Anti-Islam rhetoric from French presidential candidates risks ‘spiral of hate’: rector of Paris Grand Mosque

LONDON: An increase in anti-Islam rhetoric in the presidential election campaign in France risks creating a “spiral of hatred” and scapegoating of law-abiding Muslims in the same way as the virulent attacks on Jews in the 1930s , the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris said.

Speaking to Britain’s Guardian newspaper, Chems-eddine Hafiz said he was concerned that Muslims were portrayed as “the problem of an entire society”.

“We are in a society that is fractured and looking for itself, a fragile society that is afraid after the pandemic. The fact of looking for a scapegoat, there were precedents for this: in 1930, when we started pointing the finger at Jews who had become “the problem of an entire society”. Today, they are no longer Jews, they are Muslims. I thought in the 21st century we would be safe from this kind of talk,” Hafiz said.

The rector published a book this month titled ‘With all due respect, we are children of the Republic’, to challenge what he called the heightened anti-Muslim rhetoric that has swept the right French during the election campaign.

President Emmanuel Macron is leading the polls and is the favorite to be re-elected next month.

Some of his rivals have focused their campaigns on Islam and immigration.

These include far-right candidate Eric Zemmour, a former television pundit who was convicted of incitement to racial hatred. He makes frequent reference to the discredited “great replacement” conspiracy theory, in which he claims that local French populations could be replaced by newcomers, making France a Muslim-majority country.

In an interview last month, Zemmour called on Muslims in France to renounce their religion and said he stood to “save France from Islam” and the “replacement” of the French.

Opinion polls show that far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and Macron are the two candidates likely to come out on top in the first round of voting on April 10 and qualify for the second round on April 24.

Le Pen plans to hold a referendum on immigration and ban the hijab from all public places.

Valérie Pécresse, leader of the Ile-de-France region which includes Paris and a candidate for the center-right Les Républicains, has also been criticized for referring to the theory of the great replacement.

She pledged to limit the wearing of the Muslim headscarf in certain public spaces, including by athletes at sporting events.

All of the right-wing candidates spoke of a climate of fear in France following the Paris terror attacks in 2015 and the murder of French schoolteacher Samuel Paty in 2020.

Hafiz said he was the first to condemn terrorism and that his mosque was at the heart of counter-extremism work in France.

However, the rector said he fears that the majority of law-abiding Muslim French citizens are associated with terrorist attacks, even though they are often victims of terrorism themselves.

“For several years, at each election in France, some candidates have raised the ‘problem’ of Islam, linking Islam to immigration or terrorism,” Hafiz said.

“French Muslims have faced stigma or insults, or the view that Islam is incompatible with the rules of the French Republic, or with the West. But in this election, it’s much more serious because there is a candidate who is completely loose and who speaks of a “great replacement”, and who vehemently affirms that Islam and Muslims cannot stay in France. , that their place is elsewhere, and if they want to stay in this country, they should no longer practice their religion.

“We are in 2022; we are in the fourth, even the fifth generation of Muslims in France and they are still considered foreigners,” he added.

Hafiz said it had become “almost fashionable” for presidential candidates “to criticize Islam and Muslims, to see them as undesirable, dangerous or bearers of insecurity”.

The rector added that he feared there would be an increase in anti-Muslim acts after the election due to the rhetoric.

Between 800,000 and 1 million people attend mosques or Muslim prayer rooms in France.