The Democratic Union of French Muslims (DUFM) is hoping to win a French Muslim party’s first seats in the European Parliament as voters go to the polls today, Ramin Mazaheri writes from Paris.
The party, which is openly anti-Zionist and anti-imperialist, says it represents the new generation of French Muslims – refusing to be pushed underground, realistic about what they can achieve in a deeply Islamophobic continent, and patriotically embracing all their fellow French citizens.
They say proof of their widespread appeal, and of their rejection of divisive “identity politics”, is the fact that many of their candidates are not Muslim.
“We are not a party restricted to those of just one faith, and we are not here to promote Islam,” Nagib Azergui, the party’s co-founder, told 5Pillars.
The DUFM is expressly not an “Islamist” party – their first directive is to fight for the French in all their diversity.
Some analysts say running on an Islamist platform in a profoundly secular country where Muslims compose no more than 10% of the population appears like a guarantee of political irrelevance. But the DUFM says that Muslims can no longer be rendered politically irrelevant.
The French Muslim community suffers from decades of institutionalised neglect and prejudice, which has resulted in urgent socioeconomic needs which need to finally be addressed.
“We must de-Islamise the political discourse in France in order to address the many failures of society and the real concerns of the French people,” said Azergui. “We are trying to end the double burden of being Muslim in France: it is very difficult to live publicly as a Muslim, and especially as a practicing Muslim. We want to show that we are proud of being Muslim.”
The party has flourished since 2012, perhaps because French Muslims have given up on mainstream political parties. President Emmanuel Macron does not have a single Muslim minister in his cabinet, even though Muslims compose nearly 10% of the population.
Moreover, the party has fought off violent threats to candidates, false claims from mainstream politicians that they are trying to install Shariah in France, and constantly negative and confrontational media coverage.
The party says it is fighting something called the “21st century Muslim paradox,” meaning that Muslims are the primary focus of many political parties across Europe, and yet Islam is not at all involved in European politics.
Another Western paradox is that they claim to embrace diversity, yet not when it comes to Muslims. Few in the West appear to realize that every definition of “Islamophobia” includes “fear of Islam as a political force”. And many see France’s claim of impartially enforcing a strict secularity as a sham.
“In France there is a Christian Democratic Party which poses no problem for anybody, and which had huge effects on the centre and right,” said Azergui.
Christian Democratic parties, often renamed in recent decades, have controlled the governments of nearly every Western European nation since World War II. Christian Democrats compose half of the “Grand Coalition” which has ruled European Parliament ever since it opened in 1979, though the Coalition may finally lose their majority when results are announced on Sunday.
“Christian Democratic parties are not trying to bring back the monarchy – why must Islamic Democratic parties must always assumed to be regressive,” asked Azergui.
The EU’s Muslim roots
The European Union undoubtedly has Muslim roots, as well as Judeo-Christian roots, because Muslims have been widely present in Europe since its earliest conception, in 1957 with the European Economic Community. But 40 years later many Muslims claim that Europe falsely denies the active contribution of its Muslim citizens.
What’s more, the DUFM’s continued success is threatening to overturn decades of political norms between the French establishment and the Muslim community.
For over 20 years France has been talking about a “legitimate interlocutor” from the French Muslim community. Each recent incoming French president has created a “new” and “official” association of Muslims to deal with. Nicolas Sarkozy had the French Council of the Muslim Faith, Francois Hollande created the nationalistic Foundation for French Islam, and Emmanuel Macron is expected to eventually create the new Muslim Association for a French Islam.
All of these are regarded as jokes and puppets by French Muslims because they are not grassroots, democratically-created organisations; they are top-down, liberal democratic lobby groups, where the lobbyists are in league with those whom they are lobbying.
But if the DUFM wins seats in European Parliament that would increase their ability to create ties with the roughly dozen openly-Muslim political parties in Europe.
“The goal is not to impose Shariah on Europe, but to create openness,” said Azergui.
Ramin Mazaheri is a journalist who has lived in France since 2009. He has reported from the U.S., Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. He is the author of I’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television. He can be reached on Facebook.