With the 2012 elections swiftly approaching, the place of Muslims in France and islamophobia become the center of debate.

Words: Epée Hervé Dingong

When former Tunisian president Ben Ali left his country, a tsunami of revolution in Arab countries followed in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, and Yemen—leaving French politics in need of serious change. We suspected the impact of the Arab revolution in the West. A reaction was not particularly expected in Europe. For France, the former colonial power, Western countries focused mostly on Muslims, from a fearful standpoint under the guise of the War on Terror. But boiling over in recent months (and quietly bubbling over the past few years) is a new geopolitical order in France—and around the world at large for that matter. The “Arab Spring” revolution, which is emailed not televised and fully supported on the web, means a whole new deal. And this tsunami of change caused a dissension in France more than in any other country in old Europe.

Perhaps it is because France has the largest community of Muslim people in all of Western Europe. Islam is the second religion in the country with more than five million followers. Mostly from francophone Africa, many of these devotees emigrated (or their parents did) from Maghreb countries including Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. After decolonization, France kept a special relationship with its former colonies—the fore-mentioned included—and created a system called the “Françafrique” as a means to control and keep an eye on “their” natural resources (petroleum, gas, uranium etc…) in Africa. “It’s the hypocrisy of politicians toward the dictators they support,” said writer and Islam specialist Tariq Ramadan to the French television network, France 2.

But in the case of former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the failure of French diplomacy is exemplified yet again. With no accurate awareness of Tunisian life socially, every French party from the far right to the left maintained a hands-off approach with the former Tunisian president. So why is this scandalous? Mainly because the French foreign minister, Mrs. Alliot-Marie, spent her Christmas holiday in Tunisia, which ironically also marked a period after the protests had already begun there. In fact, the news circuit in both locales had already reported that some protesters had died by the time she was on vacation with her family. French tabloids revealed that she accepted free flights from a Tunisian businessman close to former President Ben Ali. And while Mrs. Alliot-Marie resigned and President Nicolas Sarkozy named Alain Juppé as foreign minister on February 27, 2011, she still did not comprehend the gravity of her actions. “In recent weeks, I have been the target of political attacks and conveying media to create suspicion, non-truths and amalgams,” Mrs Alliot-Marie said in a letter.

Embarrassingly, Sarkozy’s new government doesn’t stray far from the weaknesses of the former. With just one year before the presidential election of 2012, his right party UMP faces the rise of the far-right National Front of Marine Le Pen. According to opinion polls, Ms. Le Pen is gathering around 20 percent of the vote. National Front has already used the Islamic community and Arabs as a marketing tool, comparing Islamic prayers practiced in the streets of France to the Nazi German occupation of France during World War II.

Associations against racism and opposition believe the National Front stigmatizes the Muslim population in France. But it also seems that they’re not alone in that discrimination as President Sarkozy has called for a debate about the place of Islam in France and secularism. “National Front has raised the issue and unfortunately we follow behind, the former secretary of state, Rama Yade said. Unfortunately, Sarkozy’s motives seem reminiscent of his 2007 presidential campaign, where immigration and (in)security became the main issues of his platform, and he won.

“Stop the debates on Islam and talk about real social issues of France,” Ramadan said on France 2. The campaign has most definitely started and the debate continues.

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