Islamophobia won the French elections
Emmanuel Macron triumphed in the 2022 presidential elections, closing out a campaign cycle in which anti-Muslim racism took centre stage. For the second time, the former investment banker defeated Marine Le Pen, holding off the possibility of a far-right presidency. However, this time the victory was narrower as Le Pen earned nearly 42% of the vote, sending a clear signal that a sizeable chunk of the Republic aligns with her racist and discriminatory views and policies.
For French Muslims, the results marked an end to a toxic campaign, where candidates made them the centre of the debate, trying to one-up each other in restricting their rights and freedoms. This year’s election left them between a rock and a hard place, given Macron spent the last five years instituting Le Pen’s agenda and criminalising the community.
From his “anti-Separatism law” to the “Imam charter,” Macron has sought to create a “French Islam,” a statement that sounds eerily similar to China’s genocidal campaign against Uyghurs, as Beijing too seeks to create a state-approved Islam. Ultimately, Macron’s strategy of the past half a decade essentially relegated French Muslims to second-class citizenship, forcing them to choose between their faith and a country that has never considered them French enough.
''Given Macron has never acknowledged his role in promoting Islamophobia, it’s likely that anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies will persist in his second term. He has given no indication that he will re-visit his previous discriminatory measures.''
For the past few years, Macron’s government has scapegoated French Muslims to manoeuvre attention away from his own failures at managing the economy, security, education, etc. He’s utilised the “Islamist” and “political Islam” bogeyman to clamp down on Muslim political participation and dissent. He’s weaponised violent events to institute broad policies aimed at collectively punishing the country’s nearly 6 million Muslims.
His interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, has taken great pride in shutting down mosques, Islamic schools, and Muslims organisations, including the CCIF, the leading anti-islamophobia body in the country which he [Darmanin] called “the enemy of the republic.” When it comes to immigration, Macron’s government has deported dozens of individuals under the pretext of fighting “Islamic terrorism,” and arrested countless others. Darmanin has been very public about his hatred for Muslims referring to the community as the “the enemy within.”
The former investment banker spent his first term creating conspiracy theories about an alliance between “Islamists” (an undefined, vague term aimed at any Muslim who dares express political dissent) and leftists in academia, with his minister of education vowing to carry out an inquiry into “Islamo-gauchism” (Islamo-leftism) in universities.
In a stark contrast to 2017, this time around Le Pen made an effort to soften her image, emphasising issues such as rising living costs and highlighting her role as a single mother. One thing that never changed for the leader of the far-right National Rally, was her hard-line views on Islam, Muslims, and immigration.
In her 2022 campaign, Le Pen promised to dismantle France’s immigration laws by stopping family reunification and removing birth right citizenship, defending her policies by giving legitimacy to the far-right Great Replacement conspiracy theory. She sought to institutionalise discrimination by only giving French citizens access to welfare benefits and giving preferential treatment to French nationals when it comes to access to social housing and jobs. Le Pen also vowed to ban the hijab in all public spaces, outlaw ritual slaughter restricting Muslims’ and Jews’ access to kosher and halal meat, strip French citizenship from people deemed to have “extreme Islamist views,” and shut down mosques that contradict French values. This was Le Pen’s platform and four in 10 French voters agreed with and supported it.
A recent article by Katy Brown, Aurelien Mondon, and Aaron Winter argued that the mainstream is a fluid concept, forever changing and morphing, and that how we categorise the far-right is often in relation to what we identify as mainstream. When it comes to anti-Muslim bigotry, there is no accurate manner in which Le Pen can be categorised as far-right and still maintain that Macron is somehow moderate. It was Macron’s very own interior minister who accused Le Pen of being “too soft on Islam.” When it comes to Islamophobia, there is no differentiation between “mainstream” and “far-right.”
Would Le Pen have proposed to ban the hijab in all public spaces had Macron not already pushed that leg forward by putting forth an amendment last year that would ban hijab for individuals under 18? Would Le Pen have promised to shut down mosques that contradict “French values” had Macron not already been doing that for the past five years? Macron played an integral role in the rise and popularity of Le Pen; he made her views palatable to the public. When it comes to Islam and Muslims, there is hardly a difference between the promises of Le Pen and the actions of Macron.
The global shift right-wards has occurred largely because of the acceptance and approval of anti-Muslim bigotry, xenophobia, and racism. From the US to France, the majority white populations have adopted a narrative focused on identifying the “true” citizen and the “untrustworthy, foreign, violent other.”
This anti-Muslim bigotry has permeated throughout society and is accepted across the political spectrum. For the past few elections in western countries, it’s been Muslims who have had to take on the burden of choosing a candidate that may be a notch better for the country but detrimental for themselves. Do Muslims have to keep sacrificing their basic rights for a wider society that consistently demonises and otherises them?
French Muslims have too often been removed from the conversation around French identity, instead they’ve been positioned as everything France is not. In his victory speech, Macron vowed to be “ the president of all of us,” but does this “us” include France’s 6 million Muslims? Will Macron speak in their interests or continue his administration’s policies of rendering them second-class citizens? Will he ensure their rights and freedoms to practice their faith or will he continue to criminalise expressions of Muslim religiosity? Will he actually serve to unite the country or will the policies of divide and scapegoat persist?
Given Macron has never acknowledged his role in promoting Islamophobia, it’s likely that anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies will persist in his second term. He has given no indication that he will re-visit his previous discriminatory measures.
Further, Macron has not announced any tangible efforts that he will take to truly unite the country — central to this promise is to address the concerns of French Muslims, something he has yet to do. While the public may have held off a far-right presidency, there is no question that Islamophobia has firmly taken hold in France today, and that Macron’s re-election has played a significant role in this development.
Mobashra Tazamal is the Associate Director of The Bridge Initiative, a research project on Islamophobia, at Georgetown University. Her work has appeared in Al Jazeera, The Independent, Middle East Eye, and AltMuslimah.
Follow her on Twitter: @mobbiemobes
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