France’s National Front is looking to broaden its electoral base by appealing to Muslims living in impoverished neighbourhoods in and around Paris. The party has set itself against open door immigration leading to accusations of racism within the media, but it has now made it clear that it wants to foster the support of moderate Muslims who hold allegiance to France.
The party’s leader, Marine le Pen is due in court later this month on a charge of inciting racial hatred after comparing Muslim street prayers to the occupation of France by Nazi troops during World War II. As Breitbart London previously reported she has denied the charges, telling Le Monde: “It is scandalous that a politician should be sued for expressing their opinions. I will go before the court in order to say so.”
86 per cent of Muslims voted for France’s current socialist president, François Holland in the Presidential election of 2012. But with his support bottoming out over the last few years, plenty of those votes are up for grabs by other parties, and the National Front is gaining momentum.
“For Muslims, the disappointment with the Socialist party is huge,” author and expert on Islam, Marwan Muhammad, told Politico. “The party has not only failed to help Muslims improve their situation socially, it has used them as a disposable electorate, only worth paying attention to before a big vote.”
Evidence of support for the party among the migrant population is strong. Although French law forbids polling by demographics, local elections held earlier this year saw the National Front take nearly 20 per cent of the vote in some towns in the Seine-Sant-Denis department, home to the highest population of foreign born residents in France.
In the nearby canton of Tremblay-en-France the party took a third of the vote, losing to a left-wing coalition by 32.6 per cent to 67.4 per cent of votes in the second round of the two-round election.
It’s those sorts of results which have prompted the party to broaden its horizons from its current, mostly rural vote, and invest heavily in trying to persuade immigrant voters to back them. The party’s treasurer, Wallerand de Saint Just, has just allocated a substantial proportion of the €1 million campaign budget earmarked for local election campaigns in the greater Paris region to a leafleting initiative designed to target Muslim voters.
“I see no contradiction in our approach,” he said. “We are appealing to French citizens of Muslim faith, not the fundamentalists, and we’re telling them that we see them first and foremost as French citizens.”
Saint Just, who is himself running for one of the council seats has confirmed that the leaflets will be sent to homes in all 157 “Sensitive Urban Zones” (ZUS’s as the French acronym has it). The zones cover areas of high unemployment and poor housing, and often overlap with Muslim and immigrant areas.
The leaflets will contain messages explicitly for “French citizens of Muslim faith,” as well as policies on urban planning, improved access to public services and security.
“Wherever people are suffering, that’s where we go, and people are suffering in the banlieues, not in the 9th arrondissement of Paris,” Saint Just said, referring to an upmarket neighbourhood on the banks of the Seine. “The Socialist party and [Nicolas Sarkozy’s] Les Républicains are largely responsible for having sabotaged life in these neighborhoods and people there don’t want to see them in power anymore.”
Sébastien Chenu, an aide to Le Pen was in agreement. He said the party already had a strong base of support amongst some immigrant populations, notably the Portugese community. “It’s going to be a boomerang effect,” he said. “The Muslims who voted for Hollande are going turn against him massively,” he said.
To further their initiative, the party has founded a number of “collectives,” or working groups, each focussing on an area of policy. One such group is concentrating on the banlieues, the suburban low income housing projects surrounding Paris. Commenting on the intellectual work done by the group, Chenu added: “For us the intellectual debate has been over for a while: France is a multiethnic, unicultural country.”