In his apartment in the northeastern suburbs of Paris, Hanane Charrihi looked at a photo of his mother Fatima. “His death shows that we need tolerance, more than ever,” she said. “Tolerance does not exist in France, but sometimes, it seems that those who are against tolerance shout the loudest and get the most airtime.”
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Fatima Charrihi, 59 years old, a Muslim, grand-mother, was the first of 86 people to be killed in a terrorist attack in Nice last summer, when a truck driver buried in the crowd watching the Bastille Day fireworks. She had left her apartment and gone down to the sea to have an ice cream with his grandchildren. Wearing a hijab, she was the first person that the driver was struck in the horrific attack claimed by the Islamic State. One-third of the people killed in the Beautiful attack were Muslims. But Fatima Charrihi of the family, some wearing headscarves, have been insulted by passers-by who called them “terrorists”, even as they crouched next to their mother, her body under a sheet on the site of the attack. “We don’t want people like you here,” a man outside of a coffee shop has told his family shortly after the attack.
Hanane Charrihi, 27, a pharmacist, was so annoyed to find that, even after the death of his mother, the so-called “problem” of Islam in France was such an object of political debate, that she wrote a book, My mother’s homeland, a way to live together in harmony in diversity. The far-right National Front has won a slew of new members in Nice after the attack, and now, Marine Le Pen is the presence in the final round of the presidential election this weekend, after taking a record 7.6 million votes in the first round has pushed the issue of Islam and national identity at the top of the agenda.
“I am French, I love my country, and it seemed that people were saying to me: “No, you can’t love France,’” Devd Charrihi said. “All this focus on the debate of national identity, the politicians seem to lose time that could be focused instead on unemployment, work, or housing.”
The runoff between the far-right, anti-immigration, Le Pen, and the independent centrist Emmanuel Macron has seen heated exchanges on Islam and national identity. In 2015, The Pen was tried and found innocent of the incitement to religious hatred after comparing Muslims praying in the streets to the Nazi occupation. Macron insisted that The Pen is still “the party of hate.” He told a Paris rally this week: “I won’t accept people being insulted just because they believe in Islam.” After more than 230 people have been killed in terrorist attacks in France in a little over two years, Le Pen has called Islamic fundamentalism, a “mortal danger” for France and the accused Macron to have a “lenient attitude” towards it. He accused the division of France, and to stir up “civil war”.
Le Pen on campaign in Dol-de-Bretagne Thursday. Photo: Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images
Le Pen’s proposed policies include the prohibition of religious symbols, such as headscarves in Muslim, of all public places. It would outlaw ritual slaughter, Islamic knowledge of halal slaughter, although Jewish kosher practices would also be affected.
When Le Pen’s father and his party is co-founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, has reached the final round of the presidential election in 2002, the political class spontaneously united in the fight against racism, activists to block his vote, marching in the streets. This time anti-Le Pen demonstrations have been fewer, smaller and more fragmented. Relatively few people have lined up behind the anti-racism banners, and the National Front is now accepted as a part of the political landscape. The question of diversity and of the France of the divisions between city and countryside, rich and poor, the so-called “native” French and immigrants – have haunted the campaign.
In Aubervilliers market – part of the Seine-Saint-Denis, the forces of the left and the ethnic diversity of the region north-east of Paris, where the young people on the estates complain of discrimination that highlighted the youth unemployment – Ezzedine Fahem, 62, worried, there was a growing gap. “In some places, The Pen, The vote is on the rise, but there the very idea of The Pen sparks of fear,” said the former employee of the restaurant. “For me, it feels like it is targeted at Muslims, the religion, the foreign. This whole question of integration. Look here – everyone from abroad has been pushed here in a ghetto. Now, even if you’re French and were born here, you are always going to be brought back to your roots. You’re French, but you are still an Arab, you’re always in the black, you’re still Jewish.”
Macron visit to a factory in Albi on the Thursday. Photo: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images
Macron has argued that his line on the fight against terrorism is to look at the “roots” of why the French-born children are more to take up arms against their own country, which has aroused the contempt of not only The Pen, but of the Socialists. “When people are born in France and the attack of France, this means that the integration has failed, you have to look, don is working on the creation of jobs, education, and integration of schools. This is why we want to reduce the size of classes in the priority areas,” Aidara said.
Macron has also tried to take on the outstanding chapter in the history of france, which is of the colonial period and the war in Algeria. During a visit to Algiers in February, he called France’s colonial past as a “crime against humanity”. Later, he tempered his comments, but insisted: “We must face up to this common, complex past if we want to go ahead and get out.” The Pen, this week, accused of slandering France’s “glorious history”.
Sara, 22 years old, took a flyer to Macron. A first time voter and of the technology to the student who wears a headscarf Muslim, was voted in the first ballot for the unity of the left Jean-Luc Mélenchon, “because it was about everyone in the France of living together and climb.” It felt anti-Islam sentiment was becoming “almost commonplace” in France. “I’m not sure Emmanuel Macron has really understood that,” she added, but she was going to vote for him to keep The Pen. She loved the fact that Macron has not wanted to ban the headscarf in Muslim universities – an idea proposed by some on the mainstream right and even supported by the former Socialist prime minister Manuel Valls.
For years, the French, the principle of laïcité, or secularism, has been caught in a row over whether it has been hijacked for political purposes. The French republic is built on a strict separation of church and state, aimed at promoting the equality of all private beliefs. But controversies such as the mayors ban the burkini, full-body Muslim swimwear for French beaches last summer – have seen the commentators, and even courts, to guard against the “violation of the fundamental freedoms”, in singling out the Muslims. Macron said that his approach to French secularism would be “tolerant”, sparking accusations of The Pen that it is “lax”.
“Racism, racism, racism – that’s what I’m afraid of France,” said a 49-year-old French town hall worker who was born in Tunisia. “I don’t have the right to vote in the first round but on the Sunday, I’m going to drag everyone I know out of their beds and drag them to vote Macron. I would not usually vote for Macron, but what other choice do we have? This election is not over yet. The result is open. I’m concerned about Le Pen can win, and if she does, I think I could just leave France up to his time in power.”