A Muslim political party will be contesting seats at next month’s regional elections in France, standing on a platform which includes promises to expand the halal industry and allow girls to wear the burqa. Critics have called the Democratic Union for French Muslims a “catastrophe”, claiming that it flies in the face of France’s secular history, but it’s founder insists that his party promotes religious tolerance.
10 percent of the French population is Muslim, giving the party a potential support base of around 6 million voters. “Muslims don’t feel well served by any of the traditional parties,” the party’s founder, Nagib Azergui, a 38 year old technology consultant, told the Sunday Times.
Yet Azergui has admitted that, following the attack by Islamists on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January and a recent copycat attack in Copenhagen, support has been hard to come by. “Some of our candidates decided to withdraw — they were afraid for their families,” he said, adding that some financial backers had also decided to pull out. “I knew things would be complicated. But I had no idea we’d be so stigmatised.”
The party, launched in 2012, had been planning to field candidates in eight regions, but has now decided to focus on Marseilles where a large Muslim population resides. It will also field a challenger to President Francois Hollande in 2017. But Azergui has blamed it’s recent problems on “Islamphobia”.
Conversely, it’s opponents view the party as evidence of the creeping Islamisation of France. National Front Vice President Louis Alliot described it last week as “the logical outcome of everything we’ve been living through.” And Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, leader of Debout La France (Stand up France), called it “a catastrophe . . . for French Muslims who are French first and then Muslim”.
Others have claimed that it flies in the face of the French constitution which splits religion from politics – even the census doesn’t ask for religious affliation in France, but Azergui has dismissed this claim by pointing out that France had a Christian Democrat Party without anyone objecting.
He insists that the party champions equality, fielding female candidates, and wants to see laws which ban the wearing of the veil overturned in the name of religious freedom. He also claims that plans to create a “colonialism museum” to set the record straight about the “difficult and tragic episodes” of French colonisation of northern Africa will help to reduce radicalisation of young Muslims, as will plans to introduce “civic education and philosophy courses” to stop them being recruited by extremists.
And Azergui, the son of Moroccan immigrants, has said that there has been a silver lining to the recent hostility that the party has suffered: membership has risen from 900 to nearly twice that in the last few days, and attracted several thousand more sympathisers.