The French presidential election, which will take place on April 10, 2022, can be considered one of the most different recent elections in this country and perhaps in Europe. The difference between these elections is mainly due to the events that have taken place in the political and social scene of the country in recent years, which has intensified the pressure on minorities such as Muslims and immigrants.
Catherine Wihtol de Wenden (born 6 June 1950) is a French political scientist. She is the Research Director at the French National Centre for Scientific Research and a senior researcher at the Institute for International Political Studies. Wihtol de Wenden specializes in migration studies. She is also an activist for the right to immigration in France. The following is an interview with her about the French presidential election.
IQNA: In recent months, there has been an increase in statements against Muslims and racial minorities in France by some presidential candidates. What do you think is the reason for this increase in attacks on Muslims and other minorities?
Catherine Wihtol de Wenden: It is a long trend in extreme right wing parties and groups in France. The main reason is because they do not vote: the parents, as foreigners non Europeans do not have the right to vote and the children are often nonvoters (abstentions). The recent forms of terrorism in France mainly (because it is a secularized country) have increased this hate, even if most Muslims are living as Muslims and as citizens. The Algerian war also had a strong impact on the negative image of rebellions against France.
IQNA: Some believe that the statements and actions of French President Emmanuel Macron against Muslims are an attempt to attract the votes of the far right. How true do you think this is?
Catherine Wihtol de Wenden: I do not think so, because E. Macron tries to create a dialogue with Africa. There are not actions from Macron against Muslims except for cases of terrorism (the S.Paty murder). He does not speak a lot on immigration too, the most dangerous in the political debate are the extreme right movements and parties.
IQNA: Some have cited Eric Zemmour as a phenomenon in this year's French presidential election because of his racist and Islamophobic remarks. Do you think he can win this year's election or not?
Catherine Wihtol de Wenden: I hope that he will fail. I don’t think he is able to win because his discourse is so fallacious that many people do not trust in it. Moreover, the recent attack of Ukraine by Russia is weakening him, because he said he was admiring Putin as a strong man. He was condemned several times for false declarations and for antisemitism and racism.
IQNA: What is the view of Muslims and ethnic minorities in France on this year's elections, and what do you think their participation in this year's elections will be like?
Catherine Wihtol de Wenden: I think their participation will be low because most of them do not feel to be represented by the candidates. The young are rarely voters and the parents do not have the right to vote. Their voice is very low in the presidential debate.
Muslims in France are not a homogeneous group; there are Maghrebians, Sub-Saharans, Turkish, Syrians. They do not feel they are a community. They think themselves as nationals of their country, mainly.
IQNA: What do you think is the root of Islamophobia in the French society, which is known for its religious tolerance?
Catherine Wihtol de Wenden: The Algerian war, the 11th of September 2001 attack, the many forms of terrorism mostly in 2015 (Bataclan), the departures of young in Syria for the IS, the conflicts in inner cities (which are not linked with islam). But most French are not necessarily sharing islamophobia: there are many mix marriages, good relations in neighborhood, solidarity from associations to refugees from the Middle east.
IQNA: What is the view of the French presidential candidates towards the religious minorities and Muslims in this country?
Catherine Wihtol de Wenden: France is a secularized country which does not subsidize nor promotes any cult. Most of the candidates did not speak about religious minorities and Muslims during the campaign, except for Zemmour and le Pen. Some regions (south east of France) are more hostile than others (Paris, west of France). It is not linked with the presence of Muslims but with the knowledge of people of Muslim religion, which helps to a dialogue.
IQNA: What is your prediction for the presidential election?
Catherine Wihtol de Wenden: I think that Macron will be elected because he plays his role in foreign policy in the Ukrainian conflict, what the other candidates cannot do. He appears so as stronger and accountable.
Interview by Mohammad Hassan Goodarzi