Emmanuel Macron struggles to impress French Muslims

When asked if she would vote for the centrist Emmanuel Macron over the far-right Marine Le Pen in a possible runoff for the French presidency, Nadia Henni-Moulai could only muster an unenthusiastic “I’ll see”.

“Macron might convince me by then … but I won’t vote for him by default,” she said before vexing at the “anti-Islam continuum from the far-right to the far-left”.

Henni-Moulai, a French Muslim of Algerian origin, was one of several Muslims Al Jazeera spoke to who expressed reservations about backing Macron.

Their positions varied from cautious support to promises to avoid voting in the election altogether.

The upcoming contest could have serious consequences for the country’s Muslims, with polls putting the Front National’s Le Pen in front in the first round of voting.

Restrictions on halal meat, religious clothing, and “burkinis” have formed part of the far-right leader’s strategy to fight for the “soul of France”.

Macron, her centrist rival, trails behind her in the first round, but polls show he has a healthy lead should the pair face off in the deciding second round.

At 39, the former minister for economy has pulled in energetic crowds for his campaign rallies, drawn by his promise of “democratic revolution” in the face of a global turn to far-right populism of the kind represented by Le Pen.

On Islam, Macron has been cordial, insisting “no religion is a problem in France today”and even drawing ire from the right by condemning French “crimes and acts of barbarism” during its colonial rule in Algeria.

Henni-Moulai, the founder of the website Melting Book, which aims to amplify minority voices in the media, cast doubt on whether Macron could deliver on his energetic campaign, given his “establishment” background.

“He presents himself as against the system, but like the others he graduated from the ENA,” she said, using the acronym for the National School of Administration, where France’s top civil servants are trained.

“He worked as an investment banker afterwards …. Despite his claims, he is a part of the system,” she added.

The temptations of indulging in anti-Muslim rhetoric were too strong and Macron would eventually succumb, Henni-Moulai claimed.

“Muslim bashing is inescapable, especially if you want to reach the Elysée palace.

“I’m quite skeptical about his ability to get elected with his current arguments … as the French adage goes: Campaign from the right, govern from the centre.”

Not everyone Al Jazeera spoke to carried their skepticism of Macron as strongly as Henni-Moulai, but a thread of doubt surrounding whether he would follow through on his promises featured in most of the conversations.

Yousef Barbouch, a sales professional from the southern city of Toulouse, praised Macron’s stance on Islam but pointed out that past successful candidates had reneged on their earlier goodwill.

“There is a certain optimism you feel when you see his position on Islam within society and on hijabis, for example,” Barbouch said.

“[Macron] has this British and American mindset where he doesn’t care what you believe as long as you bring a value to the country, and that’s really refreshing to hear in today’s context of fear [surrounding Islam].”

However, Barbouch recalled the example of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who he said had started his tenure with similar statements before turning his back on them later.

“I won’t forget that in 2009, Sarkozy had similar opinions; he defended hijabis, for example, but seven years later he’s fiercely opposed to the headscarf.”

Karim Brequin, a Parisian business consultant, also noted receptiveness among Muslims for Macron’s amiable comments on Islam but said his association with controversial establishment figures could count against him.

“Many are looking towards Macron as he seems to be more culturally aware than the other candidates,” Brequin told Al Jazeera.

“The fact that he is young and represents some kind of new momentum is relevant to many … however, his relationship with Dominique Strauss-Kahn raises questions,” he said, referring to the former finance minister once touted as a future president until he became embroiled in a rape scandal.

Rim-Sarah Alouane, a researcher in Public Law at the University Toulouse Capitole, said Macron deserved praise for not using fear of Islam as an electoral device.

“Credit has to be given to Macron for being one of the very few candidates who do not abuse laïcité [French secularism] and Muslims to power their campaign,” she said, adding: “His American-style empowerment discourse makes it possible to restore sorely needed hope to French Muslims who have been targeted both by the right and the left during the presidential campaign debates.”

That praise, however, was tempered by the fear that Macron’s promises seemed “to good to be true …

“This new hope of the French political landscape [Macron] has a very elusive programme that does not address the roots of the economic and social issues faced by the most disenfranchised populations in this country.

“Going to visit the banlieues [suburbs] or declaring loudly that multiculturalism is great is laudable, and of course very much needed, but unless he moves beyond words, people will not be fooled.”

Such economic concerns were also a factor for Yasser Louati, a leading French activist against Islamophobia.

Although statistics based on religion are hard to come by in France owing to state prohibition on their collection, immigrants, many of whom are Muslim, have almost double the unemployment rate of French-born residents.

“Macron will bring no positive changes to the working class and minorities whatsoever,” Louati said.

“His positions are known to be highly in favour of neoliberalism, with a complete disregard for its catastrophic social consequences, such as unequal concentration of power and wealth, repression, or environmental crisis.”

Louati conceded that Macron had made “brave declarations” on the role of the state in discriminating against minority youths and had avoided exploiting anti-Islamic rhetoric, but said his key platform policies remain unknown.

“Nobody knows what his programme is about … Macron has never expressed how to effectively tackle the root causes of racism or whether he intends to repeal Islamophobic laws.”

Taking a harder line than any of the other French Muslims Al Jazeera spoke to, Louati said he would avoid voting in the upcoming elections.

“I would not vote for Emmanuel Macron nor any other candidate because that would be giving more credit to a morally bankrupt and institutionally failed political system.”

French presidential candidate compares Holocaust to anti-Muslim bias

French Jews accused a left-wing presidential candidate of encouraging Holocaust denial following his comparison of the Nazi persecution of Jews to the situation of French Muslims today. Vincent Peillon, who is running in the Socialist Party primaries ahead of the elections this year, made the analogy Tuesday during an interview aired by the France 2 television channel. Peillon, a former education minister who has Jewish origins, was commenting on a question about France’s strict separation between state and religion, referred to in France as “laicite.” “If some want to use laicite, as has been done in the past, against certain populations … Forty years ago it was the Jews who put on yellow stars. Today, some of our Muslim countrymen are often portrayed as radical Islamists. It is intolerable.” In a statement Wednesday, CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish communities, accused Peillon of making “statements that only serve those trying to rewrite history.”

Peillon neither retracted his remark nor apologized in a statement published Wednesday on his website, but said he would wanted to elaborate on what he meant in light of the controversy it provoked and to “refine my view, which may have been misrepresented because of brevity.” Peillon wrote that he “clearly did not want to say that laicite was the origin of anti-Semitism of Vichy France,” which was the part of the country run by a pro-Nazi collaborationist government. He also wrote that “what the Jews experienced under Vichy should not be banalized in any way” and that he was committed to fighting racism and anti-Semitism. “I wanted to denounce the strategy of the far right, which always used the words of the French Republic or social issues to turn them against the population. It is doing so today with laicite against the Muslims,” Peillon wrote.

But in its statement condemning Peillon’s remark, CRIF wrote that the history concerning the deportation of more than 75,000 Jews from France to concentration camps and death and the looting of their property, “as well as discriminatory laws such as the one about wearing yellow stars, should not be instrumentalized to create a false equivalence of suffering.” CRIF “demands a clarification and immediate correction on the part of Vincent Peillon,” it said. Peillon, a lawmaker in the European Parliament, announced his candidacy in December to succeed President Francois Hollande as party leader and run as its candidate in April. He was appointed education minister in 2012 and served for two years. In the Socialist primaries, Peillon will face Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who has strong support in the Jewish community. Peillon’s mother, Françoise Blum, is Jewish. Peillon, who rarely talks about his Jewish roots publicly, signed a petition by the left-wing Jcall group, the European counterpart to J Street, supporting Palestinian statehood. In 2009, he celebrated the bar mitzvah of his son Elie at a Paris synagogue. He has another son, Isaac. Peillon is married to Nathalie Bensahel, a journalist who has written about about France’s anti-Semitism problem.

Plurality and integration

March 9

 

Federal President Joachim Gauck has met young Muslim immigrants prior to the annual young Islam conference. During the conference, young Muslims are given the opportunity to show their societal engagement and discuss political and social issues with politicians and local experts.

 

Albeit, most participants expressed their satisfaction about the event, some see the need for action towards more tolerance and acceptance of diversity. Stereotypes in media would increase Islamophobia. Arman Kuru a student candidate for the police department and participant of the conference understands “plurality as a treasure”. A further issue is the legal equal treatment of Islam as a religion in Germany.

 

Dr. Naika Foroutan from the Humboldt University of Berlin understands integration as a commitment for all members of the society. Hence, the conference members demand the acceptance of dual citizenship.

 

General US Election Preferences by Religious Group

With voters continuing to focus on economic issues, Barack Obama holds a slim 49% to 45% advantage over Mitt Romney in the latest polling by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. However, Romney holds a 53-point lead over Obama among white evangelicals and a 20-point lead among white Catholics. Obama’s strongest support among religious groups comes from black Protestants (96% of whom support Obama) and the religiously unaffiliated (who favor Obama over Romney by 67% to 26%).

The poll also shows that more than eight-in-ten voters cite the economy and jobs as very important issues in deciding who to vote for this fall, and roughly three-quarters cite the federal budget deficit, health care and education. Far fewer rate hot-button social issues such as gay marriage, birth control and abortion as top voting priorities.

2012 Campaign Dynamics

Obama’s lead over Romney has narrowed since last month, when he had a 12-point advantage, though it is comparable to margins from earlier this year. While Obama’s advantage has declined since March, there is little to suggest a specific problem or campaign event as having a critical effect.

While there have been debates over issues related to gender, the rise and fall in Obama’s support has largely crossed gender lines, with a fairly consistent gender gap over time. For example, since March, Obama’s support among both men and women has slipped five percentage points.

Independent voters remain up for grabs. In the current survey, 48% favor Romney while 42% back Obama. A month ago, it was 47% Obama, 44% Romney.

Integration, a national initiative in Germany [4:32]

When German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble called a conference to open dialogue with the country’s Muslims in the autumn of 2006, aims were set high. Schäuble said then he wanted to send a signal that Muslims were welcome in Germany. At the same time, the dialogue was also intended to prevent the radicalization of the Muslim community. Representatives of Germany’s federal government, and Muslim organizations addressed the issues of Islamic religious instruction at German schools, education in accordance with Western values and ways to prevent young Muslims from drifting into militant circles. On Thursday, the German-Islamic Conference will meet for its final session.

A Growing Demand for the Rare American Imam

Sheik Yassir Fazaga regularly uses a standard American calendar to provide inspiration for his weekly Friday sermon. Around Valentine’s Day this year, he talked about how the Koran endorses romantic love within certain ethical parameters. (As opposed to say, clerics in Saudi Arabia, who denounce the banned saint’s day as a Satanic ritual.) On World AIDS Day, he criticized Muslims for making moral judgments about the disease rather than helping the afflicted, and on International Women’s Day he focused on domestic abuse. (…) Prayer leaders, or imams, in the United States have long arrived from overseas, forced to negotiate a foreign culture along with their congregation. Older immigrants usually overlook the fact that it is an uneasy fit, particularly since imported sheiks rarely speak English. They welcome a flavor of home. But as the first generation of American-born Muslims begins graduating from college in significant numbers, with a swelling tide behind them, some congregations are beginning to seek native imams who can talk about religious and social issues that seem relevant to young people (…)