Philippe Vardon. Photo: RN

Nice: Muslim party wants to exclude RN from mayoral race

A petition launched by the Union of Muslim Democrats, a religious party that in 2015 advocated the return of the Islamic veil to be worn to school, wants to stop National Rally candidate Philippe Vardon from running for mayor.

Published: August 4, 2019, 10:27 am

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    Vardon made his debut as head of the Identity Bloc and its Nissa Rebela antenna in Nice. Moving to the National Front, now the National Rally (RN), he has been a regional councilor in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur since 2016 and a member of the national party office since 2018.

    The party described Vardon as a “neo-Nazi”. The petition was launched on July 20, but has collected only 420 signatures. The departmental section of the Union of Muslim Democrats in France is saying “no to the candidacy of neo-Nazi Philippe Vardon in the municipal election of Nice”.

    The Union of Muslim Democrats of France (UDMF) describes itself as an “anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist and anti-Zionist” party. According to Nice-Matin, in the text, the petitioners complain that Vardon had been responsible for the Identity Bloc.

    The UDMF, which has announced that it will present a list in 2020, therefore demands the “permanent” withdrawal from politics by Vardon.

    In the text, the petitioners do not mince their words against the elected representative of the National Rally: “This vice-president at the Paca Regional Council, initially the head of the Bloc Identitaire, was convicted of racial and religious discrimination in 2008 against Muslims.”

    Karim Akasbi and Mustapha Belaouari of the UDMF added: “This adherent of the theory of the Great Replacement also advocates the remigration, which consists of a forced return of non-European immigrants to their countries of origin. This character is undoubtedly a danger to live together with.”

    Philippe Vardon expressed his indignation over the petition: “I plan to bring the case to justice, it will teach them about democracy and French law.” And he warned: “They know in any case that I am their only real opponent and they can count on me to show no compromise.”

    For the Nice chief of the RN, the Union of Muslim Democrats of France is “a communitarian party if you want to be nice, but Islamist if you look at their goals and their demands: the veil at school, the expansion of halal.”

    Vardon, who is at top of the list of the RN in the municipal election to be held on March 15 and 22, also recalled: “Karim Akasbi was a candidate against me in the legislative elections under the label of the Equality and Justice Party (PEJ), an extention of the party of [Turkish President] Erdogan.”

    The PEJ is well represented, according to the Parisian daily, Le Canard Enchaîné , in particular, as an unofficial subsidiary of the party in power in Turkey and chaired by Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But its members deny the link: “The PEJ has never been linked to Erdogan, I am not Turkish, I am French and Muslim and I would never have agreed to be in a party related to him,” said Karim Akasbi.

    “There is no connection between the PEJ and Erdogan, otherwise you can imagine that I would not have taken on this label and the Ministry of the Interior would not let it go unnoticed either. Vardon who would do well to become a writer for Netflix. We are neither communitarian nor Islamist. We are against Islamophobia and all forms of discrimination.”

    The likely UDMF candidate for the municipal election in Nice continued: “We are secular and we defend secularism as it was originally enacted and not what Vardon claims.” Mustapha Belaouari added: “All these accusations coming from an extremist like Vardon make me smile, his only activity is to hit on the Muslim community.”

    The Union of Muslim Democrats of France, founded in 2012, presented a list in the European election that boasted of “atheists and non-Muslims”. But the UDMF has changed course since and advocated in 2015 the development of halal and the return of the Islamic veil at school.

    The Nice boss of the RN, who considers on Twitter that it is an “honour” to be “targeted by these Islamists” has little doubt about the intentions of his opponents. In fact, during the last European elections, the party refocused its message on the fight against Islamophobia, and the UDMF has long made it its business to issue ideologically-infused proposals.

    A text published in 2013 on the party website claims that “secularism in France [has] therefore clearly become a barrier against Islam”. And during the 2015 regional elections, it was openly campaigning for the expansion of halal, Islamic finance and authorisation for wearing the Islamic veil at school.

    And as confirmed by Le Canard Enchaîné, the PEJ is well and truly an unofficial subsidiary of the AKP, the ruling party in Turkey.

    In 2020, Philippe Vardon hopes to take over the city from the outgoing Republicans mayor Christian Estrosi. He was also deputy campaign director of the very successful Bardella list in the recent Europeans elections. BFMTV noted that Vardon “embodies the rise of the [identity] movement within the party”.

    The stake of this election date for his party, the RN, is personal, Vardon told conservative French weekly Valeurs Actuelles.

    “I was born in Nice, I have always lived there, my children were born there, and I hope that their children will be born there. Like William Wallace’s Irish companion in Mel Gibson’s legendary Braveheart , which evokes Ireland, said ‘This is my island!’ I can say it’s my city. It is the root of my struggles and sometimes the breeding ground of my anger,” Vardon explained.

    The RN launched its municipal campaign at its national council on June 15 and 16 in La Rochelle with the aim of expanding its base. “I believe that the RN must seize upon this electoral sequence – with the municipal elections, followed by the departmental and regional elections in 2021 – to assert itself as a great movement in countrywide. We must continue to implant ourselves, either by playing our role of opposition by defending our compatriots in local assemblies, by directing executives and by demonstrating our skills, as is the case in all the municipalities that we administer,” he explained.

    “Let’s prepare, then, for the victories of March 2020, those of March 2021, and the following ones!”

    In 2014, Marie-Christine Arnautu won 21 percent of the vote in Nice for the National Front in the second round. At the European level, the RN took the lead with 28,18 percent.

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