The Guardian and Daily Telegraph have both reported on a story which has caused a storm in the French media- a comment and tweet by Jean Francois Cope who is campaigning to lead the centre right French political party, Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), in which he wrote: "There are neighbourhoods in France where children can't eat their pain au chocolat because it's Ramadan."
From the Guardian:
“First Cornish pasties shook Westminster, now Paris faces its own baked-goods political storm after the humble pain au chocolat was hijacked by rightwing politics.
“Having already complained of what he called "anti-white racism" on French estates, Copé said he identified with "exasperated" parents who, after a hard day's work, got home to find their child had had his pain au chocolat "snatched" from him outside the school gates by "thugs" who said: "There must be no eating during Ramadan." He then tweeted: "There are neighbourhoods in France where children can't eat their pain au chocolat because it's Ramadan."
“Outrage and cries of absurdity followed, from both left and right. The Socialist prime minister slammed what he called a "stigmatising" discourse against minorities. The former Sarkozy minister François Baroin, supporting Copé's opponent François Fillon, warned against "toxic and dangerous little phrases".
“Commentators deplored Copé's use of a chocolate croissant to court the far-right vote, with one tweet warning of "Le Pen au chocolat".
“On Wednesday morning, volunteers from France's Collective Against Islamophobia handed out free pain au chocolat to commuters at Saint Lazare station in Paris.
“Nadine Morano, a former Sarkozy minister, insisted on French radio that the pain au chocolat story was true and happened four years ago in Meaux, outside Paris, where Copé is mayor.”
This is not the first time that high-profile French politicians have been embroiled in controversy over racist and Islamophobic rhetoric. In the run-up to the French presidential elections earlier this year, the leader of France’s main far-right party, Marine Le Pen, claimed that "All the abattoirs in the Paris region sell halal meat without exception." Sarkozy soon after weighed-in on the debate, vowing to ban halal meat from state schools, whilst Prime Minister Francois Fillon called for Muslims and Jews to drop religious slaughter because it doesn’t “have much in common with today's state of science, technology and health problems". Sarkozy also stated during his campaign for re-election that there are “too many foreigners” in France. Such anti-immigrant, populist rhetoric has been seen by many as an attempt to pander far-right voters whose influence was evident in the 18% share of the vote won by Le Pen in the first-round of last April’s presidential elections.
France’s relationship with its Muslim community has increasingly become a point of contention in recent years with legislation passed that appears to discriminate against the Muslim population and Muslim women in particular - notably the banning of headscarves in public institutions and the banning of face-veiling in all public places, moves that have paved the way for similar legislation to follow in other European countries. The US State Department report on the State of Religious Freedoms published earlier this year noted that the French law banning face coverings has adversely affected Muslims. It also noted that the majority of instances of social abuse or discrimination based on religious affiliation in France were anti-Muslim or anti-Semitic.
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