French presidential election turns to question of identity

The race to become the next president of France is becoming a referendum on what it means to be French.

As voters prepare to head to the polls Sunday for the Républicains’ primary—which could ultimately determine the next president—the rhetoric at rallies and debates has increasingly focused on whether France’s secular values are compatible with its Muslim population—one of Europe’s biggest.

The election of Donald Trump has emboldened far-right presidential contender Marine Le Pen, who is campaigning against France’s socialists and conservatives on an anti-immigrant, antitrade platform similar to the U.S. president-elect’s. That message has helped keep her near the top of the polls after two years of blistering terror attacks carried out by foreign and French citizens, as well as a huge wave of migrants from the Middle East.

The cascade of events has left France’s political establishment at a crossroads: Reject Ms. Le Pen ’s rhetoric or co-opt it. The divide is especially striking within the conservative Républicains. Polls show the winner would be the strongest contender—and likely win—against Ms. Le Pen in the spring election. Socialist President François Hollande ’s unpopularity, meanwhile, would make him unlikely get past the first round of voting if he runs again. The outgoing president would also face his former Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, who declared Wednesday he will run for president on a pledge to break apart France’s political system.

Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppé, the front-runner in the race to win the conservatives’ nomination, embodies one path with talk of a “happy identity” for the French, grounded in respect for religious and ethnic diversity. He has responded to Mr. Trump’s victory by pledging to lead a broad coalition against the National Front.

The other route—espoused by his chief party rival, former President Nicolas Sarkozy —creates a litmus test for those French Muslims and other minorities he says are trampling the nation’s identity and security.

“I don’t believe in a happy identity when I see young people—born, raised and educated in France—who are less integrated than their grandparents, who were not French,” Mr. Sarkozy said over the weekend.

Even before Mr. Trump’s victory, Mr. Sarkozy’s rhetoric had taken a turn for the hard-right in an attempt to draw support from Ms. Le Pen’s base.

The former French leader has proposed that France detain thousands of people who are on intelligence watch lists but have never been charged. He has also decried a “latent form of civil war” that he blames on French nationals who descended from immigrants but failed to assimilate. To fix this, Mr. Sarkozy proposes re-centering public-school curricula on French history, geography and law.

“From the moment you become French, your ancestors are the Gauls,” Mr. Sarkozy told a rally in September, referring to the Celtic tribes that, in the Iron Age, inhabited territory that now is modern France.

Identity has long been a topic of tense debate in France, but it bubbled over after the terror attacks a year ago, when Mr. Hollande proposed stripping dual-nationals of their French citizenship if they were convicted of terrorism. The proposed constitutional amendment, which failed to become law, drove a further wedge in Mr. Hollande’s Socialist Party, which was already split on his handling of the economy. He is polling so low that many of his allies question whether he will seek re-election.

Mr. Hollande’s proposal represented a major shift in French politics, because it was borrowed from Ms. Le Pen, whose policies have long been anathema to the French left. The political lines were further blurred this summer when Mr. Hollande’s prime minister, Manuel Valls, supported attempts from right-wing mayors to ban head-to-foot “burkini” swimsuits from beaches.

“Whether on the right, the far-right or the left, there is a more and more authoritarian vision—an idea that norms and values should be imposed,” said Patrick Simon, senior researcher at the French Institute for Demographic Studies.

Polls predict Ms. Le Pen would easily get through the first round of the 2017 general election. But with the backing of about a third of French voters, Ms. Le Pen appears to lack enough support to win the second round. Given the Socialist Party’s struggles to field a viable candidate, whoever becomes the Republicans’ nominee is likely to face Ms. Le Pen in a runoff and win.

For now, Mr. Juppé has the advantage over Mr. Sarkozy. Polls show François Fillon, a former Prime Minister campaigning on a pro-business platform, has closed in on Mr. Sarkozy in recent days, while the four other primary candidates trail further behind. A poll of 714 people likely to vote in the primaries—taken by KANTAR Sofres OnePoint last week—said Mr. Juppé would win 59% of the vote in a head-to-head runoff with Mr. Sarkozy.

In a bid to make up ground, Mr. Sarkozy has tacked further to the right, seizing on Mr. Juppé’s calls for tolerance.

“We are diverse, we don’t have the same religion, the same skin color, or the same origins. This diversity must be respected,” Mr. Juppé said in the first televised debate in October.

Mr. Sarkozy retorted with a call for assimilation, a term rooted in France’s colonial system of training local elites to absorb French language and culture, and later used to describe how European immigrants melded into French society between the two world wars.

If elected, Mr. Sarkozy has pledged to require anyone seeking French citizenship to sign an “assimilation pact” committing them to adopt French values and culture. He has also proposed cutting welfare benefits to women who ignore bans on face-covering veils. Simple head scarves, Mr. Sarkozy says, should also be banned on university campuses.

Mr. Sarkozy says he plans to hold public referendums to override constitutional rights that allow immigrants to bring family members to France and prevent authorities from detaining people on intelligence watch lists before getting a court order.

Mr. Juppé’s “happy identity” is rooted in the idea of integration, which replaced assimilation as a model for immigrants from former colonies settling in France. Under integration, France is open to diversity as long as immigrants adopt the country’s core values of equality, liberty and fraternity.

Mr. Juppé says France should stop legislating on the issue of religious clothing. Mr. Sarkozy’s plan to suspend the right for legal migrants to bring their families to France, Mr. Juppe says, is “not a humane attitude.”

Valls attacks New York Times report on burkini ban

The French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, has accused the New York Times of painting an “unacceptable” picture of his country with an article about discrimination against Muslim women.

The report was prompted by the debate over controversial bans on Islamic swimsuits in many French Riviera towns. Valls said such bans were part of a “fight for the freedom of women”.

The paper said it stood by the article. Some Muslims say they are being targeted unfairly over burkinis.

An increasing number of court rulings have rejected bans on the full-body swimsuit, including in Nice, where an attack on 14 July killed 84 people during Bastille Day celebrations.

Some of the women quoted by the NYT said the clothing was a chance for them to take part in activities, such as going to the beach, in line with their religious beliefs.

Many also complained of an alleged discrimination by non-Muslims exacerbated by the recent attacks in France and Belgium, and of restrictions in wearing the headscarf, banned in French public buildings.

One said: “French Muslim women would be justified to request asylum in the United States… given how many persecutions we are subjected to.”

Another talked of being “afraid of having to wear a yellow crescent on my clothes one day, like the Star of David for Jews not so long ago”.

Hollande: France must ’embrace’ Islam

President Francois Hollande called for the creation of “an Islam of France” and the removal of foreign-trained extremist imams in a key speech Thursday on the challenges radical Islam poses to democracy.

Addressing the debate surrounding Islam following a summer of terror attacks and burkini bans, he stressed that French secularism was not at odds with the religion.
“Nothing in the idea of secularism is opposed to the practice of Islam in France, as long — and that is the vital point — as it complies with the law,” Hollande said in Paris, stressing that secularism was “not a religion of the state that stands against all other religions.”
“What we need to succeed in together is the creation of an Islam of France,” Hollande said.
He said that this could be achieved through the new Foundation for Islam in France, a measure announced in the wake of the terror attacks to improve relations between the state and the country’s large Muslim community, which accounts for between 7% and 9% of the population.
Longtime French politician Jean-Pierre Chevènement was appointed head of the foundation last month. Hollande said France also needed to create “a national association in order to obtain financing for the building of mosques and the training of imams.”
“The republic cannot accept a situation where a majority of imams are trained abroad and sometimes don’t speak our language,” he said. France’s rules of secularism prohibit the use of state funds for places of worship, and there have been concerns about the radical vision of Islam practiced in some foreign-funded mosques. At least 20 Muslim places of worship have been closed due to extremism since December, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in July.
Hollande said that radical Islam had created “a fake state, led by real killers. It skews the Islamic religion to spread its hatred.”

France’s Council of State suspends burkini ban

Mayors do not have the right to ban burkinis, France’s highest administrative court ruled Friday. The Council of State’s ruling suspends a ban in the town of Villeneuve-Loubet, near Nice, and could affect cities around the country that have prohibited the full-length swimsuit.

More than 30 French towns have banned burkinis, which cover the whole body except for the face, hands and feet. Officials say banning the burkini -worn mostly by Muslim women- is a response to growing terror concerns and heightened tensions after a series of terror attacks.

Human rights activists argue that burkini bans are illegal, and that pushes to outlaw the garment are Islamophobic. They hailed Friday’s ruling as a significant step.

“By overturning a discriminatory ban that is fueled by and is fueling prejudice and intolerance, today’s decision has drawn an important line in the sand,” Amnesty International Europe Director John Dalhuisen said in a statement.

But it’s unclear how other towns with burkini bans will respond to Friday’s decision. If mayors continue to enforce and enact such decrees, they could face similar legal challenges.

No matter what, battles over the burkini in the court- and in the court of public opinion-are far from over.

Friday’s decision was an initial ruling by the Council of State while it continues to prepare its more detailed judgment on the legal issues in the case.

Meanwhile, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has said he supports banning burkinis. And former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who plans to run again for president, has said he would immediately enact a national ban of the swimsuits.

Critics of the bans say they discriminate against the women they claim to protect.

“These bans do nothing to increase public safety, but do a lot to promote public humiliation,” Dalhuisen said. “Not only are they in themselves discriminatory, but as we have seen, the enforcement of these bans leads to abuses and the degrading treatment of Muslim women and girls.”

Burkini Ban: Algerian businessman pays women’s fines

Rachid Nekkaz, a wealthy Algerian entrepreneur and human rights activist, has stepped up to the plate to pay the penalty for any Muslim woman who is fined in France for wearing the burkini, a full-length swimsuit that covers the whole body except for the face, hands and feet.
“I decided to pay for all the fines of women who wear the burkini in order to guarantee their freedom of wearing these clothes, and most of all, to neutralize the application on the ground of this oppressive and unfair law,” Nekkaz said.
The burkini ban at some French beaches is the most recent move by Parisian politicians to prohibit religious attire in public.
After the Charlie Hebdo and Nice attacks, Nekkaz said a few politicians took advantage of the fear of Islam, which spread within the population, to try to reduce the number of freedoms in France, which he called an “unacceptable, inadmissible and intolerable move.”
Across Europe, similar bans are taking form, as the tide shifts toward more regulations in favor of restricting the traditional Islamic attire.
“And I don’t accept that these great countries such as France, Belgium, Switzerland or the Netherlands and now Germany, take advantage of this fear of Islam to reduce the number of personal freedoms,” Nekkaz said.

French burkini ban sparks sales, says designer

Burkini bans in France have boosted sales and interest in the full-body Islamic swimsuit, particularly from non-Muslim women, the Australian credited with creating the design says.

The burkini has created controversy in France, with bans in 15 towns in the south-east and tension after deadly jihadist attacks. But Australian-Lebanese Aheda Zanetti, who claims the trademark on the name burkini and burqini, and created her first swimwear for Muslim women more than a decade ago, said on Tuesday the furore had attracted more publicity for her products.

“It’s just been so hectic,” she said.

“I can tell you that online on Sunday, we received 60 orders – all of them non-Muslim,” the 48-year-old from Sydney said. She usually received between 10 and 12 orders on Sundays.

Zanetti did not have sales figures for the rest of the past week but said she had also received numerous messages of support – and only one disparaging email – since the French bans.

They include messages from cancer survivors and other swimmers who use her lightweight, quick-drying, two-piece garments as protection from the sun.

There are other Islamic swimsuits but Zanetti has said her designs are the first to be streamlined into two-piece swimwear with a head covering.

“A lot of the correspondence … was that they are survivors of skin cancer and they’ve always been looking for something like this, saying, ‘Thank god we’ve found someone like this producing such a swimsuit,’ ” she said.

“The support I’m getting is somehow about empowering women … I feel like I’ve been a counsellor. It’s a cry of need that they want to have this enjoyment.

“Women are standing together on this. It doesn’t matter what race or religion.”

The one critical email questioned why Zanetti wanted to cover up women in France, saying “we prefer our women to be naked”.

 

Islam not Compatible with German Constitution, says far-right AfD party

April 18, 2016

The anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) said on Sunday Islam is not compatible with the German constitution and vowed to press for bans on minarets and burqas at its party congress in two weeks’ time.

The AfD punished Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats in three regional elections last month, profiting from popular angst about how Germany can cope with an influx of migrants, over a million of whom arrived last year.

“Islam is in itself a political ideology that is not compatible with the constitution,” AfD deputy leader Beatrix von Storch told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

“We are in favor of a ban on minarets, on muezzins and a ban on full veils,” added Storch, who is a member of the European Parliament.

Merkel’s conservatives have also called for an effective ban on the burqa, saying the full body covering worn by some Muslim women should not be worn in public. But they have not said Islam is incompatible with Germany’s constitution.

The AfD’s rise, which has coincided with strong gains by other European anti-immigrant parties including the National Front in France, has punctured the centrist consensus around which the mainstream parties have formed alliances in Germany.

Last month, the party grabbed 24 percent of the vote in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, surpassing even the Social Democrats (SPD), Merkel’s coalition partner in Berlin. The AfD, founded in 2013, also performed strongly in two other states.

The party’s rise has been controversial. Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, has said Germany’s far-right, led by the AfD party, is using language similar to that of Hitler’s Nazis.

Such accusations have not swayed the party from its anti-immigration course.

“Islam is not a religion like Catholic or Protestant Christianity, but rather intellectually always associated with the takeover of the state,” said Alexander Gauland, who leads the AfD in Brandenburg.

“That is why the Islamization of Germany is a danger,” he told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

Vatican: “The vote in Ticino is not against Islam”

The President of the Pontifical Council defends the decision of Ticino. “It’s about internal security, I do not see the problem”

 

“It is a decision that the people of Ticino made without regard to religious significance and therefore is not against Islam. This decision was based on an internal security threat.” It is with these words that Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegliò responded yesterday in the Vatican, to the questions posed by the Corriere del Ticino about the Ticino vote.

 

The President of the Pontifical Council does not consider the burqa a matter of primary importance. “It’s a small thing. But if a Swiss law bans the burqa in public places, what’s the problem? Clearly, if a police officer met a woman in the street veiled from head to toe, he could not recognize a threat and could take off the burqa.”

 

The undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Migrants, Gabriele Bentoglio, wanted to respond to questions from the CDT, including the issue of the burqa in the current trend towards the search for identity in times like these. “As long as you do not attach a negative identity to a community that does not have one strong identity.,” said Bentoglio, emphasizing how the Catholic Church requests the creation of an identity-pro, or open to others, and not an identity-against position.

Birmingham college bans the burka

Religious veils have been banned at Birmingham Metropolitan College for ‘security’ reasons, provoking anger among Muslim students and staff. As the niqab veil leaves only a small gap for the eyes, college management has deemed it a risk, stating that individuals should be ‘easily identifiable at all times’ so that all students can study in a ‘safe and welcoming learning environment’. Other clothing to be removed on the college grounds includes hoodies, hats and caps.

 

The ban has sent shockwaves around the Muslim community, with one 17-year-old girl calling the decision ‘discriminatory’ and ‘disgusting’. Another student explained that she and her Muslim peers had offered to show their faces to security men so that their IDs could be checked, but that her suggestion had been rejected.

 

“We have a very robust Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Policy at Birmingham Metropolitan College, but to ensure that safeguarding is a priority, we have developed our policy alongside student views to ensure we keep them safe,” principal and chief-executive Dame Christine Braddock told the Birmingham Mail.

 

A protest against the ban, due to take place on Friday at 2.30pm, has been organised on Facebook with a statement reading: “Muslim women already face many challenges in society leading to marginalisation and discrimination. We are under-represented in education and subsequently in public life and in the workforce.

Muslims challenging no-fly list win partial court victory

Federal court says Muslim Americans “have a constitutionally protected liberty interest” in being able to travel, lets no-fly list challenge advance.

Thirteen Muslim Americans challenging the U.S. government’s secretive “no-fly” list won a partial victory in federal court when a judge found they “have a constitutionally protected liberty interest” in traveling internationally by air.

But U.S. District Judge Anna Brown has yet to decide whether the government violated their constitutional rights to due process under a policy that excludes individuals from commercial air travel if they are suspected of having ties to terrorism.

In her ruling late on Wednesday in Portland, the judge also asked both the plaintiffs and the Department of Justice for more information before deciding key parts of the case.

The 13 plaintiffs, all U.S. citizens who deny any links to terrorism, say they were placed on the government’s no-fly list without notice or any realistic avenue of appeal.

The Justice Department has also argued that barring one’s access to air travel is not an undue burden or a violation of a constitutionally protected right.

Brown disagreed, disputing the government’s “contention that international air travel is a mere convenience, in light of the realities of our modern world.”

But the judge said she was not ready to decide on a proper remedy in the case, suggesting the answer hinged on whether the plaintiffs had an adequate avenue of appeal.

“The court is not yet able to resolve on the current record whether the judicial-review process is a sufficient, post-deprivation process under the … Constitution,” she wrote.

“For the first time, a federal court has recognized that when the government bans Americans from flying and smears them as suspected terrorists, it deprives them of constitutionally protected liberties, and they must have a fair process to clear their names,” ACLU attorney Nusrat Choudhury said in a statement.