PARIS – With campaigns targeting their faith ahead of this month's election, French Muslims are growing disappointed with their government policies, feeling that they are being treated as second-class citizens.
"They broke my dignity. I am disappointed with France," Mohamed Asbol, a French Muslim of Algerian origin, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Sunday, April 15.
"It's obvious that he is stigmatizing Muslims to get votes."
Last week, Asbol's son, 28, was arrested by French police after storming his house at dawn.
"Just because my son has a beard, wears a djellaba and goes to the mosque doesn't mean he's a terrorist!" he said, indignantly.
The son was among 10 people arrested across France on suspicion of radical activities.
The sweep was the second high-profile wave of arrests of suspected Islamists in the wake of murders by a self-proclaimed Al-Qaeda gunman from Toulouse that shocked France.
Muslim leaders have distanced themselves from the killing, saying the murders run counter to the Islamic teachings.
Following the shootings, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who seeks re-election, has ordered a crackdown on preachers he says promote hatred in France.
"They have attacked us on all fronts – the burqa, halal meat, young people," said 34-year-old Moussa Gacem as he stood behind the counter at the Roubaix snack bar where he worked.
In 2004, France banned hijab, an obligatory code of dress in Islam, in public schools.
The French government has also outlawed the wearing of face-veil in public.
"If Islam can be used as a target then Sarkozy will do that," said Gacem, a French Mulsim born of North African parents.
Islam and immigration have been a main theme in the electoral rallies of presidential candidates in the April-May election.
In Roubaix in northern France, the debate is heated, with many maintaining that being of immigrant stock or being Muslim means you face discrimination.
"A large part of the youth here is confronted with the glass ceiling of discrimination," said Slimane Tir, a local official who is standing on a Green ticket in June's legislative elections.
The unemployment rate in the city is around 30 percent, three times higher than the national average, and that youth unemployment is as high as 50 percent.
"They have been thrown to the lions... to satisfy an electoral panic that comes from the highest level of the state," Tir said.
France has been debating for years how far it is willing to go to accommodate Muslims, estimated at six million, the largest minority in Europe.
Both Sarkozy and National Front leader Marine Le Pen have made the question a key campaign issue.
Salima Saa, a Roubaix local who is on Sarkozy's campaign team and is herself a candidate for his UMP party in legislative elections due in June, agrees that many in Roubaix feel stigmatized by her party leader's policies.
Saa, whose father was an Algerian who made a career in the French army, said that, while the police raids earlier this month were exploited for electoral purposes, there were radical Islamists in Roubaix who escaped arrest.She also distanced herself from some of the UMP's more outspoken members, such as one lawmaker who said that the only thing French about the Islamist killer in Toulouse, a Frenchman of Algerian descent, was his identity card.
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