CAIRO - With Elysee hopefuls are toning up their hostile rhetoric against the sizable minority to win far-right votes, France's Muslims are feeling tired of being cast as scapegoats in the race for the country's top post.“We are Muslims and we are French, but every day we are attacked, insulted and treated like terrorists or extraterrestrials,” Fateh Kimouche, a high-profile Muslim blogger, told The Guardian.
"France educated us; we have energy and enthusiasm and we have brains, businesses and money. The old generation of politicians don't seem to realize this."
Muslims have been a main theme in electoral rallies by French candidates a few weeks before the April-May elections.
Canadidates have toned up their tones against Muslim immigrations into France as well as halal meat in a desperate effort to court far-right voters.
Last month, Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front Party, claimed that all meat in Paris was halal, a claim denied by abattoirs.
The issue caught hold with President Nicolas Sarkozy, who called for labeling all halal meat in France.
His Prime Minister Francois Fillon also entered the fray, saying that religious slaughter by Muslims and Jews were an "outdated" tradition, angering both religious minorities."It's a blatant attempt to divert attention away from the real problems," said Yanis Bouarbi, founder of the successful restaurant website paris-halal.com.
"You can have a debate about how animals are killed, but this is pure electioneering."
Kimouche, 36, who has a degree in political philosophy and who started a profitable blog, al-Kanz, which covers all aspects of Muslim life and rituals, and boasts up to 10,000 visitors a day, agrees.
"Nicolas Sarkozy and Marine Le Pen have resorted to this because they have no solutions to the real problems. It's the last desperate thrashings of a mad dog that has nothing to lose," he said.
"It's part of a chain of thought that goes from halal meat to Islamism to terrorism."
France has already irked its Muslim minority by a series of provocative measures ranging from banning face-veils in public and hijab in schools, launching government-sponsored debates on national identity to outlawing Muslim street prayers, a sight Le Pen likened to the Nazi occupation.
Kimouche says that the the second- and third-generation Muslims in France was not prepared to lie down and let the French republic roll over it as their parents had done.
"My parents came from Algeria and, like many others, they didn't make a fuss because they felt like invited guests who had to be on their best behavior,” he said.
“But I was born here.”
France is home to a Muslim minority of six million, the largest in Europe.
Disappointed MuslimsMuslims say France has let them down by alienating young, and dynamic youth.
"They said to us, 'Do your studies, and you will get a job.' We did our studies but there were no jobs and they said we hadn't done the right studies,” Mohamed Abdenebi, 36, a history and geography teacher, told The Guardian.
“Each time there was a new obstacle."
For Kimouche, it was hard to hide his anger and frustration over what he sees as a "violent and populist" presidential campaign.
"Really, we might have hoped for better from our politicians,” he said.
“I am a French Muslim, I love France, but I want to leave this country. Every day we are being attacked and insulted and we have had enough.”
Kimouche points out that there is not a single Muslim MP in the French parliament.
"In France, they say there are no communities within the republic, everyone is the same. But this is not true. No matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, we are seen as a fifth column, the enemy within, a threat, a menace," he said.
For many Muslims, France's alienation of of its religious minority means that it has failed to learn the lesson of its history.
"In 1939 when there was an economic crisis, the enemy was the Jews," said Abdenebi.
“Today there is a crisis and it is the Muslims. It's the same discrimination, just a different community.”
Seeing a "revolting and tiring" political atmosphere, Muslims could not see hope in the near future.
"People feel afraid because today the party of the right is adopting the ideas of the extreme right,” said Kamel Saidi, 34, an owner of the Les Enfants Terribles, a chic restaurant in Paris's 12th arrondissement.
“What's even more worrying is that this attitude is not going to change, certainly not in the near future.
"It is depressing that all we are trying to do is find our place in society, and there is no recognition of this, just suspicion. Once again, it's as if the whole Muslim community is suspect."
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