A presidential race leaves French Muslims feeling like outsiders

The New York Times reports: Nassurdine Haidari knows that people like himself — black and Muslim and a former imam — are not a target audience for France’s presidential candidates. But he is outraged nonetheless that voters in the banlieues, the poor, heavily immigrant suburbs of French cities, are not only taken for granted but are also used as symbols to promote racial and religious anxiety.

“The banlieues are the great absence in the campaign,” Mr. Haidari said. “We don’t talk about them. People don’t want to talk about them. They don’t want to engage.”

At 34, French-born of parents from the Comoros Islands off Africa’s east coast, Mr. Haidari is a success — a deputy mayor for youth and sport for the First and Seventh Arrondissements of Marseille and a member of the Socialist Party.

But even his party’s presidential candidate, François Hollande, while campaigning on diversity, equality and new spending on job creation and education, speaks in generalities, Mr. Haidari said. “The entire political class has a problem with Islam,” he said. “It’s disconnected from reality.”

Mr. Hollande proposes a minister for women, Mr. Haidari said, but not for Arabs. “We need a minister for equality, to deal with all the discrimination,” he said.

As for President Nicolas Sarkozy and the members of the far-right National Front, they are playing the politics of division and scapegoating, Mr. Haidari said. “The issue isn’t the burqa,” the full-face veil, he said. “They do it to raise the pressure. It’s to show people that ‘we can handle the Muslims.’ ”

The language is particularly pointed now, after the murders in Toulouse of seven people — three Muslim soldiers and four Jews, three of them children — by a French-born Muslim, Mohammed Merah, 23, who claimed inspiration from Al Qaeda. The killings have been followed by a series of arrests of suspected Islamic radicals, which Mr. Sarkozy says has no connection with Toulouse or presidential politics.

Even in Marseille, a city renowned for its tolerance, there is a heated issue around an effort to build a large mosque that has been stymied by problems of politics, financing and fierce internal divisions among Muslims. Altogether, they represent about 30 percent of Marseille’s 850,000 people but are having more children than the non-Muslim population. Muslims represent 8 percent to 9 percent of France’s 63 million people.

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