
During elections in France, political parties including the FN, suddenly discover the importance of the Arab and Muslim constituencies. Promises are made and Arab and Musim communities feel they part of the nation.
"Everyone will remember an ad by the FN in 2007 showing a North African French woman" criticising the failure of other parties, said Mohammad Ali Adrawi, a French professor at Singapore University.
The New Arab took questions about what pushes French Arabs and Muslims to join an anti-immigrant party to Farid Samahi, FN political bureau member and regional adviser.
|FN members like Farid Samahi seem to be motivated by personal reasons, including direct ties to former FN leader Jean-Marie Le Pen|
"Do you think I'm mad to join a racist party when I'm an immigrant myself? Le Pen loves his country. I became close to him and he made me the man I am," he said.
"Times have changed. French Arabs are in leftist, environmentalist and other parties," Samahi added.
What about racism? "There is no [racism]. I have been a contemporary of the patry leaders over 20 years, and in some way, I was Jean-Marie Le Pen's son and more," he replied.
However, Samahi was quick to add: "I admit French society is not ready to accept North African-sounding names...which are an obstacle to integration."
"Immigrants from Arab roots should add another name. Let us give our children French names for the sake of their future," he said.
Samahi claimed the FN is the only party that can "save" French Muslims if it takes power. "It will not expel anyone. I would only give people of North African origins a choice between French citizenship and the citizenship of their respective countries of origin."
|When we use the term 'descendants of immigrants', it is a kind of slur. For how long can we see these young people as 'of immigrant descent'?"—Evelyne Perrin|
But Evelyne Perrin, French sociologist and author of Jeunes Maghrébins de France. La place refusée (Young North-Africans of France: Status Refused), rejects Samahi's logic.
"Most of these youths are third-generation French. When we use the term 'descendants of immigrants', it is a kind of slur. For how long can we see these young people as 'of immigrant descent'?"
However, she agrees that French mainstream parties have failed to attract members, especially among communities that descend from immigrants. But since French law prohibits conducting statistics on racial, religious or ethnic bases, no exact figures on their numbers can be obtained.
Meanwhile, Houria Bouteldja, leader in the Party of the Indigenous of the Republic (MIR), stressed that the FN contrary to its claims is not a secular but a deeply religious party, citing conservative and religious statements and positions by the FN.
|"If democratic parties remain patriarchal...what could one say about a party that says it has a divine message and revers Joan of Arc?"
Alima Boumediene-Thiery, member of the Senate of Frane for the Green Party, agrees.
"If democratic parties remain patriarchal...what could one say about a party that says it has a divine message and revers Joan of Arc?"
"Samahi and others like him in the FN are only pawns!", she said.
However, Boumediene-Thiery does not believe the other parties are much better. "We must not be fooled by the facade of French ministers with Arabic roots."