A French pastry, the holy feast of Ramadan and a controversial French MP seeking to become head of his party have combined to create a media storm in France and left the country’s Muslim community angry.
First he lambasted “anti-white racism”, now an outspoken right-wing French politician has set his sights on the Muslim community as he seeks to become the heir to Nicolas Sarkozy.
Jean Francois Copé, who is bidding to become leader of the centre right UMP party, a position once held by Sarkozy, showed on Friday that he is not afraid to court controversy.
At a meeting in the southern town of Draguignan, Copé lamented the state of some neighbourhoods in France’s cities, and in doing so launched a thinly veiled snipe at Islam.
Pain au chocolate and Ramadan
“I can understand the exasperation of some of our compatriots when there are some neighbourhoods where a mother or father will come home from work in the evening to learn their son has had his pain au chocolate snatched out of his hand by thugs, telling him it is forbidden to eat during Ramadan,” he said.
The story was seized upon by the French media with the words Copé, Ramadan and Pain au Chocolat headling numerous articles.
Copé’s inflammatory comments come not long after he was accused of stirring up tensions, when he expressed his dismay over the growing “anti-white racism” in France’s cities.
On both occasions the brazen Copé was accused of trying to court the far right vote in his bid to beat rival François Fillon to become head of the UMP in next month’s election.
Copé’s apparent efforts to win favour with France’s powerful far right echo those made by his friend and former colleague Sarkozy during this year’s presidential election, when the former head of state’s repeated anti-immigration rhetoric saw him lambasted in the left-wing press.
On Saturday Copé, who has published a new book roughly translated as “A manifesto for an unabashed right-wing”, tried to justify his words saying he was simply describing “an everyday scene” and claimed that this type of behaviour was motivated by a desire “to manipulate religion” for their own ends.
But his words have provoked an angry backlash on social media and on the air waves.
Speaking to French radio station RTL, government spokeswoman Najat Belkacem-Vallaud said: “It is clear Jean-Francois Copé is trying to exploit a subject that is far too important to be exploited, which is the question of living together.
“The day he wants to speak calmly instead of seeking to exploit fears and fantasies, I would be ready to listen,” she added.
Leaders of France’s Muslim community also slammed Copé for his remarks.
“These types of accusations are easy to make,” said Abdallah Zekri, president of the French Observatory against Islamophobia. “He wants to please the extremists in his party and as usual he attacks Muslims and young people”.