Muslims threaten riots if Sarkozy elected socialist candidate exploits fears of Islamist violence to garner votes
May 4, 2007
MIM: Instead of condemning the threat of Islamist violence French presidential candidate Segolene Royal is piggy backing on the intimidation to win votes warning that the "despair of some... will reach a peak" if her rival is elected. Last year France endured weeks of rioting by Muslim youths in an urban jihad which was spread throughout the country. Some of the more horrific incidents included a handicapped woman who was doused with lighter fluid and set alight and passengers who were burned in a bus that was firebombed. Thousands of cars were torched and millions of francs worth of property were destroyed. The threats by Muslims in France to become violent if their favored candidate loses shows how Islamist intimidation is beginning to shape public and political policies in the West and brings to mind the Socialist party victory in the aftermath of the Madrid bombings which had been intended to shift Spanish public opinion towards a candidate who would withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq.
Anger expected in surburbs if Sarkozy elected
PARIS: The candidate who is ahead in the polls for the presidential election Sunday is the son of an immigrant with a very un-French name who has done as much as, if not more, than any other French official to improve the status of minorities.
Yet the one place that the candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, has not gone in the days before the election is the volatile working-class neighborhoods of France's second-generation immigrants, where he is largely reviled.
His opponent, Ségolène Royal of the Socialist Party, has played on that fear, warning that if Sarkozy is elected, France's minority youths may take to the streets as they did in 2005, setting cars and buildings aflame. Others agree.
"If Sarkozy wins, I'm sure there'll be trouble the night of the elections," said Mohamed Hamidi, editor in chief of Bondy Blog, a fledgling online magazine focused on France's working-class suburbs. "With Ségo," he added, using Royal's nickname, "things will be calm for five years."
The integration of alienated, second-generation immigrant youths into mainstream French society is one of the thorniest problems facing French politics today, and Sarkozy, as interior minister, tackled the problem head-on with a directness more typical of an American politician than a French one.
He knows the pain of being an outsider and even advocates American-style affirmative action, a sacrilege for many people in officially colorblind, egalitarian France.
But his zero-tolerance anti-crime campaign, his sometimes impolitic talk (tailored to attract far-right voters during an earlier stage of his campaign), and his combative style have turned him into an enemy for many young minorities.
Fear that a President Sarkozy would bring five years of heightened tension and violence is an emotion operating at the core of the presidential campaign.
"The conditions for a new explosion are there, and it will be more violent than before because the despair of some will be deeper and the exasperation of others will reach a peak," Royal said in her campaign headquarters last week on the Boulevard Saint-Germain in one of the capital's most exclusive districts.
Certainly, the hoots and jeers that Sarkozy's name brings in crowded high-rise apartment blocks suggest that a Sarkozy presidency would face resistance, if not unrest. Even Sarkozy's closest supporters concede that there is likely to be some car-burning if he wins the election Sunday.
But those supporters argue that given time, his anti-crime campaign and promise of training and jobs for unemployed youths will eventually turn the tense suburbs from increasingly stagnant ghettos into peaceful pools of hope.
"If the only reason to vote for Ségo is fear of trouble in the suburbs, then democracy is in trouble," said Yves Jégo, the mayor of the immigrant-heavy northern suburb Montereau-Fault-Yonne and a staunch Sarkozy supporter.
Sarkozy himself has struggled as an outsider, describing himself as a "little French man of mixed blood" who rose to the top of French politics without going through the normal channels of the elite universities as Royal did.
His record, meanwhile, shows a clear commitment to improving the status of the country's minorities, most of whom are Muslim. He encouraged the creation of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, which gave Islam a voice in France. He appointed the first prefect in France who is both foreign-born and Muslim.
He has even argued for relaxing rules that restrict government support for building mosques.
And he believes in affirmative action, which the Socialists steadfastly oppose.
Even many of Sarkozy's critics concede that his proposals are broader and deeper than those of Royal.
"He is more concrete, more precise than the left," said Hamidi, the blogger. "But he is ready for confrontation." Many people blame Sarkozy for the 2005 violence, citing his tough talk and policies during four years as interior minister.
He got rid of beat police officers in troubled neighborhoods soon after getting the job in 2002, chastising patrolmen in Toulouse for organizing football games with local youths.
"You are not social workers," Sarkozy said.
Sarkozy's combative style exacerbated the rising tensions, even as they solidified his credentials with the far right whose support was critical in winning the first round of voting last month.
While visiting La Courneuve, a working-class suburb of Paris, after a shooting in June 2005, he vowed to clean out the suburb "with a Karcher," the brand name for a high-powered industrial pressure washer.
He inflamed passions further a few months later by telling people in another suburb that he would rid of the place of the "thugs" responsible for petty crime.
The harsh language, which he and his supporters still defend, defined him as racist in the eyes of many French blacks and Arabs who were already bristling from the random police checks that came with the anti-crime campaign.
When two youths were accidentally electrocuted while fleeing the police two days after his "thugs" remark, working-class neighborhoods across the country erupted in an unprecedented wave of unrest that was largely a response to Sarkozy and his tough tactics.
While Sarkozy has moderated his language and struck a more conciliatory tone in the presidential campaign, he did not help matters by proposing last year that France have a ministry of immigration and national identity to ensure that new citizens adhere to France's secular values.
The idea seems to many people in the suburbs like a way to suppress cultural differences in favor of a traditional French way of life.
Since the 2005 violence, Sarkozy has been unwelcome in the suburbs. He made only one visit to a troubled neighborhood during the campaign, a brief, tightly controlled trip to the suburb of Meaux, where he bore the heckles and harangues of the town's angry citizens in a closed meeting with more than 300 police officers posted outside.
Taymir Boungou-Pouaty, an immigrant from Congo, was one of the handful to benefit from Sarkozy's 2005 visit to the suburb. He was hired by a French company as part of Sarkozy's affirmative action plan and is now a volunteer in Sarkozy's campaign.
He said that many people in the projects support Sarkozy, even if they are reluctant to talk about it.
"They speak through the ballots," he said, noting that while Royal won 41.1 percent of the vote in La Courneuve, Sarkozy received a respectable 22.9 percent - more than the centrist candidate François Bayrou and better than President Jacques Chirac fared in the 2002 presidential elections.
"There are people that want a little order, a little rigor," Boungou-Pouaty said.
But the accusations of racism have stuck.The national soccer star Lilian Thuram claims that Sarkozy told him during the 2005 unrest that "it's the blacks and Arabs who create problems in the suburbs." Though Sarkozy says the story is not true, Thuram has repeated it over and over.
Royal promises to reinstate neighborhood police and reinstate a state-funded youth-employment program, both created by a former Socialist prime minister, Lionel Jospin, and discontinued by Sarkozy. She has vowed that no young person will remain unemployed for more than six months after leaving school.
Boungou-Pouaty warns that Sarkozy will have only one chance to make good on his message.
"We will see how he constitutes his government, whether it includes blacks and Arabs," Boungou-Pouaty said. "If they disappoint us, it's over."