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Sunday, 15 February 2015

French politicians up in arms after Muslim party joins electoral race

A polling station in Clichy-sous-Bois

A polling station in Clichy-sous-Bois 

New party Union of French Muslim Democrats (UDMF) is to present candidates in eight cities in the local elections to be held in France next month. Established in 2012, the party says it wants to counter the rising tide of islamophobia by giving Muslims a platform in politics. But critics argue it will further isolate the country's six million Muslims.

By RFI with Christina Okello 

"It's a downright provocation, and an insult to Muslims," Geoffrey Carvalhinho from the conservative UMP told RFI on Saturday, after France's all Muslim party announced it would be competing in next month's local elections.

"I've gone door-to-door in my neighbourhood and spoken with Muslims and many have told me they don't want to make a huge fuss and dance about being Muslim. They're French, end of story."

Carvalhinho is one of several candidates vying for a mayoral post in his town of Pantin on the outskirts of Paris, home to a huge diaspora community.

But Carvalhinho says he's worried that if the Union of French Muslim Democrats enters the political mainstream, it could mean that French Muslims may have to choose between their country or their religion.

"Do we have a Catholic party, a Jewish party, no, so why should we have a Muslim party?" questions Jacques-Elie Chabert, a CEO of a local TV station targeted at the Muslim community.

Nonetheless, Chabert recognizes that Muslims may not have any other choice, given the rising tide of islamophobia in France in the wake of last month's terror attacks at Charlie Hebdo headquarters. "It's the best way of promoting pride among Muslims," he told RFI.

However, some observers warn that an all-Muslim party set up to echo the community's concerns, will feed the hysteria of far right parties like the Front National.

"I am against all the things which can separate and divide people", Gérard Prudhomme, a deputy-mayor from Seine-Saint Denis, a tough Parisian suburb, told RFI. "This kind of initiative will further boost the Front National's clout." Marine Le Pen's party made fresh gains in recent legislative elections, and is hoping to do the same on March 25th.

The Front National on Saturday described the decision of the Union of French Muslim Democrats to stand in local elections as "backward" and said it would aggravate tensions between communities.

The UDMF has hit out at criticism, and insists that it is not a "religious" party, but merely wants to give Muslims a platform to express their concerns. Yet the timing of their announcement, so soon after the January 7 attacks, has been perceived as insensitive.

Whilst fans of French writer Michel Houellbecq have been quick to point out the parallels between fiction and reality - as in Houellbecq's last novel "Submission", he described a scenario in which an all Muslim party would come to power and subject the country to sharia law. The cutoff date was 2022. France still has a long way to go.

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