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OPINION: Anti-Islam Narratives in the Presidential Election, Present French Muslims an Impossible Choice

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Has France gone too far with the discussion of banning head covering

On Sunday 24 April, the main round of voting will take place between the two final candidates for French Presidency, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. This presidential election, which coincides with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, has seen an intense anti-Islam rhetoric throughout the mainstream campaign leaving Muslims in France with a difficult choice to make on Sunday. 

Before anything else, here it is worth mentioning the French Constitution. It states that:  

“France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic, and social Republic. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race, or religion. It shall respect all beliefs.”

The constitution that promises and guarantees equality with freedom of religion and expression to its citizens have often been ignored when it has come to Muslims in France. Yet again, the Hijab – headscarf, the Burqa – veil, has been the centre of debate and controversy in France. But this time, it matters more than it would at any other time as it now involves the potential future leader of the country and their standing on the issue. 

The anti-Islam and anti-Muslim narrative in France have not been this heightened and tense in decades. Several candidates who participated in the first round of voting with the aim of getting elected as President, held, and expressed strong Islamophobic views and led a campaign – although short-lived – that directly intended to target Muslims and their way of life in France. 

With the final and crucial round of voting set to take place between Le Pen and Macron, French Muslims must choose between a far-right politician, who is absolute in her views on Islam, immigration and the Hijab, and a centrist whose first tenure as President dampened hopes for French Muslims to see a more welcoming and less-hostile French establishment. 

Julien Talpin, a researcher in political science at the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), suggested that President Emmanuel Macron’s first term as president had been “gloomy” for French Muslims, especially with the ratification of the separatism law in the summer of 2021. Although, the French government claimed that the law was to preserve and protect French secular values, critics and analysts have repeatedly pointed out that the law singles out the Muslim community in France and marginalises them. 

In 2020, President Macron made the controversial statement that “Islam is a religion which is experiencing a crisis” and it was necessary to “free Islam in France from foreign influences.” Two years later, in a bid to gather last-minute support from voters who were dejected with his first tenure, he urged minority communities in France to not abstain from voting as that would facilitate a victory for Le Pen and her radical policies. 

If Macron’s first term as President has been a worrying sign for Muslims in France, Le Pen wants to hold a referendum on immigration, ban the hijab from all public spaces and intends to eradicate “all Islamist ideologies” from France – an aim listed as her second top priority in her manifesto if elected President. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg for an environment that has been developing over the last decade or so. Due to the terrorist attacks in France over the several years and the recent decapitation of a French school teacher in 2020, the narrative in France has increasingly turned hostile about Islam and Muslims – something the community continues to grapple with and hope to change. 

With the presidential campaign also hitting the same rhetoric and potential candidates offering little signs of building bridges between communities, French Muslims worry about their future in the country. For some, Macron is a bitter pill to swallow but nevertheless a better option than Le Pen, others are far from this expressing similar level of certainty.

Enabling stereotypes to be considered facts, to conflate religion and its followers with the actions of a small number of people, and to repeatedly promote a divisive narrative as one that we continue to witness in France and in other European countries raises questions for western governments. 

What Muslims must do to change this perception is often talked about, but very few ask and raise questions about the role of these countries and their governments in bridging the gap and uniting people from all backgrounds. Ultimately, the elected governments have the responsibility to ensure the establishment of a harmonious society where everyone lives with freedom and integrity.  

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Historian of Modern World History, with special interest in history of modern Europe and Britain. I also have a keen interest in politics, systems of rule, international relations and current affairs.

Economics

World Food Programme suspends food assistance to 1.7 million in South Sudan

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Conflict combined with poor weather in South Sudan has led to 7.74 million people facing a hunger crisis.

Despite the country facing food insecurity, the World Food Programme (WFP) has suspended food assistance to 1.7 million people in South Sudan. They require $426 million to be able to feed 6 million people in South Sudan throughout 2022. At the start of 2022, the WFP projected that it would be able to assist 6.2 million people in the country but has failed at achieving this target. This suspension of funding comes at one of the worst times for South Sudan, a newly independent country which not only has been facing internal conflicts for many years but also faced three years of flooding, a localised drought and like the rest of the world, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and soaring global food prices. Therefore, not only is food not available in the country, but it also comes at a much higher price making the country food insecure. This cut also comes at a time where South Sudan is facing lean season, which is the season between planting crops and harvesting them. During this season, food is already scarce.

The suspension of aid by the WFP is due to a funding shortage of $426 million. It is important to note that the primary source of WFP’s funding comes from governments around the world. This funding is entirely voluntary, meaning that the countries have the freedom to cut anytime they wish.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), a human rights group recently ruled that the world’s 10 most neglected crises are all in Africa with South Sudan being the 4th most neglected crisis. The Secretary General of the NRC, Jan Egeland said “The war in Ukraine has demonstrated the immense gap between what is possible when the international community rallies behind a crisis, and the daily reality for millions of people suffering in silence within these crises on the African continent that the world has chosen to ignore,”

The hunger crisis the people of South Sudan face is not new, rather food insecurity has been a challenge for years now. In 2017, South Sudan faced a famine and now another famine is predicted by the WFP this year if funding is not organised. Furthermore, South Sudan has recently been facing unrest which has only intensified the issue, leading to brutal violence upon civilians, including targeted attacks, gender-based violence, kidnappings and murders. This has led to nearly 2.3 million people fleeing to neighbouring countries whilst 1.87 million people remain internally displaced. Displacement continues to exacerbate the hunger crisis in South Sudan as many rely on food from their own land, something which is not possible during displacement. Internal conflict has thus meant that people have had to rely heavily on food assistance.

There have been many attempts for a peace agreement in the country, but so far, all these attempts have failed.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Economics

Is Rwanda a dumping ground for the UK?

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The UK is planning to send its illegal immigrants to Rwanda. In return, the country is paying the Government £120 million in the form of an economic development program. This controversial decision was made to deter any future illegal immigrants from entering the country via dangerous routes.

The East African country suffered genocide and civil war in 1994 and has been trying to recover since. The effort made by the country, however, was halted due to the pandemic.

Only recently, authorities in Rwanda prosecuted opposition members, commentators, and journalists for voicing their opinion. Anyone who doesn’t agree with the government is thrown in jail and threatened, and people have even mysteriously disappeared.

Rwanda is also one of the smallest countries in the world and the rate of population growth is already more than the country can handle. With 10,000 square miles and a population density of more than 1,000 per square mile, starvation and malnutrition is prevalent because the country struggles to feed its growing population. Accusations abound that the government has burned farmers’ fields that could not produce an adequate amount of crops. The country is obsessed with modernising whilst ignoring its internal issues.

Poverty is a huge concern. Its true extent is unknown as the government has been accused of misinterpreting the actual data. Similarly, the education level of children is low with a high drop-out rate.

It’s plain to see that Rwanda is struggling with its own domestic problems, and now the UK is turning the country into a dumping ground for illegal immigrants which will surely set the economy back. The plan has been accused of being unethical and cruel.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Siobhán Mullally talked about the dangers of increased human trafficking when large numbers of people are transferred from one country to another and how easy it is for traffickers to pick vulnerable victims in this situation when they have no control over where they are going. “People seeking international protection, fleeing conflict, and persecution, have the right to seek and enjoy asylum – a fundamental tenet of international human rights and refugee law,” she said. Even Prince Charles, heir to the British throne criticised the decision made by the government calling it “appalling”.

There have also been accusations that the UK is not playing its part in its handling of its refugee problem. Chief Executive of Refugee Action, Tim Naor Hilton said that the government was “offshoring its responsibilities onto Europe’s former colonies instead of doing our fair share to help some of the most vulnerable people on the planet”.

Meanwhile, UK-based non-profits run by Congolese nationals in the Diaspora sent a letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in which they expressed their fear that the money sent by the UK government could be used to propagate the war in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo instead of improving Rwanda.

According to Phil Clark, Professor of International Politics at SOAS University of London, the government of Rwanda could use this deal as leverage. So whenever the government is accused of human rights violations they can threaten to pull out of the deal. Already once, the country has “threatened to pull its peacekeepers out of Darfur when foreign donors were threatening to pull foreign aid out of Rwanda.”

Whilst the focus is on Rwanda violating human rights, the country is known however, for looking after its refugees well enough. The problem is that the UK is using the country to shed itself of its own responsibility while Rwanda is not equipped to deal with a large number of refugees.

The irony of the situation cannot be lost to global observers as, “Only a couple of hundred years ago, the situation was reversed. Ships full of Africans were being forcefully deported from their homeland to Britain, Europe, and the Americas. Now, the descendants of slave traders are paying the descendants of their would-be slaves to take a burden off their hands.”

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Israel

Israel’s Collapsing Government and Election Cycles

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PikiWiki Israel 7260 Knesset Room

The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, is set to dissolve next year, with Yair Lapid to become the caretaker Prime Minister. With a shared goal to oust the allegedly corrupt Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, eight political parties formed the most diverse coalition in Israeli history over a year ago.

With the Knesset set to dissolve, another round of elections will be held in the fall. These will be the fifth elections held in less than four years and has supporters of Netanyahu celebrating. Despite an ongoing corruption trial, Netanyahu could be back in power by the end of this year. 

According to Yohanan Plesner, a former member of the Knesset, Lapid could automatically become Prime Minister until a new government is formed, if the Knesset does indeed dissolve. However, if the election results are inconclusive, then Lapid would continue as Prime Minister until the next election.

 For Netanyahu to return to power, he would require at least 61 votes from current Knesset members. Many polls suggest Netanyahu’s Likud party will be the largest in the next Parliament, but they would not have enough allies to assemble a true parliamentary majority. This could lead to months of coalition negotiations.

If the Knesset dissolves, the new government elections will need to take place within three to five months. Since 1996, Israel has had elections, on average, every 2.6 years. Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute,  stated “This ongoing crisis will not come to an end until Israel’s leaders put their political differences aside and enact long over-due electoral and constitutional reforms, such as making any attempt to initiate early elections dependent on a two-thirds majority in parliament and amending the current law that demands new elections when a budget fails to pass.”

The coalition of eight political parties has had a tough time uniting on voting decisions. Ideological differences and pressure from Netanyahu’s right wing alliance has already caused two members of the coalition to defect, which removed the coalition’s majority in Parliament. Many left wing and Arab members rebelled on key votes, making it impossible for the coalition to govern. Then finally last week, the government was unable to find enough votes to extend a two-tier legal system in the West Bank. This two tier system has differentiated between Israeli settlers and native Palestinians since 1967. 

Some Palestinian lawmakers were also rejoicing at the government’s collapse. An opposition lawmaker in the minority government, Aida Touma-Sulieman, shared her views saying “This government implemented a radical far-right policy of expanding settlements, destroying houses, and carrying out ethnic cleansing in the occupied territories. It threw crumbs to the Arabs in exchange for conceding fundamental political principles.”

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Daily Brief

The EU Approves Ukraine for Candidacy

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Munster Stadtweinhaus Beflaggung Ukraine und EU 2022 0219 scaled
  • The EU has finally approved the application of Ukraine to become a candidate country for admission to the 27- country organization. Ukraine will now join the official candidate list, which already includes Albania, the Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey. 
  • The US is expected to provide an additional $450m in security assistance to Ukraine. Which includes four more High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems. 
  • The EU and Norway have agreed to cooperate and provide the EU’s 27 countries with gas from Western Europe’s biggest provider. The EU imports roughly ⅕ of its gas from Norway compared to the 40% it was receiving from Russia. Currently, Russia has been cutting gas supplies to countries refusing to pay for it in roubles. 
  • Melbourne is considering utilizing its largely vacant $200m Center for National Resilience building to house hundreds of refugees fleeing war-torn Ukraine and Afghanistan. The center will only be able to temporarily house about 500 refugees from Afghanistan and about 200 from Ukraine. 
  • Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov thanked US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin after receiving and welcoming the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) from the United States. 
  • Nike joined other leading Western brands by formally making a full exit from Russia, three months after suspending its operations. Telecoms equipment maker Cisco is also planning to wind down business in Russia and Belarus as well.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Politics

Macron Loses Absolute Majority, What this Means for France

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800px Emmanuel Macron 2017 05 29 cropped

President Emmanuel Macron and his centrist coalition lost absolute majority in France’s National Assembly legislative elections, only garnering 245 seats of the 577 in the lower house of parliament. Although the number of seats was more than other opposition parties, it’s over 100 less than what Macron and his party won in 2017 during his election. His affiliates and cabinet members which did not receive a seat in the election will be forced to resign. 

It has been over 20 years since a President in the country has not won the majority in the National Assembly. Now, the Assembly makes up a majority of left and right wing parties. The New Ecological and Social People’s Union party is ranked number two in terms of political power, and the National Rally party is ranked third. 

Prime Minister Elisabeth Bourne called the results “unprecedented” and stated the government would “work on building an action-oriented majority” by forming alliances within the National Party: “There is no alternative to that coalition to guarantee our country’s stability and enact the necessary reforms.” On the PM’s and Presidents to-do list include increasing the retirement age, pushing a pro-business outlook, and creating a more integrated European Union. 

What does the centrist loss mean for France? Much of President Macron’s plans are already opposed by rival parties, and the lack of majority in the National Assembly has the potential to make passing bills which align with Macron’s agenda much more difficult. Macron and the government will probably need to create alliances while also engaging in power sharing with other parties, although how the country plans to do so remains uncertain. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Women's Issues

Florida Sued over Abortion Laws by a Synagogue

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Florida Synagogue

A lawsuit filed by a synagogue in Palm Beach County on Friday argues that the new abortion law violates the religious freedom of Jews. It was filed by Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor.

The abortion law in Florida that will take effect on July 1st will ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Previously, Florida allowed abortion for up to 24 weeks. The anti-abortion movement has been mostly led by Christian conservatives, but this lawsuit expresses that there is more than one religion in America.

Roe V. Wade case legalised abortion in 1973 in the United States. However, recently, a leaked draft opinion suggests that the court is trying to overturn Roe V. Wade, making abortion illegal in most cases. There are no exceptions in the cases of incest, rape, or human trafficking. But abortion will be allowed if the mother’s life is endangered or if two doctors determine that the foetus  has a foetal  abnormality.

According to the lawsuit, under Jewish law, abortion is “required if necessary to protect the health, mental or physical well-being of the woman”.

It also states, “The act prohibits Jewish women from practicing their faith free of government intrusion and this violates their privacy rights and religious freedom.”

A statement released by the Jewish community as a response to the abortion bans also condemns the decision as it goes against their religious views.

“Restricting access to reproductive health care impedes the freedom of religion granted by the First Amendment, including a Jewish person’s ability to make decisions in accordance with their religious beliefs,” states Rabbi Hara Person.

This is the second lawsuit against the recent abortion laws in Florida. The first lawsuit was filed by Planned Parenthood and other health centers for violating a person’s right to privacy, including “the right to abortion.”

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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