Muslim National Front voters challenge far-right stereotype

22nd March 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 6, 2007 (AFP) - Abdallah Bourakba is a 54 year-old divorcee and father of three, whose parents came to Paris in the 1950s from Algeria. He is out of work and looking for a job as a salesman. He is Muslim and French, and next month he will vote for far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

PARIS, March 6, 2007 (AFP) - Abdallah Bourakba is a 54 year-old divorcee and father of three, whose parents came to Paris in the 1950s from Algeria. He is  out of work and looking for a job as a salesman. He is Muslim and French, and next month he will vote for far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

*quote1*"When my father came here, he knew he had to work damned hard. But in the last 25 years an anti-work ethic has taken root. New immigrants think France is an el dorado. There are huge tensions between those who are integrated, who believe in work, and the new arrivals who expect everything on a plate.

"For me Jean-Marie Le Pen is not racist. He is for 'national preference' and for his enemies that means racist. But that is not the way I see it," he said.

It might appear to defy logic for Muslim voters to choose the founder of France's National Front (FN) at April's presidential election, but there is evidence that -- for a variety of motives -- a number are willing to break what used to be a rigid political taboo.

For some it is fear of unchecked immigration; for others Le Pen's France-first economic policies. Some like his traditional stand on moral issues like abortion and the family; others favour his anti-Americanism and identification with the people of Iraq.

Some 'beurs' -- non-pejorative slang for people of north African descent -- will vote for him because of their visceral hatred for the mainstream right-wing candidate Nicolas Sarkozy; others out of a nihilistic urge to "smash the system".

"Even I am surprised by what is happening," said Farid Smahi, a Paris regional councillor who for years has been the FN's only prominent Muslim. "When I go to mosques in the suburbs, people who would have spat at me a couple of years ago now welcome me with open arms."

The phenomenon is unlikely to have much effect on the election -- there are after all some five million Muslims in France -- but even the FN's opponents agree that loyalties are shifting.

"It is the poor taking it out on the even poorer," regretted Sophia Chikirou, a member of the Socialist Party's National Council, who confirmed that in her neighbourhood of the 20th arrondissement of Paris several Muslim business owners have come out for Le Pen.

Among them are owners of small hotels, whose properties have been requisitioned by the social services for illegal immigrant families from black Africa.

"They have it in for the authorities and say that with Le Pen they'll get rid off the illegals and the polygamy," said Chikirou, who is herself of Algerian origin.

*quote2*Habiba Boilem, a 34 year-old legal assistant from Toulouse, said she will vote for Le Pen "because he is the only one who treats us like we are French."  

"Most people find it hard to conceive of a 'beur' voting for Le Pen, but that is only because at heart most people don't see us as fully French. Le Pen loves France, he wants to defend the interests of France. When he says you have to choose to be French, I say -- that's fine, I've chosen," she says.

Murad Asfoure is a 25 year-old history student of Moroccan parents. Married with a baby daughter and living in the Burgundy capital Dijon, he works at an international courier company to pay his way. He plans to join the FN in the coming weeks.

"Le Pen has a moral conception of politics. He wants to restore the importance of the family, and give parents their proper role. He wants to bang the table and say stop to the licentiousness. France is in a dire state. Look at the porn on television, look at the drugs," he said.

A further category of support for the FN -- essentially nihilistic -- comes from a minority of young voters in the "banlieues," the suburbs that were the scene of the 2005 riots and where contempt runs deep for the interior minister Sarkozy. 

"There is no real political offer aimed at the 'banlieues'. So young people are asking themselves, what do we do now? And they're answering, let's blow up the system. Let's vote Le Pen. On the Internet forums you can see it -- a taboo has disappeared," said Tassine Ayari of the grass-roots association Veto.

Founded by Le Pen in 1972 with a strong anti-immigrant message, the FN has always had a tiny Muslim fringe. However this was limited to families of so-called "Harkis" -- Algerians who fought for France in the war of independence and then were abandoned by the political mainstream.

Today's influx is more significant -- Smahi claims unverifiably to have registered 3,500 new Muslim members -- and may have helped prompt Le Pen to shift the tone of this, his sixth presidential bid.

Acting under the influence of his daughter Marine, he has for the first time included a black person in his posters; he has welcomed the radical black comic Dieudonne and in speeches appeals to "French of foreign origin". In the last two weeks he has met a rapper from the high-immigration suburbs and visited a Chinese World War I cemetery.

"The FN seems to be changing its message, and we need to hear what they have to say," said Ahmed el-Keiy, a presenter on Beur-FM radio who recently invited Marine Le Pen on to his programme.

"It is entirely wrong to think of the 'beurs' as a monolithic bloc. They are French people going back two or three generations. Like all French citizens there are many who are fed up with both left and right -- and they're turning to the National Front," he said.


March 2007

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, Presidential elections, Jean-Marie Le Pen, Front National

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