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Anti-Muslim Bigotry

Sarkozy, Muslims, and the New France

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I was asked to write about the victory of Nicolas Sarkozy in the recent French presidential election. Not knowing too much about French politics, I was hesitant, and therefore decided to read Monsieur Sarkozy’s recent book Testimony: France in the Twenty-First Century (en anglais). For someone who is not well versed in French politics, it is a bit dangerous to get my information from this type of source. If Sarkozy has any competence as a politician, which he certainly does, this book should convince me that he is France’s noblest son and greatest hope. Yet as an American, I am somewhat familiar with this genre of writing—the politician’s self-promotional book that proves his ideas are more than slogans. Likewise, in this case, I am less sensitive to Sarkozy’s patriotic musings. Obama makes me weepy when he talks about baseball and civil rights. Sankozy has no such access to my emotions. Hopefully, this ill-informed objectivity will make my thoughts on the subject worthwhile.

As a Muslim, I am troubled by the status of my co-religionists in France. The 2005 riots in the Paris banlieues and elsewhere illustrate the deep frustration felt by immigrant communities. As Interior Minister, Sarkozy’s reaction to the riots was criticized by many as brutal and even racist. At a wider level, I also wonder whether France has really atoned for its brutal colonial past, much of which involved the Muslim world. Does its current relationship with Algeria and Tunisia, for instance, really reflect a commitment to liberty and human rights? And of course there is the banning of hijab in French schools, a truly disgraceful policy for a nation that claims to protect individual freedom. In addition to the “Muslim issues,” it is also useful to consider Sarkozy in a broader context. What sort of political trend does he represent? What is his grand vision of government? How does he perceive the United States and his European neighbors? These are all important questions.

As a first impression, Sarkozy appears as one of the rare individuals who can rise above petty politics and provide true leadership. And of course, this is exactly the message he intends to convey. His promises of straight talk and honesty are reminiscent of John McCain. He raises the banner of “hope” like Barack Obama. The big disclaimer, of course, is that I don’t really know what lies behind Sarkozy. What does he actually represent? He acknowledges the importance of building upon one’s political base, but what exactly does that mean in France? The readers of this post are invited to enlighten me.

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It is clear that Sarkozy wishes to push France in a fiscally conservative direction. That said, even if he succeeded on every front, France would still retain a much stronger “social safety net” than anything we have ever seen in America. Sarkozy wants to cut the fat from social programs, to promote work instead of dependence, and to remove barriers to entrepreneurship and personal ambition. One of his most controversial proposals—to lengthen the state-mandated 35-hour work-week—strikes an American as comical. Most Americans will not feel much pity if the French have to work 40 hours or more per week. Although Sarkozy represents the right-wing of French politics, his fiscal plans appear quite moderate (even wise) from this side of the Atlantic.

Sarkozy believes in active, aggressive policy-making and chastises his colleagues for deeming some challenges as beyond political control. He favors a creative engagement and strategic embrace of globalization, focusing on key French industries that can compete internationally. As former Interior Minister, Sarkozy has built a reputation for toughness on crime. He boasts of cracking down on sex offenders, a move most reasonable people would applaud. His approach to crime also includes efforts to curb immigration and the aforementioned riot suppression in 2005.

As an American, I cannot help but agree with Sarkozy’s effort to jump start the French economy and dismantle, or at least revitalize, the burdensome socialist bureaucracy built up over decades. These are policies that impact Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and therefore deserve our attention. Nevertheless, they are not my primary concern.When Sarkozy was elected, I heard three major concerns voiced by fellow Muslims—his strong support for Israel, his opposition to Turkey joining the European Union, and his overall policies toward French Muslims and Muslim immigrants. Concerning the first issue, Sarkozy does indeed offer unambiguous words of support for Israel. Yet he also refers to the “non-negotiable right of Palestinians to have an independent state.” He condemns Hizbullah for instigating the tragic war of summer, 2006, but also cautions Israel on its disproportionate response. Sarkozy seems well within the mainstream of international politics on this issue.

Sarkozy unapologetically asserts that Turkey is not part of Europe, and considers its majority Muslim population to be inconsistent with European identity. This is troubling, though personally I’m not sure why Turkey wants to join the European Union, or whether such a move would ultimately serve Islam. Again, readers are invited to enlighten me. In reference to foreign policy, it is also worth noting that Sarkozy voices open concern for the “tragedy in Chechnya” and opposes much of U.S. policy in Iraq.

My greatest concern with Sarkozy is his approach to French Muslims and Muslim immigrants. Just as we view Sarkozy’s economic plans against the backdrop of the French social safety net, we also must examine his domestic policies in the context of shameless nationalism and cultural bigotry. My understanding of French society is that the right and left are equally hostile to Muslims. As I was preparing this article, I met a French professor who viewed Sarkozy’s election as the downfall of France. She assured me that the rich would get richer, and that Sarkozy would cozy up to Bush. Personally, I think Sarkozy is too shrewd to court a discredited American president who is eagerly being shown the door. He certainly will reach out to whoever is elected in 2008. But as a Muslim, I cannot accept the knee-jerk French leftist reaction to Sarkozy’s election. Based on his writing (again with all necessary disclaimers), I do not consider him the ideal leader, but he may offer more promise to the Muslim community than any alternative.

Sarkozy favors the integration of all ethnic and religious groups as full citizens of the French Republic. As part of this agenda, he advocates a culturally appropriate affirmative action program to promote social mobility for Arabs, Africans, and other immigrant communities. He praises the success of affirmative action in the United States, a view that progressive Americans would certainly welcome. Sarkozy has at times engaged the Muslim community in France, and supported establishing the French Council of the Muslim Religion. I was also interested to know that Sarkozy opposed banning the hijab in French schools. Despite his personal distaste for the hijab, he once condemned the legal ban as “secular fundamentalism.” And as part of his vision for a new France, Sarkozy states, “in this country, individuals will be entitled to hold their beliefs and to practice religion without being labeled bigots or terrorists.” This all seems to bode well for Muslims.

The major question for French Muslims, and Muslims in the West, is to maintain our beliefs and practices while contributing fully to the wider society. Neither isolation nor assimilation is an acceptable option. The situation in the banlieues is unacceptable and unsustainable. Sarkozy recognizes this. However, French Muslims cannot be expected to drink wine, wear mini-skirts, and eat pork along with their non-Muslim compatriots.

As I mentioned earlier, my primary source for this article is Sarkozy’s book. In a previous post, I challenged American Muslims to look beyond political rhetoric, to understand the deeper interests and forces that politicians truly represent. If I need a taste of my own medicine, I welcome your prescriptions.

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Musa Maguire is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and accepted Islam after graduating from college. In 2004-2005, he received a Fulbright grant to study in Egypt, and then spent the following year working at Huda TV, an English-language Islamic satellite channel that broadcasts from Cairo.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Amad

    May 12, 2007 at 11:57 PM

    ASA, For a low-level researched article as you state, this is mashallah pretty good!! I hope you will consider doing a book review on the his book beyond this Muslim perspective piece.

    I find Sarkozy’s planted French Council of Muslim Faith (CFCM) very troubling. This is a typical way of controlling a people by creating an artificial ‘leadership’ organization. Usually these ‘leadership’ organizations are then stuffed with ‘government-friendly’ progressive-minded folks in order to rubber-stamp everything the government wants from Muslims. Also, you find these groups created in countries which are closer in mentality to communism or a leader that has inclinations towards state control of human thoughts. For instance, Russia has a Chief Mufti of Russia’s Central Spiritual Governance for Muslims. And he is pretty close to Putin (see here). So, next time a sister wants to wear a hijab in some classroom or whatever; you can bet CFCM will issue a ‘fatwa’ saying the government is right.

    Here is an article in Al-Jazeerah

  2. Judge Dredd

    May 14, 2007 at 4:39 AM

    Very Good Article.

    I was pondering on a question:

    Assuming you had read the book before the elections and had the right to vote would you vote for Sarkozy or the alternative?

    I have heard many French Muslims speak well of Sarkozy, but these muslims I spoke to were not exactly the immigrant classs anymore. Neither were they practising muslims.

    I think most of the French practising Muslim working class does not like Sarkozy. I believe rightly so. He did what he needed to in terms of his Islamophobic media comments to win the vote of the right wing electorate. The part he played in supporting the right to make fun of our prophet (PBUH) in the way of cartoons published in France puts him in my bad books for a long time to come.

    It is widely agreed that France as a country desperately needed a kick up the backside in terms of its left leaning lazy work ethics but I wish that could have been done without an actor who is so willing to be Islamophobic.

    His desire to establish a type of Roman Catholic (RC) version of Islam in France by creating the CFCM is contemptable and characteristic of someone who wants to control everything. Then again, the desire to reign in Islam by creating government sanctioned umbrella Muslim groups is going on everywhere in the West now. It is almost as if they are pre-empting the inevitability of Islam as a dominant religion in the West and thus see it as a necessity to have a say in its implementation……….sorry…….I mean complete control in its implementation!

    Sarkozy is the grandson of a Jewish convert to Catholicism who played a strong role in Sarkozy’s ideals. Maybe this is the model that Sarkozy aspires to; to convert the Muslim people or the Muslim religion to the RC formula.

    Then there is the warming of Sarkozy’s relationship with Israel……how sinister I wonder will his Islamophobia play out for the poor Palestinians.
    Why is he so fond of Israel?
    Is it linked with the whole American corporate (link with AIPAC) push to have the French employment laws changed?
    Or…is it because Sarkozy himself is a protestant Christian Zionist?

    What ever the reasons, whatever the intentions, we know his colours but have to live with him for now.

  3. Amad

    May 14, 2007 at 2:30 PM

    I find it interesting too that France, probably the most vocal supporter of Palestine in Europe, has had a change of guards to someone that radically different. It seems that the Zionists are great long-term planners. Is there an equivalent of AIPAC in france? Do we have any readers from France here?

  4. a brother

    May 15, 2007 at 5:29 PM

    As salaamu ‘alaikum:

    While I am aware that this Sarkozy character is basically, pretty much a pro-zionist, neocon type, and not nessarily a friend to Muslims whether in France or in the Ummah, I must say that to me their are some frustrations that I must get off my chest, insha’Allah.

    First of all it is very frustrating how many brothers and sisters were constantly, pretty much totally defending and being apologetic towards the rioters in 2006, and what they did. These so-called “brothers” (yes, there were also non-Muslim Africans and others mixed in with them as well) did many, many, many despicable, ugly, and TOTALLY unIslamic things during these riots. They burned thousands and thousands of cars, many buses (some still had passengers inside) many shops, and many homes, schools, and even some churches I believe (how the heck do we feel when non-Muslims have burned down, effaced or tried to damage our masajid in Europe or North America?!). I’m not sure how many people were killed by the acts of these “brothers,” but I believe at least a dozen or more. These so-called “brothers” that it seemed like back then and now many Muslims seem to blindly defend and/or excuse, were acting like the most despicable, disgusting, criminal jahaliya kuffar. Many of these so-called “brothers” are in thuggish drug and criminal gangs, they spend many days smoking weed (and I’m sure stronger drugs) and drinking alcohol, and they are often guilty of raping fellow Muslim sisters (!!!), as well as non-Muslim women, and in general causing much, much fitnah. They of course often terrorize their own Muslim, Arab/North African community, making what goes on in many of these suburban, ghettoized French suburbs making the most violent, drug ridden, gang infested places in America seem like child’s play. These so-called “brothers” that many Muslims were/are always defending and apologizing for, were/are mimicking and monkeying the kuffar in their most disgusting, immoral, unIslamic ways, yet all some of us can do is blame the evil, racist white French. It’s all the white man’s fault. Not that I’m saying they, or French society should not be partially blamed, but when are we gonna stop making excuses for despicable, unIslamic things that are done by some of our “brothers?” So briefly getting back to Sarkozy. It seems that many of us were very upset (and still are) that he called the rioters scum and/or riffraff (or whatever he said). I don’t like this Sarkozy character as he seems to be a zionist apologist, and so forth, but how the heck was he wrong to call these criminal, thuggish, unIslamic rioting so-called “brothers” these names back then? Why can’t some of us look into the mirror on this, instead of blaming someone else?

  5. Judge Dredd

    May 19, 2007 at 4:53 AM

    A brother, did you find anyone condoning the rioting? Your posting seems to go on about this, but looking at the postings here, I am a bit perplexed on your posting that goes at lengths on one specific subject.

  6. Judge Dredd

    May 19, 2007 at 6:41 AM

    Amad: “Do we have any readers from France here?”

    Not me. Just visit very often living in the area.

    A Brother, does your very objective and profuong orientalist insight in to the French “Muslim” Rioters stem from your life in France or from your French Nationality?

  7. Irfan Patel (Abu Yusuf)

    May 20, 2007 at 12:49 PM

    Amad, great observation…For a country that has been such a vocal supporter of Palestine, why change of guard to the right wing ideologies (agree or not Sarkozy represents the neo-conservative group akin to the Wolfowitzs and the Rumslfelds of the US). Thanks to the recent incidents that have been blamed on Muslims, the general perception of the common European is biased against Islam and Muslims. A common Muslim in Europe has lot to lose from these incidents. And this is a trend that is going to continue unless we take corrective actions to change ourselves.

  8. a brother

    May 20, 2007 at 11:43 PM

    Judge Dredd:

    First of all, I never said posters on this forum were condoning the “Muslim” rioters, did I? And back when the rioting took place, I don’t believe this blog was even around.

    However, back when the incidents in France were taking place, and news was coming out about the “Muslim” rioters, I do recall that some if not many Muslims were defending and excusing the behavior of the so-called “Muslims” rioters. I believe that some Muslims were even describing what these so-called “Muslim” rioters were doing as some sort of new praiseworthy, righteous “intifadah” against oppression (it was pretty ironic that they were saying this, because this was also what many zionist apologists, neocons, and “clash of the civilizations” pushing kaafirun were also saying). Yes, some Muslims were describing what these thugs and petty criminals were doing (many of these rioters non-Muslim BTW) to that of what the Palestinians were doing for the second time, standing up to the more than 50 years of atrocities, massacres, barbarism, and oppression from al-yahood and the zionist entity. I recall that many Muslims seemed, in my opinion, to be using ‘asabiyyah (nationalism, color, race, etc.) as a pretext for supporting the so-called “Muslim” rioters. Many Muslims seemed to only be defending the rioters because many of the rioters apparently were from North Africa, they were Arab, they had Muslim names, or because they had an olive and/or brown complexion. Yeah, again forget that the rioters were basically doing bad, ignorant, stupid, unIslamic things, causing a lot of fitnah, etc. And forget about the fact that many of these so-called “Muslims” were likely not even practicing their Deen at all, and possibly never even prayed (Allahu ‘alam). The attitude from many Muslims pretty much was hey, “they are olive and/or brown skinned,” “they are Arab,” “many seem to have Muslim names,” so “let’s not look at this from an Islamic point of view, Shari’ah wise, and objectively,” etc., because they are “one of us,” and “no matter what they do, we must pretty much put all the blame on the “evil,” white French, and their racist, bigoted society,” etc., etc., etc. That’s not to say that “white” French society as a whole or some whites are not in some ways bigoted, or prejudiced towards many of the Muslim or Arab people living there, or that much of French society surely has many problems and issues that they are not dealing with, or are afraid to deal with, etc. With this being said though, as I said earlier, how can some of us Muslims not look into the mirror regarding this issue, and not always blame someone else for things we have done or have been responsible for?

    Anyway brother, when a Muslim criticizes and critiques the rioters calling themselves “Muslims” acting like the most ignorant, barbaric kuffar, aping and mimicking them, doing the most unIslamic things imaginable, then somehow I’m some freaking “orientalist,” traitor, or whatever you are implying. When there was a true Islamic government in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime, enforcing Allah’s law, enjoining good and forbidding evil, and when they punished the fasiqun, the rebellious, and the spreaders of fitnah, were the Taliban also “orientalists?” LOL

    Brother, what about the fact that many ‘ulema strongly condemned and critiqued what many of the so-called “Muslims” were doing during the riots, and some I believe issuing fatawa?
    Are/were these shuyukh, sellouts, traitors, or “orientalists?”

    And no I don’t live, nor have I ever lived there, however, my wife (a Muslim, born to a Muslim family, born in a Muslim country) has some family that do live there, and obviously know first hand a lot about what I touched on. Didn’t you say that you often visit there yourself? Maybe they have had different experiences then you have had. And what they have said in general about these so-called Muslims living in the various suburbs will make any Muslim sad, frustrated, and angry. I heard many times that many of these “Muslim” youth do nothing but run around in thuggish, criminal gangs. Many don’t even go to school. They sell drugs, do drugs, steal merchandise, and have shootouts with the police. I have heard that often times, the police are too scared to even come into these various suburban areas, or so they say, because they allegedly have a lack of firepower against these thugs and gangsters. I have heard that these so-called “Muslims” as I said in my first post on this subject, are often guilty of raping MUSLIM sisters. Think about that brother. These “Muslim” youth are often guilty of raping Muslims sisters!!!!!! If you (or I or any Muslim) don’t get angry for the sake of Allah (swt) after hearing about this, then there is something very, very wrong. My wife’s family had to even move from one area because it was so bad. And again, the main victims of these gangsters and thugs, as it was during the riots, are mainly other Muslims and/or people of Arab/North African background. As happens in America, where often times, many of the people in the most violent, gang and drug infested, and crime ridden communities are too scared to even call the police for fear of retaliation, or reprisal, the same goes for the mainly Arab, Muslim communities that live in these neighborhoods of France. Do you not agree that this is sad, and pathetic, and a truly despicable situation for the Muslims to be in? Oh I guess if you do, then you must be some sort of freaking “orientalist.”

  9. Judge Dredd

    May 21, 2007 at 3:40 PM

    But you focus on Muslim rioters specifically? Could you come back with some postings relevant to the Islamophobic French nationalists and zionists. Please read – maybe you have got the wrong “brothers” implicated in all the violence.

    http://news.independent.co.uk/europe/article346728.ece

    Jewish anger at ‘racist’ murder by kidnap gang
    By John Lichfield in Paris
    Published: 21 February 2006 – Independent

    Tempers are reaching boiling point in the French Jewish community after the torture and murder of a young Jewish man by a suburban gang calling itself ” the barbarians”.

    Police had said that the gang kidnapped Ilan Halimi, 23 ­ using a beautiful, young, blonde woman as bait ­ to extort money from his family. However, the victim’s family and many other Parisian Jews are convinced the crime was, at least partially, racially motivated.

    …….At the weekend, a mainly peaceful protest march by Parisian Jews was marred by a number of violent actions by radical young Jewish men. A black man was beaten up, allegedly for “smiling” at the protest. An Arab-run grocery was attacked. A motorist who was caught up in the march was assaulted and had to be rescued by demonstration marshals.
    ——————————————

    BUT just in case you got the right “brohters”, maybe…….just maybe it has something to do with so called French Zionist philosophers like Bernard-Henri Levy claiming that the Muslim “VEIL INVITES RAPE” and thereby enciting rape.

    A Brother, you have either seriously got your information sources muddled or you are some other sort of a “brother”.

    Please pray 2 rakat nafil and ask God to guide you.
    You are either deliberately listening to evil whispers or you are misled.

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