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POLITICS

‘It will divide the country’ – French Muslims’ fears over a Le Pen presidency

While many people worry about the prospect of a Le Pen presidency, the country's Muslim communities - frequently singled out for attack by Le Pen and her supporters - feel acute fear. Amanda Mayo and Sofia Alvarez Jurado visited a mosque in the Paris region.

'It will divide the country' - French Muslims' fears over a Le Pen presidency
The mosque at Saint-Prix, north of Paris. Photo: Gabriel Damian

“There are millions of French people that are born into or converted to Islam. What are they going to do? Kick them out tomorrow? You cannot go around provoking people like this” said Ashfaq Rabbani, who heads the French Ahmadiyya association, a Muslim group which originated in what today is Pakistan.

“You cannot be the president of 70 million French people if you are going to divide the population further – you cannot only be the president of the majority,”  added Talha Rashid, a spokesman for the Ahmadiyya in Saint-Prix.

These are the anxious views heard at the mosque in Saint-Prix, a small village on the edge of the Montmorency Forest, north of Paris. This is the first place of worship built in France by the Ahmadiyya community. 

Facing the prospect of a close battle between Emmanuel Macron and his far-right challenger Marine Le Pen in the second round of the French presidential election they are worried, but the increasingly hardline discourse on Islam in France has been a daily source of frustration and anxiety for many years now, especially for the Ahmadiyya, a community that does not believe in rebelling against the authorities.

France’s 2021 ‘anti-separatism’ law and the increasing pressure on Muslim women to abandon the headscarf, even in places where it is now legal, are particular sources of concern.

 “You cannot create a society and a morality where women are allowed to walk around in bikinis but they cannot wear a scarf on their head. Individual freedom should be for everyone,” said Rabbani.

Bilal Malik, a member of the community, added: “They say that in years to come, France will be an African France because Islam comes with its own jurisprudence, the Sharia. As Ahmaddis we say the Sharia cannot trump state laws” 

In the 2017 election, Saint-Prix’s 7,000 strong population favoured François Fillon, the candidate for the centre-right Les Républicains.

This time, in the first round of voting the commune backed incumbent president Emanuel Macron, promoter of the ‘anti-separatism’ law.

The Ahmadi community prides itself in being apolitical, dealing only with religious issues in the mosque and considering politics a personal choice for their members.

That’s why Rabbani is so bothered about Islam being weaponised by many politicians.

“In 1905, they separated the Church and the State – and we agree”, Rabbani said, referring to the law that established state secularism in France. The community leader added that the opposite must also be true: “We don’t want the state to get involved in our religion”.

READ ALSO Laïcité: What does secularism really mean in France?

The community’s moral code forbids any rebellion against the government, yet governmental decisions can impact how they can profess their own faith in the country.

Rashid points at the mosque built in 2008 and highlights how the architecture combines with the traditional style of the nearby buildings.

“We built it in a way that would not clash with the traditional French style, respecting the neighbours was the most important thing for us”, he said.

The community’s guidelines agree on one statement: it is important to vote, but they will never give guidelines on who to vote for. “The Mosque is not a place for politics”, they said. 

Yet, they have made it clear that, to win the vote of the Ahmadis, a politician might need to respect freedom – especially, freedom of religion. 

“You really can see a mismatch between the political discourse and the day-to-day reality”, said Leila Belarbi, at the head of the volunteering project for the women’s branch of the French Ahdmadis. “Mostly, it’s because of [the politicians on] TV”.

The Ahmidiyya women have been involved in local and regional life, helping during every crisis: they donated masks and food to hospitals during the first months of the pandemic, and are currently gathering donations to send to Ukraine. 

They are striving to connect with the neighbours and debunk the prejudices regarding Islam that fly around in the media and the political rhetoric. Yet, the toxic discourse around their faith in current politics leaves them with no clear political home.

In this context, the future of the Ahmadiyya in France seems uncertain. 

“If things ever get too hard for us here”, said Rabbani, “we will have to leave the country once again, just like we left Pakistan”

 

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POLICE

France proposes getting rid of penalties for ‘minor’ speeding offences

The French government is considering changing speeding laws so that drivers will not lose points on their licence if they are caught going just a few kilometres over the speed limit.

France proposes getting rid of penalties for 'minor' speeding offences

France’s Interior Ministry is considering changing its current rules for minor speeding violations – proposing getting rid of the penalty for drivers who only violate the rule by going just a few kilometres over the speed limit.

The Ministry has not laid out a timeline for when this could come into effect, but they said they are currently in the preliminary stages of studying how the change could be carried out.

“The fine of course remains,” said the Interior Ministry to French daily Le Parisien.

That is to say you can still be fined for going five kilometres over the speed limit, but there might not be any more lost points for driving a couple kilometres over the posted limit. 

READ ALSO These are the offences that can cost you points on your driving licence

Of the 13 million speeding tickets issued each year in France, 58 percent are for speeding violations of less than 5 km per hour over the limit, with many coming from automated radar machines.

How does the current rule work?

The rule itself is already a bit flexible, depending on where the speeding violation occurs.

If the violation happens in an urban area or low-speed zone (under 50 km per hour limit), then it is considered a 4th class offence, which involves a fixed fine of €135. Drivers can also lose a point on their licences as a penalty for this offence. 

Whereas, on highways and high-speed roads, the consequences of speeding by 5 km per hour are less severe. The offence is only considered 3rd class, which means the fixed fine is €68. There is still the possibility of losing a point on your licence, however. 

How do people feel about this?

Pierre Chasseray, a representative from the organisation “40 Millions d’Automobilistes,” thinks the government should do away with all penalties for minor speeding offences, including fines. He told French daily Le Parisien that this is only a “first step.”

Meanwhile, others are concerned that the move to get rid of points-deductions could end up encouraging people to speed, as they’ll think there is no longer any consequence.

To avoid being accused of carelessness, France’s Interior Ministry is also promising to become “firmer” with regards to people who use other people’s licences in order to get out of losing points – say by sending their spouse’s or grandmother’s instead of their own after being caught speeding. The Interior Ministry plans to digitalise license and registration in an effort to combat this. 

Ultimately, if you are worried about running out of points on your licence, there are still ways to recover them.

You can recover your points after six months of driving without committing any other offences, and there are also awareness training courses that allow you to gain your points back. It should be noted, however, that these trainings typically cost between €150 and €250, and they do not allow you to regain more than four points.

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