Vote left or abstain: Muslims face stark election choice in France

Vote left or abstain: Muslims face stark election choice in France

Half of Muslim voters will abstain and the other half will back the left-wing alliance, says legal expert and activist Rayan Freschi- Far-right forces will try to ‘criminalize’ all aspect of Muslim life in France, warns Freschi- Muslim voters do not feel represented by political parties or worse ignored, says Algerian journalist Khaled Sid Mohand

By Rabia Ali

ISTANBUL (AA) – For France, the writing seems to be on the wall: the general elections starting this Sunday could well bring the far-right to power.

Not only would that plunge the country into unchartered political territory, but for minority communities, especially Muslims, it could prove to be a death knell for their already shrinking space in French society.

That realization is not lost on French Muslims, who now have a difficult choice to make, with many weighing up one of what they see as their only two choices: vote for left-wing parties or no one at all.

“I will personally abstain,” Rayan Freschi, a legal expert and rights activist in Paris, told Anadolu.

“I fundamentally believe that even if the entire Muslim community was to vote in support of the far left, in the end, it wouldn’t seriously shift the electoral trend in this election.”

Freschi’s grim assessment has more weight given the results of the most recent elections in France – the European Parliament elections earlier this month swept by the far-right National Rally (RN).

That victory sent shockwaves through France and the continent, rattling President Emmanuel Macron to an extent that he called early elections, a political gamble that many believe is likely to backfire.

Jordan Bardella and Marine Le Pen’s party ended the EU elections with more than 31% of the vote, a tally most certainly racked up without Muslim votes, and is expected to repeat the strong showing on June 30 and July 7.

According to French pollster IFOP’s survey for a local daily, as many as 59% of Muslim voters abstained in the European elections, while 62% of those who did go out opted for the left-wing La France Insoumise (LFI) party, which finished a distant fourth.

- ‘50% will not participate’

Freschi emphasized that Muslims, who make up 10% of the French population, one of the largest proportions in Europe, do not have the numerical power to decisively impact an election.

French society has witnessed a sharp escalation in Islamophobia in recent years, along with many anti-Muslim policies, including bans or discriminatory rules regarding the Muslim headscarf and clothing, and a crackdown on mosques and religious organizations.

That makes a possible victory for the far-right RN and its allies an even more fearful prospect, particularly given their extreme rhetoric against Muslims.

However, despite the alarm and heightened fears, Freschi believes half of the French Muslim community will not vote in the general elections.

“I think maybe around 50% of the community will choose to vote and they will cast their vote for the far left,” he said.

“And 50% of it is just not going to participate in these elections.”

Freschi said all indicators show that even if the RN does not come to power now, it will do so in 2027, so Muslims have the choice to vote for the left to “protect the very few rights we still have and to basically have some respite for a few years.”

Khaled Sid Mohand, an Algerian journalist and activist based in France, also believes abstention rates will be high among Muslims.

“The percentage of abstention is usually high within the Muslim community, and you can observe the same voting behavior among people who live in working-class suburbs,” he told Anadolu.

“What they have in common is that they no longer feel represented by political parties, or worse ignored by the different candidates.”

- ‘Voting for the left not really a choice of the heart’

After Macron announced the snap elections, French left-wing parties, including LFI, the Greens, Socialist Party and the French Communist Party, wasted little time in cobbling together an alliance, naming it the New Popular Front.

The alliance will be banking on support from the Muslim community, which has traditionally voted left.

“Usually, Muslims used to vote for the left-wing, first because the vast majority of them belong to the working class, but also because the left was supposed to embrace these universal values supposed to be the antithesis of nationalism, racism and fascism,” said Mohand, an official of the French rights group Justice and Liberties for All Committee.

However, he pointed out that France has “a political specificity contrary to most of the Western nations,” as the country’s left-wing forces have propagated Islamophobia “in the name of secularism and emancipatory values.”

This has only changed over the past five years as the LFI and its leader Jean-Luc Melenchon “moved towards a more inclusive discourse … about Muslims,” he said.

“Melenchon was outrageously Islamophobic and made a U-turn when he found out that it was the only way to get closer to the working class,” Mohand explained.

Freschi stressed that if Muslims vote for the left in these elections, it would not be because they agree with their policies or strategies, but rather to “protect themselves, at the very least for a few years, against the far right.”

“Voting for the left is not really a choice of the heart. It’s framed as a pragmatic choice marred with inconsistencies and marred with its own challenges,” he said.

The French researcher said many members of the far-left coalition are “overtly and explicitly Zionists … endorsing some of the Israeli policies, or at the very least having very strongly condemned the Palestinian resistance.”

They have a long history and record of endorsing Islamophobic ideas and policies, he said.

“Islamophobia is not an exclusive political pattern of the far right. It’s actually an idea, a system of governance that is being shared by the entire French political spectrum,” said Freschi.

“So, the nature of Islamophobia is present in every party. The intensity of it is, of course, not necessarily the same.”

- Far-right targets: Identity, immigration, Palestine

On how the far-right could threaten Muslims in France, Freschi said their discriminatory policies target all aspects of the community’s lives.

“They have already said they will try to completely ban the hijab from the public sphere,” he said.

Another “shocking example” is that they want to ban architecture influenced by Islamic ideology, “which basically means that any mosque built with some kind of a style reminiscent of North Africa could be banned,” he said.

“They will endeavor to criminalize any aspect of Muslim (life), any aspect of Islam, and of the Islam being practiced by Muslims in France,” he added.

Freschi, however, pointed out that the Muslim community was already facing these threats: “It’s just that with the far right, we’re going to face them way sooner.”

He explained that Muslim immigrants could face an even greater threat because far-right parties have repeatedly said they want to exclusively give jobs to people with French citizenship.

“If you have dual citizenship, you will be barred from obtaining certain jobs … which essentially points to the reality of a proper apartheid regime,” he said.

Mohand asserted that the conditions of Muslims in France were already the worst in Europe.

“No other Muslim community experiences such stigmatization as the Muslim community in France has gone through over the last 25 years or so,” he said.

He said there is a real risk of Muslim immigrants being “stripped of their basic rights, their social rights, education, health care.”

Freschi also spoke about another potential victim of the far-right surge expected in the upcoming elections: political support for Palestine.

“One of the consequences of these snap elections is the weakening of … pro-Palestine sentiment because, whatever the results, we know that the few far-left MPs that were clearly in support of Palestine up until now … (are) going to be severely weakened,” he said.

He pointed out that far-left figures have already toned down their pro-Palestinian rhetoric as part of an election strategy.

“So, if we are to identify one clear loser in these future elections, it’s very clearly Palestine. And secondly, it’s very clearly the French Muslim community,” he added.

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