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French mayor faces ‘hate charges’ after remarks about Muslim influx

A French Mayor and ally of France’s anti-immigrant National Front party, will face a charge in a Paris court of "incitement to hatred or discrimination" after comments he made about changes immigration has wrought on the country.

Published: December 24, 2016, 8:00 am

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    Robert Menard will soon be tried on “hate charges” because of a factual comment: that white Christians were being replaced with foreign born Muslims in his town. The trial is set for March 8.

    A judicial source told AFP on Wednesday that Menard’s remarks included a claim that the number of Muslim students in his city was a “problem”.

    “In a class in the city centre in my town, 91 percent of the children are Muslims. Obviously, this is a problem. There are limits to tolerance,” Menard told French news channel LCI on 5 September.

    Also at the start of the same month, he tweeted his regret at witnessing “the great replacement”, using a term by writer Renaud Camus to describe the country’s native population being swamped by foreign-born Muslims.

    Menard, the mayor of Beziers in the south of France, denied his comments were discriminatory. “I just described the situation in my town,” Menard told AFP. “It is not a value judgement, it’s a fact. It’s what I can see.”

    Menard, who headed the media rights group Reporters Without Borders for more than two decades, is being hounded by a notorious anti-racism group called Licra. Reporters without borders has meanwhile distanced itself from Menard since he left in 2008.

    The Paris Public Prosecutor’s Office deals with the offense of direct provocation of discrimination, hatred or violence against a group of persons on grounds of belonging to a nation, race, ethnic group or religion, Licra announced.

    The mayor prompted leftist outrage in October too by calling for a local referendum ahead of the arrival of 40 asylum-seekers in his town. He put up posters under the headline “That’s It, They’re Coming”, with an image of a crowd of migrants, all of them men, outside the cathedral in Beziers.

    It is reminiscent of a controversial poster created by leading Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage, former head of Britain’s anti-immigration UK Independence Party, UKIP, showing a long queue of migrants under the slogan “Breaking Point”.

    On December 2, Menard defended his referendum in court. To the voters of Béziers, he had wished to ask the question: “Do you approve of the installation of new migrants, imposed by the State, without consultation with the municipal council? “.

    The controversy centred around the 40 additional places at the center for refugees in the town that the State had imposed by legal proceedings without due consultation.

    In a statement, the town hall was indignant about the legal decision that followed. “The Administrative Court … states that the migration policy decided by the State does not concern the municipalities.

    “We can only regret this centralizing and technocratic decision. Blinded, the state is also deaf to the local concerns and constraints with which a municipality is confronted, imposing decisions of which the scope and consequences have a direct impact on the population.”

    In May 2015, Menard provoked an outcry by referring to “64.6 percent” of Muslim pupils in Béziers’ public schools, an estimate based on “the figures of the mayor”. An investigation, finally filed without follow-up, had been opened to check the possible existence of “illegal files” based on race at the town hall, the French newspaper 20Minute reported.

    The Mayor’s comments are similar in nature to those made by Dutch anti-immgration leader Geert Wilders, who was found guilty of “inciting discrimination” after asking a room full of supporters if they wanted “more or fewer Moroccans” in the Netherlands.

    Over the last year or more Europe has suffered a number of devastating terror attacks carried out by jihadists in the aftermath of a migrant influx that has seen millions of Muslims pour into the continent, but the European establishment has remained virtually unreponsive to the societal upheaval.

    karin@praag.org

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