Candidate who wore headscarf on campaign flyer sparks ire from Macron party

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French President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling LREM party has threatened to withdraw its support for a Muslim candidate running in June local elections after she wore a headscarf on a campaign flyer. Party chief Stanislas Guerini said its values are “not compatible” with wearing “ostentatious religious symbols” on campaign materials.

French law does not prohibit the wearing of the hijab or other religious symbols in images that appear on campaign flyers.

However, a 2004 French law controversially banned the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols – including Islamic headscarves, the Jewish kippah or large Christian crosses – in public places such as schools, librairies and government buildings in an effort to safeguard French “secularism“.  

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The move to sanction La République en Marche (LREM) candidate Sarah Zemmahi illustrates the sensitivity of discussions on the role of Islam in French society. The subject has become even more fraught ahead of next year’s presidential vote, with the main challenge to Macron coming from the far right – which some say has prompted Macron to make a sharp rightward shift.

An official from Macron’s party said there was no place for the overt display of religious symbols on electoral campaign documents in staunchly secular France.

“She will not be supported” by LREM, said Stanislas Guerini, the party’s general secretary, in an interview with RTL radio aired on Tuesday.

Guerini tweeted on Monday that the party’s values “are not compatible” with wearing “ostentatious religious symbols” on campaign materials.

Macron – who once prided himself on the multicultural, ethnically diverse makeup of his new party after his surprising 2017 election victory – has repeatedly warned of the growing threat that Islamist “separatism” poses to French national unity.

Some politicians have expressed concern that Islamist extremists are creating separate mini-communities within France that reject the country’s secular values, including freedom of religion and gender equality. 

The debate over the campaign poster erupted after Jordan Bardella, the No. 2 in Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National (formerly the National Front) party, tweeted a copy of the flyer with the message: “Is this how you fight separatism, Marlène Schiappa?”, directing his question to the minister in charge of citizenship issues.

Guerini responded directly on Twitter, demanding either that the flier be withdrawn or saying Zemmahi would lose the party’s support. An LREM official close to Guerini said Zemmahi would be officially informed of the party’s decision in writing.

But Guerini’s move opened up a bitter debate within the party.

“Undignified. Running after (far-right) votes will only allow their ideas to prevail. Enough is enough,” LREM lawmaker Caroline Janvier tweeted in response to Guerini.

Another LREM party legislator, Roland Lescure, expressed a more hawkish view, saying a tough stance was necessary.

“It’s an explosive subject. Political Islam is a reality, it is a simmering threat in some neighbourhoods and we have to be very firm.”

(FRANCE 24 with Reuters)


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